Latest update: June 13th, 2012
We often use the expressions “good self-esteem” or “poor self-esteem” to describe people’s evaluation of their own worth. When people have good self-esteem, they tend to view life from a positive perspective, seeing their potential value. Poor or low self-esteem causes people to feel that everything they do in life is a losing battle and that they always get the short end of the stick.
Low self-esteem can be very painful and difficult to overcome. Self-esteem is something we come into the world with; it follows us through life like a shadow. If we lose it, we are lost. If we have we it, we can face all of life’s trials and tribulations and maintain our sense of satisfaction and emotional well-being.
Self-esteem is also profoundly affected by what happens to us along life’s path. Many circumstances may contribute to low self-esteem in teenagers, including:
- Learning disabilities
- Lack of friendships
- Physical or emotional abuse
- A sick parent
- A death in the family
Many of these issues make a person feel that life will always be fraught with pain and failure. Low self-esteem makes people feel that their proverbial cup is always half empty.
For parents trying to connect to teenagers with low self-esteem, the best strategy is not to focus on the teens’ negative patterns of behavior but rather to find ways to nourish their inner sense of self. Parents can take many steps to help build their teens’ self-esteem. Here are just a few:
- Highlight positive aspects of their physical, mental, and emotional development, such as the way they look, the way they express their thoughts and feelings, the skills they have, and those they are developing.
- Focus on their accomplishments. Congratulate them for their achievements, however big or small. Remind them daily of the things they do well and of the courage they have shown.
- Help them to be realistic and accept the facts that they aren’t perfect at everything and they don’t have to be.
- Teach them to laugh at past disappointments when you can. Use set backs as opportunities for insight and growth.
- Help them develop a support system of people they trust who will listen when they need to talk.
Relationship Test: Do you take time to develop your teen’s self-esteem?
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Never Rarely Constantly
A person’s individuality consists of the qualities and characteristics that distinguish that person as a unique human being. Without a sense of uniqueness, it is difficult for a person to establish their own identity in the world and to understand the special role that they will play.
Individuality is a very powerful part of being a teenager and the need for it grows, as children get older. Young children’s identities are often enveloped in the family’s identity and they have little opportunity to express their own sense of self. But as they become teenagers, they have a greater need to establish their unique identity among their family and peers.
When dealing with teens at risk, parents need to take the time to acknowledge their teenagers’ unique positive qualities. Unique qualities distinguish every human being. The fact that a teen may be depressed or difficult to relate to does not mean that the he or she has no positive personality traits. For example, a fifteen-year-old girl who is doing poorly in school excels as an artist and musician. Or a fourteen-year-old boy with ADHD is a talented carpenter and has many practical and social skills that will help him to succeed in the business world.
Unfortunately we tend to demand the same level of success academically from all children, even though school achievement may not be an appropriate measuring stick with which to evaluate their success in life. Try to look at all teenagers as diamonds that need to be polished. When you help identify people’s unique qualities, you are helping them to remove their rough exterior and allowing their G-d-given brightness to shine.
At the same time, a teen’s individuality must be moderated in relation to many other factors, including the need to be part of the family, school, and society. The challenge of individuality is for parents to nurture their teens’ sense of uniqueness and at the same time help them to integrate their identity into the greater whole.
Relationship Test: How often do you help your teen become aware of his or her individuality?
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Never Rarely Constantly
Love and Friendship
Love is one of the most important ingredients of life that can contribute to a person’s emotional well-being. It is experienced when a person senses feelings of affection and fondness from others, especially from family and friends.
Children begin life seeking love from their parents and their environment. When babies are fed when hungry, held when scared, and covered when cold, they sense love and security from their parents. If the desire for love is fulfilled, children can grow up with the confidence needed to live a life of optimism and emotional security. If the need for love is frustrated, then people can be left with feelings of loneliness and despair.
Although we usually think about love as a necessity for young children, teens also need the same special feelings of love and affection from their parents, as they get older. The way love is expressed by parents, however, may need to be changed according to the various stages in teens’ lives. Love for teenagers does not mean buying them a lollypop or allowing them to stay up a little longer. Love for most teenagers is best expressed when a parent is able to understand their needs and is willing to listen to their inner issues. For a teenager, “to understand me,” means, “to love me.”
Although teens aren’t always easy to deal with and your relationship with your teenager may be strained, it’s crucial to continue to express feelings of love and kindness and give your child a sense that you care about him or her. More than anything else, teenagers at risk need friendly and loving parents who are able to spend enjoyable time with them without criticizing them or making them feel that they are being unjustly controlled.
Relationship Test: How often do you nurture your teen’s need for love and relationship?
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Never Rarely Constantly
Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is the Executive Director of Shalom Task Force and author of “At Risk – Never Beyond Reach” and “First Aid for Jewish Marriages.” To order a copy, visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com. For more information about Shalom Task Force, please visit www.shalomtaskforce.org. You can e-mail questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author: Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, Marriage and Family Therapy, is an expert in marriage counseling, pre-marital education, and helping teens in crisis with offices in Flatbush, Cedarhurst, and Crown Heights. He is a certified PAIRS instructor, and trained as a Level 1, Emotionally Focused Therapist at the Ackerman Institute for the Family, and is a member of AASECT. He is the author of At Risk – Never Beyond Reach and First Aid For Jewish Marriages. To watch his free videos on marriage and parenting and for appointments visit: www.JewishMarriageSupport.com or call 646-428-4723
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