6 Tips to Help Teens Develop Healthy Self-esteem

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Parents continue to play an important role in the development of self-esteem during teenage years. Here are six tips to help your teen develop healthy self-esteem:

  • Communicate and Be Emotionally Available

During the teen years, dependence on parents gradually lessens while relationships between peers become increasingly prominent. Parents may feel that their child is pulling away and that they no longer play an important role in their teen’s life. But rest assured, during adolescence, autonomy is established, not at the expense of a sound relationship with parents, but rather in the presence of a healthy one. Disagreements between parents and teens are common during this period while the amount of quality time spent together becomes less frequent.

Parents continue to play a vital role during adolescence and can maintain a strong emotional bond by providing warmth, support, respect, and understanding. Keeping the lines of communication open, by talking, showing interest, staying involved and paying attention, is crucial, even if your child seems to be pushing you away. Being present, discussing, and making the experiences your teen shares with you meaningful enhances their self-esteem and emotional competency.

Don’t hold grudges after arguments and always hit the reset button even when you are feeling quite frustrated with your teen’s behaviour. Take a breath and remember that your goal is to discover what is at the root of their actions so that you can respond thoughtfully with caring and compassion. Teens who have parents that are emotionally available and supportive of their efforts will most likely internalize the view that they are valuable and competent, important antecedents for the development and maintenance of healthy self-esteem into adulthood.

  • Support Academic Achievement While Encouraging Realistic Goals

Self-criticism is at its highest during adolescence. Some of the strategies commonly employed by teens to protect and maintain their self-esteem include comparing themselves to peers who are worse off, attributing failures to external sources, or reducing the importance given to areas where success was not attained.

When teens struggle with academic achievement, they may attribute their failures to an internally fixed trait or lack of ability, which can create a sense of hopelessness and cause them to stop trying. If you can listen and notice when your teen uses these defenses or expresses unrealistic views of their abilities, you can help them to reframe their distorted patterns of thinking into more realistic ones.  Parental feedback should be directed towards effort and conversations should surround how success can be achieved – through hard work and persistence. Help your son or daughter determine if their aspirations are realistic, and if not, discuss how they may set more attainable goals. Help them to establish personal goals and ideals rather than aspire to those of others. Explain that their value as a person doesn’t depend on how well they do relative to others, instead encourage them to put their best foot forward and work to the best of their abilities.  Help your child develop competence and if they are struggling academically, support them by partnering with their teacher, hiring a tutor or sitting down and helping them work through academic challenges while at the same time highlighting and promoting their strengths. 

  • Promote Physical Self-Esteem

Feelings about one’s physical appearance are big predictors of overall self-esteem during adolescence. Girls, who often gain weight during puberty, are especially vulnerable to developing a negative body image due to the bombardment of media messages they receive about what the ideal body type is. Conversely, the pubertal changes that boys undergo – increased muscle size and strength – often positively affect their self-esteem. Physical appearance is harder to change and can sometimes lead to unhealthy practices such as dieting for those with an unfavourable view.

Help your teen reframe how they see themselves by having them identify their strengths and the areas in which they feel good. Open up conversations about the media and the unrealistic messages of perfection it sends. Encourage and support your teen to get involved with a sports team or activity they enjoy to increase physical competence, develop new abilities, and give them a sense of well-being.

  • Help Your Teen to Develop Positive Social Relationships

Social acceptance and the approval of others is often closely linked with self-esteem and is often one of its most important predictors at this stage. Although beliefs surrounding academic achievement, physical attractiveness, and athletic competence play key roles in enhancing a teen’s self-esteem, peer relationships and social supports are often more crucial. If your child lacks peer support, work on improving skills that help foster positive relationships with others – interpersonal qualities, communication, empathy and social skills.

Role-playing with your teen is a powerful way to help them gain competence in areas such as maintaining eye contact, accepting criticism, taking responsibility in an uncomfortable situation, and being assertive with peers and adults, to name a few. If your child’s perceptions concerning their social network are unrealistic, help them develop an appreciation and a more accurate view.  Even if they have a group of close friends, they may negatively compare themselves to others who they deem more popular or socially valued.  Since self-criticism is at its highest, help your teen to challenge these appraisals and talk back to their inner critic by replacing negative self-reference statements with more positive ones.

  • Encourage Pro-social Behaviour

Giving back to society – doing small favours for others and volunteering – has been shown to be successful in bolstering overall self-esteem, especially after receiving acknowledgment and expressions of gratitude in return. Being of service to another provides a distraction from one’s problems and an opportunity to gain competence. Helping others makes one feel good, provides purpose and meaning, and can be an avenue for social integration. Helping your child with their search to discover these types of opportunities and identify something that is meaningful to them can give them a sense of pride and help to develop feelings of self-worth.

  • Monitor Internet Use

Access to internet use during the teen years – is it good or is it bad? This is a popularly debated question. Some claim it has a positive effect on an adolescent’s well-being as it serves as a platform to establish new relationships, increase social support, alleviate loneliness, release pressure, provide a sense of control and achievement, and improve confidence. Others believe that internet usage has a negative impact on teens’ mental health since it reduces face-to-face interactions, which leads to arrested social skills, diminishes the quality of relationships, increases social isolation, and reduces self-esteem as one acquires their perception of self based on how many Facebook friends or followers they have or likes, comments or shares they receive. Internet addiction is a topic that is being given a lot of attention as teens increasingly spend a large part of their day in front of their screens for both recreational and social uses.  Many are doing so at the expense of school, work, family, other recreational pursuits and even face-to-face contact with peers.

It is important to establish rules and set time limits on internet usage to avoid negative outcomes. Using the internet for educational purposes or learning should be viewed differently from social and recreational use, and flexibility should be proffered for weekend vs. weekday use. Take the time to learn about how Facebook and online games are built to hook your children in and create addiction and then share this information with them. Get your teen to upload the app “Demetricator,” which removes all of the numbers that keep Facebook users hooked, and “Moment,” an app that records how many times someone picks up their phone and how often they spend on it daily. This awareness is usually enough to convince users to reduce screen time. The final piece is to model the same behaviour that you want from your teens. Put your phone down, make eye contact when communicating, and stay connected to your teen!



“Body Image and Self-Esteem in Youth.” Parenting in Ottawa, Ottawa Public Health, www.parentinginottawa.ca/en/youth/Body-Image-and-Self-esteem-in-Youth.aspx#Factors-that-affect-body-image-and-self-esteem.

Fu, Xinyuan, et al. “Longitudinal Relations between Adolescents’ Self-Esteem and Prosocial Behavior toward Strangers, Friends and Family.” Journal of Adolescence, vol. 57, June 2017, pp. 90–98., www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140197117300507.


Written by: Lindi Ross, M.Ed, PPCC  Montreal Therapy Centre