The importance of helping teens discover self-worth

Kids who know that they have value are less likely to feel “worthless” when they fail or suffer a disappointment.

Self- esteem is an important internal asset for adolescents. Self-esteem does not refer to an inflated sense of self-worth or to false confidence. Rather, it is a person’s set of perceptions or beliefs upon which he or she bases a sense of self and significance.

In the past, the idea that self-esteem is related to the healthy development of individuals has been criticized. Those who are critical cite evidence 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, 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 understand why self-esteem is an important internal asset.

Self-esteem or self-worth is the understanding that as individuals we each are of value and have purpose. 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, to believe they can be successful and to set goals or have ambitions. Next, teens that have a sense of their own self-esteem are more likely to stand by their own convictions and beliefs, and not be swayed by others. Also, adolescents who understand that they have value will more likely be able to handle the disappointments and discouragements that come with growing up.

Kids 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-esteem 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 adolescents – a time when a person may encounter many experiences that could cause him or her to feel self-doubt.

Parents, adults and caregivers can help teens nurture self-esteem in two basic ways: first, parents can provide unconditional love. At home, with family and within religious institutions may be some of the few 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-esteem by giving opportunities for the teen 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 adults can use to help build the internal asset of self-esteem.


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