For teenagers, dealing with all the physical changes and psychological pressures of adolescence can seem overwhelming. As they journey through puberty, criticism, academic, athletic and peer pressures, dating challenges, hormonal changes and a host of body concerns mixed with their own search for self cause many teens to struggle with self-esteem issues.
Self-esteem is defined as how a person feels about herself. Many teens experience anxiety over what they feel is an unattractive appearance, which can play a significant role in teen self-esteem issues, causing teenagers to feel like outcasts. Referred to as negative or irrational self-talk, teens can build up undesirable beliefs in their minds. For example, a teen may focus on a feature, such as her ears, that the teen feels are out of proportion to the rest of her head. Real issues, such as a birthmark, a severe case of acne or a scar from a childhood accident can make teens feel unattractive, contributing to low self-esteem.
Self-esteem is a belief construct that is learned. Teens exposed to excessive criticism or rejections will commonly develop self-esteem issues. A teenager receiving constant criticism, such as from parents and teachers, for poor academic performance or not helping at home, will often learn to doubt himself, developing low self-esteem as a result. Rejection from coaches and classmates, such as when trying out for the basketball team or asking out the head cheerleader, can also cause a teen to feel low self-worth and develop low self-esteem.
During the teen years growth and sex hormones kick into high gear, transforming the teen into an adult. These hormonal changes result in a chemical imbalance in a teen’s brain, causing the teen to feel confusion about everything from sex to their changing relationships with their parents, making poor self-esteem issues common. According to Louann Brizendine, M.D., author of "The Female Brain" and "The Male Brain," the confusion is caused by physiological changes occurring in the primitive parts of the brain, namely the amygdala and the hypothalamus.
Unrealistic expectations, whether placed on teens by adults or themselves, can trigger numerous self-esteem issues. According to the faculty at Merced High School, in Merced, California, if parents, teachers or coaches place too much pressure on teens to succeed, academically or in sports, in hopes the teen will get into a good college, teens can succumb to the burden, resulting in low self-esteem. Pressures from family life, such as parents going through a divorce, can cause a teen to develop self-esteem issues, especially if the teen feels responsible for the problem.
Building High Self-Esteem
As pervasive as low self-esteem issues often are for teenagers, building high self-esteem can be done with consistent and honest effort by parents and the teen herself. Overcoming negative self-talk is a key step in overcoming self-esteem issues. Help your teen build up her self-esteem by giving her positive affirmations to replace her negative thoughts. According to Asoka Selvarajah, Ph.D., when used properly and regularly, positive affirmations can build self-esteem. Positive self-statements, like “I am way too large of a gift to this world to feel sorry for myself,” are an extremely powerful weapon in fighting the war on low self-esteem. Bear in mind that positive affirmations only work when framed in positive terms, so avoid statements with negative words like bad, hurt or not, such as, “I will not allow others to hurt me or make me feel bad.”