Anxiety in Teens

Enhancing Self Esteem

What is it?

Self esteem is defined as the thoughts, opinions, and feelings we have about ourselves. Self esteem is therefore dynamic and can change over time depending on the way we think. Our thoughts and opinions about ourselves are greatly influenced by a variety of factors, including childhood experiences, health, peer pressure, social media, beliefs and religion, family and friends, romantic relationships, and work or school environments. Over time, habits of thinking negatively about ourselves can lower self-esteem.

Self esteem tends to vary more during life transitions, and with the changes and challenges associated with adolescence, it is no wonder that research has found that up to half of all adolescents struggle with low self esteem, particularly in early adolescence. The effects of low self esteem are often temporary. However, if not addressed, it can lead to more significant issues later in life, including depression, anxiety, self-harming behaviours, or eating disorders, to name a few. Additionally, adolescents who suffer from low self esteem tend to do more poorly in school and have fewer friendships.

Common causes of poor self esteem can include:

  • Criticism or neglect from significant caregivers
  • Stressful life events including frequent moving, conflict or parental separation
  • Bullying
  • Negative peers
  • Trauma or abuse
  • Mental health difficulties
  • Poor academic performance
  • Unrealistic expectations of the individual by themselves or others

Good self esteem is important, not only because it helps adolescents feel good about themselves, but it also encourages them to tackle new tasks, take healthy risks, and problem solve. Someone with healthy self esteem is more likely to demonstrate more independence and responsibility in their actions. Likewise, they are more likely to take pride in their work and accomplishments and tolerate and manage positive and negative emotions effectively.

Symptom Checklist

General signs that your child is experiencing low self esteem can include:

  • Avoidance of trying new things
  • Walking with their head down
  • Being dismissive of compliments
  • Avoidance of eye contact when communicating
  • Low levels of interest and motivation
  • Blaming others for their own shortcomings
  • Difficulties tolerating normal levels of frustration
  • Negative self-talk
  • Frequent comparisons to others
  • Frequent involvement in teasing, name calling, or gossiping
  • Persistent fear of failure and embarrassment
  • Difficulties making and keep friends
  • Feeling unloved and/or unwanted
  • Excessive bragging about themselves and their achievements
  • Constantly apologising even though they are not at fault

Treatment for Enhancing Self-Esteem

Often, people are not aware of how negatively they are thinking about themselves. Treatment for enhancing self esteem therefore works on increasing awareness to negative patterns of thinking about the self, and implementing strategies to change the way we think to help change the way we feel about ourselves.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the treatment of choice for enhancing self esteem. It involves a combination of recognising unhelpful negative thinking patterns and replacing them with more adaptive patterns, and helping people re-engage with life. Additionally, CBT also teaches adolescents problem solving skills and assertiveness skills to help them to effectively and skilfully get what they want.


Author: Dr Daphne Bryant