As teenagers go about the adolescent task of developing her identity, they are going to struggle with a poor or improper self-image from time to time. Teens play the comparison game whereby they are aware of peers who are smarter, prettier, more coordinated, and so on. Whenever teens play the comparison game they lose, and their self-image takes a hit. Parents can use their influence to build up a teen whose self-image is suffering.
What parents can do to help teens build a positive self-image:
- Believe in your teenager. Teenagers need adults in their lives who believe in them even when they don’t believe in themselves. The difference between a teen who moves on to healthy adulthood and another teen who does not is often one caring adult who believes in her or him. Be that person!
- Shower your teenager with praise. Praise and affirmation are positive, motivating factors that help to build your teen’s self-image. On the other side of the coin, constant negativism, nagging, and put-downs discourage, deflate, and damage self-esteem. So, choose praise over put-downs every time. Praise your teen, but don’t lie or exaggerate. Teens know the difference between legitimate and false praise. Try not to praise only for performance-based issues. Sure, it’s great if your daughter hits a grand slam in her softball game, but what if she strikes out every time at-bat? Do you only praise her when she succeeds? If so, she’ll get the message that she’s only valuable and lovable when she performs at high levels. It’s much better to praise her for good efforts regardless of outcomes, for her admirable behaviors, and most importantly, for her positive character and personality traits.
- Don’t overvalue your teen. Sure your teen is special, and a unique gift from God, but overvaluing your teen won’t help build a positive self-image in him. In fact, it can actually cause long-term damage to him by fostering narcissism, when parents unintentionally plant the seed in his mind that the world revolves around him.
- Encourage your teen and be a cheerleader. Urge your teen to develop her gifts, skills, and strengths. Help her to recognize and minimize her weaknesses. But remember that not every kid will become an academic genius or a professional athlete. Provide her with lots of emotional support and help her grow into the person that God has uniquely created.