by Chris Taylor, MFT, Author “Back to Basics"
We have all heard, you are what you eat. What we don’t often realize is that our minds operate on the same premise that what we feed it will be used to build it. Now obviously our minds don’t actually eat, but they do process external messages and internal thoughts every moment of the day. So what do you do when you notice your teen has a poor self-concept, low self-esteem, or does not deal well with failure? The answer is to understand the core beliefs of your teen.
Many teens experience thoughts that they are unlovable, misunderstood, or that they don’t deserve good things in life. It is heartbreaking for a parent to think that their teen sees themselves in such a negative light. As a parent, it is important not to dwell in your own negative thoughts but to take an active role in helping your teen overcome the effects of negative self-talk.
The first step is to identify where these core beliefs come from. Have they been shamed for their struggles? Rejected in their attempts to get attention or affection? Given a message that success is the only avenue for them to gain acceptance and approval? If so, then take the risk to counter this message by acknowledging your own mistakes in parenting and atone for the negative impact.
If the message is from peers or media messages then encourage your teen to kill the ANTS (automatic negative thoughts) by replacing them with intentional positive thoughts. Over time the mind will condition itself to crave the positive thoughts, which will result in changes to core beliefs. Journaling is a great way for teens to access unfiltered thoughts and feelings. Dedicated time for reflection should be set aside in order to gain insight and understanding as to where the real issues stem from. Additionally, daily affirmations help to start each morning with a positive thought and conditions the mind to seek out positive messages the remainder of the day. Make sure affirmations are positive and short as to not confuse the process. An effective affirmation would be, “I am loveable.”
Parents should also help their teens explore evidence that does not support the core belief. By challenging the accuracy of negative self-statements, teens will begin to feel a sense of hope. Doing this exercise with a parent will build trust, encourage vulnerability and give your teen the support and encouragement, that despite thoughts to the contrary, they are capable and deserving of great things.