You asked

How can I help build my teenager's self esteem?

The teenage years can be a distressing time for many young people as they develop their sense of identity and where they belong in the world. Add this to the emotional roller-coaster that is teenage hormones, the stresses of school and exams as well as dealing with parents and friends and it’s easy to understand why many can begin to feel as though they are lacking in confidence.
Do you wish your teens could believe in themselves, deal more confidently with situations and not let fear and self-doubt hold them back?
People with high self-esteem achieve more, develop better relationships and generally make the most of themselves in life. Positive self-esteem is important because when people experience it, they feel better about themselves, they are effective and productive, and they respond to other people and themselves in healthy, positive ways. They know that they are lovable and capable and they care about themselves and others. They don’t have to build themselves up by tearing other people down or making others feel bad. 

Here are some tips to help you build your teenager’s self-esteem:
Let your teen know when they’ve done well – give them positive feedback for showing they are capable “you did that well”. ‘You are capable’ is an important message to offer children and adults at every age. They learn that they can do well. Give children and teens guidelines about what you want them to do instead of telling them to ‘be good’. And tell them what you like about their behaviour instead of calling them ‘Good children’. Be specific.

Children and teens need to hear the message that ‘you are important and lovable just because you exist’ too. We need to let them know that they are worthy of love just for being themselves, that we are glad they were born, that they are very important to us. These messages are conveyed in so many ways in our interaction with them – being glad to see them, saying ‘I love you’, giving hugs, showing interest. Through words, through looks, tone of voice, touch etc. we let our youngsters know what they mean to us.

When you need to correct a young person’s behaviour:
  • Be clear about what they’re doing wrong: “don’t”
  • Explain why you don’t want the behaviour:  “because”
  • State what you want them to do: “instead”
By just giving out we can harm self-esteem and give the wrong messages. For example, ‘I told you not to do that! You’re driving me mad’ is not the right way to express what you want. Follow the three guidelines above and use the “don’t”, “because” and “instead” phrases to guide you.
For example: ‘Don’t stay out so late because I worry when you’re out late, you need your sleep, and it’s a school-night. Instead you need to be home by our agreed time and if there’s any emergency making you late then contact me, ok?’

Give compliments freely – without any backhanders. If you’re going to give a compliment, be genuine about it and don’t try to take it back – often without realizing it we say things like ‘You’re pretty good at basketball, for a short fella,’ or ‘That’s really good, considering you made it’ or ‘I like you, even if nobody else does’. Give straight compliments and teach your teen to accept compliments. That means you have to be able to accept compliments too! Keep things real too – a teenager can sense very quickly if you don’t believe your own compliment to them, and they can feel worse than if you never said anything. 

Show interest in your teen – their life, their friends, their interests. Even if you hate their music and disapprove of their tv/computer habit, recognize that this is important to them and find a way to show an interest in it. Get them to teach you their favourite computer game so you have something you do together or find a hobby you both like. Meet their friends, make them welcome at your house. Even if it feels like you have nothing in common with your teen, create some common ground or at least make it safe and comfortable for them to talk to you about it. This gives them the message that they are worthy individuals, that they are lovable, that even when two people disagree they can still love one another. It helps them to feel more positive about themselves, and about you! 

Give your teen age-appropriate responsibility. Too often, parents try to do everything for their teen, or don’t allow them to do it because ‘they won't do it properly’. And then we complain that they’re lazy and won’t do anything for us! The teenage years are the preparation for adulthood – so teens need to learn how to prepare and cook food, how to clean up after themselves, how to do the laundry etc. That doesn’t mean they have to do all of this all of the time, but these are skills that are learned and improved upon with practice. They give the message that ‘you are capable’, one of the building bricks of self-esteem. They also learn that they are an important part of the family and that they have something worthwhile to contribute to the home. Feeling useful and needed is a very powerful way to feel good about yourself.

More questions

Children can learn invaluable lessons from winning and losing.
Many children are afraid of the dentist but there are lots of things you can do to soothe any fears.
Sports help your child develop in a number of different ways.
There are numerous benfits for children who dance from an early age.
A lot of parents worry about how safe sports are but the benefits far outweigh any downsides.
Getting your school child to follow instructions can be a challenge at the best of times.
It's normal for your school child to have many fears, some real and some imaginary.
Bed-wetting is a very common problem that many children experience particularly until the age of five. 
It's important to support your child if he is wetting the bed as it's out of his control
Your child shouldn't miss out on class trips or sleepovers just because he wets the bed.