Helping a Teen With Low Self-Esteem
As a parent, you've likely come across books, magazine articles and even TV shows about teens suffering from low self-esteem. But there's one thing they all forget to address: teens who suffer not from their own low self-esteem, but from that of a parent. Here's what your low self-esteem and negative attitude does to your teen, and here's how you can change it.
You're probably doubting your self-esteem has anything to do with your teen, but experts agree that teens mimic their parents' actions, both the good and bad. "A mother who is frequently using negative self-talk, who verbally beats herself and who doesn't stand up for herself, teaches that behavior to her teen children," says Leni Kass, co-founder of HeyUGLY.com, an organization dedicated to creating programs for teens that build self-esteem.
To make matters worse, Kass says, parents with low self-esteem are far less likely to emphasize the positive in their children. "They are often as hard, or harder, on their children than they are on themselves," Kass says.
For a teen who doesn't have positive role models, this can be a tremendous blow. Not feeling as though a parent's expectations can be met or not getting enough positive feedback can lead a teen to stop trying altogether and begin failing in school, dropping out of activities she once enjoyed and even becoming depressed.
Depression isn't the only major effect either. Teens who often hear Mom or Dad obsess about weight and appearance often develop eating disorders or addictions to exercise as a way to "avoid the thing that's stressing Mom or Dad so much."
In some instances, a parent's low self-esteem stems from a negative experience with the opposite sex, and some parents have no qualms about sharing their negative outlook with their teen. Deborah McMahon, psychotherapist and author of The Book of Universal Knowledge says, "This severely impacts the opposite sexed child, and they often carry shame and guilt about being their sex."
Attitudes Toward Others
You may not see any signs of self-dislike in your teen, but chances are those signs will show in relationships with others. According to Kass, we get our cues about how to respond to the opposite sex by watching the adults around us interact with each other.
"Whether it be by demeanor, language, body language [or] the consistent selection of unhealthy partners, parents can easily impart negativity to their children without realizing it," she says.
If your teens witness you being disrespected by men, again and again, they're likely to mirror that behavior – your son treating females that same way, and your daughter essentially becoming that disrespected female.
For parents who aren't in bad relationships, but instead use previous ones as a basis for negative comments about the opposite sex, Larina Kase, psychologist and president of Performance and Success Coaching, LLC, says, "When a teen hears a parent saying demeaning or derogatory statements or treating members of the opposite sex in discriminatory ways, that teen would be likely to show the same behavior and attitudes."
Sometimes, though, the teen will rebel against the parents' attitude and become overly friendly or act out sexually as a way to prove to the parents that they were wrong about all the things they said.
Attitude Toward You
Even though you may not be close enough to your teen to see the effects your lack of confidence and negative attitude has on his friendships, if you open your eyes wide enough, you're likely to see the effects in his relationship with you.
Rachna D. Jain, psychologist, says teens view parents with low self-esteem in one of two main ways: "Either they feel angry and upset at the parent because of his [or] her limitations, or they feel sorry for or protective of the parents because of the limitations."
For the teen who feels resentment because of what she sees as a parents' "shortcomings," it's not rare for her to lash out by ignoring any limits set by the parent and becoming out of control. On the other hand, Kass says teens who feels sorry for the parent may take on more of a parenting or nurturing role.
Though it may seem nice to be nurtured and taken care of by your child, it's not a good role to play. Your child sees your lack of self-confidence as a weakness, and the only way you can overcome this weakness is by getting help.
Breaking the Cycle
If you'd like to do something about your lack of self-esteem, you have to get to work fast. Some of the most important steps you can take are:
- Admit to yourself that you have a problem. Don't be embarrassed or feel guilty because you have an issue with your self-esteem. We all go through bouts of low self-confidence. Admitting to yourself that yours isn't just periodic, but instead something serious, is the first step toward establishing healthy self-esteem.
- Don't try to hide it from your teen. After you realize your lackluster self-esteem could be potentially hurting your child, you may try to hide it. Don't! Instead, just like you admitted to yourself that there's a problem, you should do the same with your teen. Let her know that you haven't been feeling too good about some things, but because you love her and want to have a happy family, you're going to get help.
- Get help. If this trail of low self-esteem is something new to you or just a very brief cloud of dislike, you may be able to remedy the problem with the support of family and friends. But if it's something you've dealt with long-term or your self-esteem has hit rock-bottom, you may need to seek professional help. Whether it be a psychologist, psychotherapist, religious leader or even a counseling group, get help! If you don't do it for yourself, then do it for your teen's sake, because as Jain points out, "Children are resilient and can overcome much, [but] why not allow them to start with as clean a slate as possible?"