Facts About Insecurity in Teens

By Erica Loop
Point out and praise your teen's school successes.
Point out and praise your teen's school successes.

From her outward appearance to internal attributes such as intelligence, your teen is questioning who she is and how she stacks up against almost everyone else. Insecurity in teens has many different causes. Whether your teen is developing earlier or later than her friends, has a specific media-driven image of perfection stuck in her head or holds herself up to higher than possible standards, insecurity is a common part of adolescence that you can help your child overcome.

Risk Factors

The risk factors for insecurity run the gamut from personality traits to TV time. In a study of 6,522 girls ages 12 through 16, researchers found that being overweight or obese, engaging in rebellious or sensation-seeking behaviors and watching more TV were all associated with having low self-esteem, according to the article “Characteristics Associated with Low Self-Esteem Among U.S. Adolescents,” published in the professional journal, Academic Pediatrics. Other possible risks or causes for insecurity in teens include media influence, peer pressures or family expectations.

Puberty and Teens

Feeling insecure during the teen years is a common issue that many adolescents deal with. This is particularly true during puberty. As your teen’s body changes, he may not fully understand what is happening to him or he may think that he isn’t on the same level as other kids his age. For example, if your teen hasn’t had a growth spurt and is much shorter than his classmates, he may feel insecure about his body. A lack of accurate education on the changes of puberty may result in misunderstandings. Compounded onto this a growing sense of self in comparison to others, and your teen may start to feel inadequate or see his changing body as abnormal. Teens typically outgrow puberty-driven insecurity as they become more aware of the facts and realize that everyone grows at different rates, but some teens continue to have body image issues that result from a skewed or unrealistic view. The hormonal changes of puberty may also make your teen moody, resulting in feeling overly sensitive or self-conscious.

Insults and Put-Downs

Insecurity doesn’t always start in your teen’s own mind. Insults and put-downs from others can trigger insecurity. Unkind words may plant a thought that makes her believe the insult is accurate. This results in self-doubt and eventually, insecurity. Your teen may focus on the negative comments, making her insecurity worse. Instead of feeding your teen’s existing self-doubt, use constructive criticism, suggests the American Academy of Pediatrics on its HealthyChildren.org website. This doesn’t mean that you should gloss over mistakes or failures, but take a positive approach and focus on what your teen does well and how she can improve. For example, when your teen does well at school, sports or in any other area of her life, praise her. Let her know how proud you are of her and her efforts. Doing so helps her to see the difference between someone else's insults and the reality of who she really is. Ask your teen to compliment himself. Doing so helps him to develop self-esteem from within instead of relying on what anyone else says.

How to Help

Talk about issues such as body image and what is realistic. For example, if he says that he’s fat because his favorite action hero is all muscle, discuss whether being Hollywood-buff is realistic for him and his body type. Have an open, honest discussion about what is and isn't healthy when it comes to his body. Suggest ways that he can look and feel his best through healthy lifestyle changes such as eating a nutritious diet and getting regular exercise through playing a sport or jogging with you. If your teen's insecurity is still getting the best of him or he's engaging in risky behaviors such as drinking alcohol or using drugs as ways to escape from his feelings, seek professional help immediately. The same is true if your teen is showing signs of a body image or eating disorder. Signs of this may include negative comments about his body, exercising constantly, restricting his diet or using supplements to build muscle.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.