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How to recognise and address self-esteem issues in adolescents

It is normal for teens to experience bouts of self-doubt, but persistent signs call for help from family, friends, and the community they interact with

Chronic negative self-perception can be dealt with by embracing an all-encompassing strategy.
Chronic negative self-perception can be dealt with by embracing an all-encompassing strategy. (Pexels)

Adolescence is a period of physical, emotional, mental, and social changes. Amidst this whirlwind of growth and transformation, many teenagers grapple with self-esteem issues. 

During this period of growth, as they try to figure out their unique self-identity, societal pressures and peer comparisons can lead to feelings of inadequacy, which affects their self-esteem and self-confidence. Recognizing and addressing these issues early can pave the way for healthier self-perceptions and mental well-being.

Recognising the signs

While it's normal for teens to experience bouts of self-doubt, persistent signs of low self-esteem warrant attention:

  • Persistent self-criticism: Regularly pointing out flaws, dismissing compliments, or being overly critical and disregarding their own abilities. They may have very little faith in themselves.
  • Social withdrawal: Adolescence is a period when teenagers love to hang out with friends and their peers, however, if they start avoiding social situations, distancing from friends, or becoming increasingly isolated, then it is definitely a cause for concern. 
  • Overemphasis on appearance: An obsessive focus on physical appearance, weight, or perceived imperfections.
  • Reluctance to attempt new tasks: Fear of failure or ridicule can hinder them from trying new activities or joining clubs.
  • Sensitivity to criticism: Taking constructive feedback too personally or becoming deeply upset over minor critiques.
  • Performance drops: Sudden or gradual decline in academic or extracurricular performance.

Also Read: 6 tips to help young children develop bodily agency

The impact

Low self-esteem isn't just about momentary feelings of self-doubt. Chronic negative self-perception can lead to:

  • Anxiety and depression.
  • Inadequate academic progress and rising school dropout rates.
  • Vulnerability to peer pressure, leading to risky behaviours.
  • Creation of negative coping strategies, such as substance abuse or self-harm.
  • Eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, compensatory overeating 

Addressing low self-esteem

An all-encompassing strategy can significantly improve an adolescent's self-esteem:

Open communication: Encourage open dialogue between parents and teenagers. Be an active listener when your teen speaks. Avoid being judgmental or dismissive. Be attentive and empathetic 

Positive reinforcement: Make it a habit of pointing out their strengths, achievements, and unique qualities. Genuine compliments can go a long way.

Establish routine: A structured daily routine, incorporating both chores and leisure, can provide a sense of purpose and achievement. The feeling of achievement and purpose helps to increase self-esteem creating a feeling of positivity.

Encourage hobbies: Activities which teenagers are passionate about can boost their self esteem. Whether it's arts, sports, or technology, find what clicks for them.

Seek professional help: If self-esteem issues seem deep-rooted, consider seeking counseling or therapy. A professional can provide strategies tailored to the individual's needs.

Educate about social media: In the age of filtered realities, unrealistic standards are often portrayed online, hence educate your teen about these realities. Encourage them to curate their feeds and follow inspiring, positive accounts.

Also Read: Are our children smarter than we had been?

The role of the community

The community plays a pivotal role in shaping an adolescent's self-worth:

  • Schools should incorporate mental health and self-esteem workshops, creating an environment that celebrates diversity and individual achievements.
  • Peers can uplift each other. Friendships based on mutual respect, understanding, and support can counteract negative self-perceptions.
  • Parents and guardians must be cognizant of their behavior and comments, as their words hold significant weight. Negative and unwarranted harsh criticisms can often lead to low self-esteem. Regular family time, fostering an environment of acceptance and love can make all the difference.

Adolescence is a vulnerable phase, and with the added pressures of today's world, self-esteem issues are more prevalent than ever. As a community, we owe it to our adolescents to recognise, understand, and address these issues, laying the foundation for a confident, resilient, and mentally robust generation.

Dr. Paula Goel is a paediatrician and adolescent specialist at Fayth Clinic

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