Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

Teaching Self-Esteem to Your Teen

In the eyes of a parent, a child might be physically beautiful, emotionally generous and intensely intelligent. When that child looks in the mirror, however, the teen might see only bumps and flaws, and the teen might have additional concerns regarding intelligence and social interactions. Teens are often the harshest judges of their own capabilities, and it’s not uncommon for them to develop significant self-esteem deficiencies as they transition from childhood to adulthood.

Dealing With Bullies

Some teens develop self-esteem troubles due to the persistent taunting they endure at school. According to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Justice, 28 percent of those ages 12 to 18 were bullied in 2005, and the abuse often took place on school grounds. Obviously, parents can’t intervene when they’re not present, but they can equip their children to deal with the abuse, and provide very real help to make the torture stop.

A frank talk with a bullied teen can help parents to understand the scope of the abuse, and the names of the parties involved. Sometimes, teens benefit from role-play activities with their parents, in which they think of new ways to respond to old barbs. Sometimes, teens also feel at ease when they understand the factors that might motivate a bully. But if the abuse continues, parents can and should contact officials at the school and report the incident. Some schools ask parents of the abuser and the abused to come together in meetings to discuss the problem, but in other cases, parents need to repeatedly discuss the incident with school officials in order to make the bullying child change behaviors for good. Stopping this behavior could be the key to preventing future damage that could lead to yet more reductions in self-esteem.

Building on the Good

Teens with low self-esteem often focus exclusively on their shortcomings, refusing to see that they are living lives that might be considered both useful and good. Parents can help by seeking out activities the child finds both enjoyable and rewarding.


Good options might include:

  • Sports
  • Playing an instrument
  • Arts and crafts
  • Dramatic performance

Teens who spend time doing something they enjoy tend to feel a little better about their lives and their abilities. Parents can praise their participation, without explicitly commenting on their ability to win or beat others. Pointing out the lovely music a child makes or the beautiful art a teen creates might be more helpful in terms of self-esteem than comments about winning a gallery show, or not placing in the show at all.

Ask for Opinions


In an article produced by the American Academy of Pediatrics, experts suggest that low self-esteem scores sometimes come about due to a teen’s lowered position in the family. The teen might feel like an adult, but the parents might continue to treat the teen like a child.

Including the teen in family discussions by soliciting that teen’s opinion might be an excellent way to help teens to feel valued and important.

They might be so rarely consulted in these discussions that the first forays might seem strange to them, but in time, they might feel as though they’re vital to the functioning of the family, with an important contribution to make.

Give Praise Generously

It’s common for parents to focus on the things a child does wrong and provide instruction on what that teen should do differently in the future. Unfortunately, conversations smattered with the phases “you should” and “why don’t you” can turn into a stream of negative self-talk that plays endlessly inside the mind of a teen. Parents who provide only negative feedback may be inadvertently teaching their teens to think of themselves only in a negative light.


Finding one simple thing to praise a teen about each day should be relatively easy for most parents. Those happy comments should be kept brief, however, as teens tend to be suspicious of talks that go on for long periods of time. Parents shouldn’t be surprised, either, if their compliments result in scowls and frowns from their teens. It can take time for young people to learn to accept a generous comment without feeling the urge to either negate it or brush it away. It can take even longer for teens to give themselves these compliments. Sticking with the program by continuing to compliment can help.

Getting Help

While these quick tips can help some teens to develop a robust sense of self, there are some teens who need a little might also engage in substance use and abuse, and they might have conduct issues that stand in the way of good parent/child talks. Teens like this might best be reached with the help of experts.

If your son is struggling and your efforts to assist haven’t made a difference, we can help. At Muir Wood, we’ve developed a program that can help teen boys advance academically and emotionally, and we’re accepting clients right now. Please call to speak with an admissions counselor.