Sunday, November 6, 2011

Causes of Low Self-esteem in Teens: Unintentional but Common Mistakes Parents Make

Ivana Pejakovic, B.Sc., MA

Parents have an incredible influence over their kids’ self-esteem (SE). While the best time to start building your kids SE is from day 1, it is never too late to start. Every day brings opportunities to nourish a child’s SE. Unfortunately, when parents don’t take these opportunities to show their child their worth (either because they do not recognize them or are not sure how to take advantage of such opportunities), kids will show signs of slow SE.

To be able to take opportunities each day requires conscious parenting. Conscious parenting means being in the moment and paying close attention to how your words and behaviour make your child feel. If you do not like his/her response consider how your words and behaviour may have affected your child. Every child has different sensitivity levels so it is difficult for any expert to give you an exact formula on how to treat your child. Experts can only provide suggestions and guidelines and it is up to you to adjust it so it fits into your family.

Here are some of the most common mistakes parents make that lowers SE in teens. Do feel free to adjust so it best suits your family!

1. Runs in the family: Typically (but not always), when parents have a healthy self-esteem, the kids do too. Likewise, when parents have low self-esteem, so do the kids. Why is this? Because SE influences language and behaviour (level of assertiveness, confidence, and sociability). Language and behaviour are visible evidence of the SE level and parents model that type of behaviour to their kids. Shy parents who avoid meeting new people and who have little to say in unfamiliar situations have children who observe their avoidant behaviour and will usually grow to imitate the parents.

2. Bad experience: Every once in a while a child will have a bad experience. Tripping and falling in a school performance, mind going completely blank during a test, making a serious social gaffe; any one of these situations can leave the child feeling bad about himself. During this time it is essential he receives unconditional support from parents. Bad experiences are a part of life; however, if parents are not up to date on what is going on in their child’s life they cannot provide the encouragement required so their child can gain a healthy perspective of the situation and maintain a good SE level.

3. SE isn’t nurtured: Although parents have the best intentions, they don’t always translate them into most effective words and behaviour. Reason being? Lack of knowledge. Part of building SE involves daily hugs and “I love you’s.” The frequency of either of these should not be based on performance or achievement. Rather they should be based on the child’s inherent worth as a human being. Regular hugs and “I love you’s” ought to continue into the late teen years. Your child may try to discourage hugs as he gets older (hugs tend to lose their ‘coolness’), but it is your parental right and duty to nurture your child with loving touches and words. Additionally, parents don’t always allow children to make age appropriate decisions. While it is true that you can do most things better, faster, and more accurately, doing things for your child ends up sending the message “you just can’t do it right.” Lastly, when problems arise, parents like to take over and have control of the outcome. Instead, encourage your child to solve the problem on his own as opposed to you taking charge. Remember, it is PRACTICE that gets things right, NOT age! And it is practice that builds SE and self-confidence.

4. Not involved in extracurricular activities: Being a part of teams and clubs builds SE. It shows your child he fits in socially, has great ideas to contribute, it gives him a feeling of achievement, a feeling of fulfillment, and allows him to make various friends. The trick of course is to sign your child up for activities he wants to participate in, not the ones you wish you participated in when you were his age.

5. Negative feedback: Parents often say ‘you could have tried harder and you could have done better.’ The intention of course is to let the child know that with more practice the result would have been better. And many times that statement is correct, had the child put in more effort he could have done better. What parents may not understand is that kids rarely hear what parents think they are saying. Over time the child will infer your words to mean “I am not good enough*.” Likewise, refusing to attend or threatening not to attend sports games until child improves skill leaves child feeling undeserving and stressed.

*Note: This is why parents with high SE don’t always raise kids with high SE. They unknowingly use the wording that leads kids to misinterpret parents’ meaning.

Best Wishes to Your Family!

Ivana Pejakovic, Life Coach in Toronto

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