Parenting Your Teens Podcast: Episode 2
Improving Your Teen’s Self-Esteem.
Real help for your teen’s mental health.
Thanks for tuning into the Parenting Your Teens podcast. Like we do every week, we take a question that was submitted from somebody listening or watching at home, and I answer it to give you real practical solutions to an issue that you're facing with your teen.
So today's question comes from somebody local, it actually came out of my practice this week. So kind of a shout out to my hometown of Folsom. But this one is a very ... it's an interesting question, because it touches on a lot of different topics. So the question is, "Chris, my daughter is really struggling with low self-esteem. It seems to be impacting every area of her life." She says, "School's affected, friends are affected, she's not really enjoying other activities that she used to before."
Is it teen depression?
So I get where she's going with that because the language that she used in the question starts to kind of lead to this place of is it low self-esteem or are we dealing with a full-blown depression, right? And when we get to full-blown depression, obviously that's scary, because with that can come self-harm, a lot of anxiety is attached to depression, suicidal issues, substance use, right? All of that becomes much more of a thing when you're dealing with that level.
But I want to focus on the topic that she asked in this particular question about low self-esteem. So teens are going through this period of their life, it's all about identity formation, right? It's who am I, who am I going to be, what's accepted, what's not, where do I find my value? And I think when we look back at our own lives we know that that time is all about peers, right? It's where do I fit in, who accepts me, what do I have to do to get that acceptance and approval?
And when you don't feel good about yourself or you're not able to access that level of connection, a lot of kids just feel like there's something wrong with themselves, that they're not good enough, that if they were only X, Y, or Z then everything would be fine.
So what I want to talk about is not only like what low self-esteem is, because I think we generally probably all know that for the most part, but what I want to look at is what do you do to challenge that type of thinking. It is thinking. It is the idea that our thoughts control our emotions.
Teen self-esteem is developmental.
Now teens have a really hard time with that, because developmentally they're just on such a different path. Now we all think development happens where it's like I physically develop, I emotionally develop, I intellectually develop, and it all goes on this timeline that's all lined up perfectly and then you go from 13 to 18, when you're 18 everything's all perfect, because now I'm an adult. Well, that's not true, and it's a lot of times more staggered. So you'll get a kid that develops intellectually, then physically, then emotionally.
And so when it's staggered like that, they kind of trip out of the gate, right? And they stumble a little bit and they have a difficult time finding their footing. We talk about it as like awkwardness, but that's really what it is, it's that those sort of three parts of development aren't either lining up exactly at the same time.
So this is a technique that I use in my practice to work with kids that really are struggling with this sort of who am I, where's my value, who defines me - that's a great question. Who defines you? Does the world, do other people or do you? Because if you let other people and the world define you, well, they're probably not going to be very kind to you. And even if they are, they might not kind of key in on that core issue or that core area that you feel is of ultimate value for you.
So anyways, here's a really basic technique, I love it, it's all predicated on the idea of like our thoughts control our behaviors.
Help your teen evaluate their SELF.
So what I do is I get kids to write a list, and when I do it in my office I have a whiteboard, I get them to do it on the whiteboard. But you can have them do it on a piece of paper or really anywhere that they just have an opportunity to write it down.
So what I do is I ask them to identify three areas of their life, and as many things in each category as they can identify. So it's what are you good at, what do you like about yourself, and what are you interested in? And then I just say go.
Now honestly, kids get usually three, maybe five things, and they're like, "That's it." And I'm like ... and I'll tell them like, "That's it, three or five things is all that you can think about what you're good at, what you like about yourself, and what you're interested in?" And I'll really start to challenge them, like sort of that like it's kind of not enough. Because I want them to really push themselves to explore at deeper levels.
So I'll help prompt them, I'm like, "Hey, are you caring? Are you smart? Are you funny? Do you like sports? Do you like TV? Do you like to dance? Are you into art," right? Just kind of getting that prompt going.
And what I tell kids is I'm going to try to get about 30 things down and they look at me like I'm crazy, they're like, "I'm not going to get thirty things. I had a hard enough time getting five," right? So when you get the ball rolling, all of a sudden they start getting it coming out. And like I said you prompt them a little bit through it, but at the end you'll get this list of about 30.
Now you could keep going with them. I always tell them, "If we had more time, we'd probably be able to get to 50, probably even a hundred things if we really had a lot of time." But you don't want to overwhelm them with it, you just want to get to about 30. If you feel like that's going to be a stretch, do like 25, kind of feel your teen out.
Help your teens see the best in themselves.
Then when you have that list, look at it and have them look at it, and ask them, "Is there anything about it that was surprising to you? Anything stand out to you?" And then just kind of pick a couple of things that are more character about them and highlight them, and just say, "Wow, that's really awesome that you identify that you're a really giving person," or, "That's awesome that you have a high level of empathy." Because those are sort of core pieces of ourselves.
The interests and the hobbies and the things we're good at, that's nice, and that'll boost up our confidence. But that's a little too surface to kind of hit deep into sort of that sense of self where we really want to get, okay?
So we have that list created, now this is what I do - I take the teen and I say, "I'm going to present you with a scenario. Now this is what the scenario is - you're at school and a guidance counselor comes up to you and says, 'Hey, we've got a new student that's starting at school today, but we need to make new friends for them. And I need those friends to happen like right now because they're going to be here in a really short amount of time.'" So I want to know right now will you be friends with that person. And here's the catch - the only thing I can do is give you this list, and you show them the list that they just created, okay?
And you say, "Now I need to know right now will you be friends with them?" And they'll scan the list, and it seems so basic and simple and the teens would know exactly what's going on, but they don't, they're just in it, and they're experiencing it. So you show them the list, they look through it, and you say, "Would you be friends with them?" And a hundred percent of kids I work with say, "Yes, I would be friends with them."
Let your teen do the work.
Now here's the thing - I asked them why, right? And they pause and they think about it and they look at the list and they'll say because they seem really cool or they're a great person or they seem really interesting. And so then I pause and I look at them and I say, "Yes, you are." And they have this look on their face like a thousand pounds just dropped off their shoulders. They finally saw that just because of who they are, they have value.
Now that's a lot different than just jumping in and saying, "Hey, look, you're great, you're fantastic, you have every reason to love yourself," right? That's nice to hear, but it's not going to shift the deeper beliefs and thoughts around that like this specific exercise would.
So anyways, I just encourage you to try that with your teens. I know you're going to have like awesome results and they're going to love it. Afterwards they'll sort of joke and kind of laugh about it.
Here's a little bonus tip - create an affirmation for them. Every morning have them wake up and just say a positive self-statement, "I'm awesome, I'm amazing, I'm incredible." Those sorts of things. If you can get them to do that regularly, man, their life's going to change really quick and they'll start seeing like I said their true value, not based on kind of what the world says their value is.
So anyways, thanks for tuning in today. And like always, if you want to learn more about ending the defiance and disrespect in your teens, then visit parentingyourteens.com where you can get a free training on ending the defiance and disrespect using three steps. So anyways, thanks, again, for tuning in. And we'll see you next time.
About Christopher Taylor, MFT
Christopher Taylor, MFT is a teen expert, therapist, author, and speaker with 16 years of experience working with teens and families. He provides teen and family therapy services in Folsom, Granite Bay, El Dorado Hills and surrounding areas. Chris is the author and creator of the Back to Basics: Tayloring Your Teen For Success Program, consisting of the book, workbook and online course.