Help teens discover self-worth

Having self-esteem and self-concept are important internal strengths for adolescents.

Self-worth is an important internal strength for adolescents. Positive self-esteem and self-concept are not referring to an inflated sense of self-worth or to false confidence. Rather, it is a person’s set of insights or beliefs upon which they identify themselves.

In the past, the idea that self-esteem is related to the healthy development of individuals has been criticized. Those who are critical say that even some adolescents who are engaged in very risky behavior (including violence and gang involvement) may have “high self-esteem” while some kids who score highly on academic tests of achievement have, in some studies, have been shown to have “low self-esteem.” The problem may arise because we, as parents, think of self-esteem as a goal or as something we are seeking for our teens.  Instead, we need to have a better understanding of why self-esteem and self- concept are important internal strengths. 

Self-esteem (how one feels about themselves) and self-concept (how one thinks about themselves) make up a person’s overall self-worth. It is one’s perception of who they are – basically how they “feel in their skin”. 

This understanding is critical, especially for teens, for a number of reasons. First, adolescents who think of themselves as valuable are more likely to be willing to try something new. They believe they can be successful and are more likely to set goals or have ambitions. Next, teens that have a sense of their own self-worth are more likely to stand by their own convictions and beliefs and tend not to be swayed by others. Adolescents who understand that they have value are more likely to handle the disappointments and discouragements that come with growing up. Teens who know that they are “worth something” are less likely to feel “worthless” when they occasionally fail or suffer a disappointment. 

When combined with other positive traits like integrity, caring, achievement, motivation or a sense of justice, self-worth is an important factor in helping adolescents’ grow into productive, successful young adults. Building this sense of self-worth is a lifelong effort but it is especially important to continue working on it through adolescence - a time a person may encounter many experiences that may cause him or her to feel self-doubt.

Parents, adults, mentors and caregivers can help teens nurture self-worth in two basic ways: 

  • These significant adults can provide unconditional love. At home, with family and within religious institutions can be some of the places where teens can experience this type of affection. Unconditional love means being appreciated and valued just for who you are. Not for what you do or look like or what you accomplish. This sense of value for just being “you” is critical.
  • Parents, adults and caregivers can also nurture a teen’s self-worth by providing them opportunities to experience success. Adolescents who are given responsibility and who are trusted and supported are more likely to succeed. Each successful experience builds on the teen’s sense of competence and mastery—and that makes him and her feel better about themselves!

It may not always be easy to express unconditional love for the adolescent, but it is a practice that adults can use to help build the internal strength of self-worth.

Michigan State University Extension offers  a variety of educational programs throughout the state including an educational program called Building Strong Adolescents

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