Having a positive self-esteem or self-image means feeling valuable and worth loving. Since teens spend so much time with their friends, a large portion of a teen’s self-image comes from his or her peers. However, it’s important that you also regularly praise your child and help him or her develop a positive self-esteem. The way teens perceive themselves directly affects how they act and behave.
Teens with a positive self-image tend to feel more competent, have more friends, and do better in school. Try these suggestions for fostering self-esteem in your teen.
• Pay close attention, but respect your teen’s privacy. Being involved shows your child that you care. Know what courses and extracurricular activities your child is involved in and who his or her friends are. Little things, like remembering the names of your child’s friends and occasionally asking how they are doing sends the message that you consider your child’s life important. At the same time, try to respect your child’s privacy and don’t pry into insignificant details that your child may not want to share.
• Compliment your child often, and make sure the praise is genuine. Your child may shrug off your praise, but underneath, he or she is likely to be glowing with pride.
• Attend school events. Your schedule may prevent you from going to every game or recital, but make an effort to be there for the most important ones.
• Respect your child’s concerns. Don’t belittle your child by dismissing his or her worries when he or she is upset.
• Never criticize your child. If you disapprove of a behavior, make it clear that you dislike the behavior—not your child. If you must comment on your teen’s activities, behaviors, music, or fashions, try to be positive rather than hurtful. For example, say, “I really like the sweater you wore last week. It’s more flattering than the tank top you have on today.”
• Encourage your child to explore a variety of activities. Succeeding at one or more activities will help your teen gain confidence. Additionally, those who succeed in one area of life tend to have successes in many areas of life.
• Avoid teasing your child. Many teens are so sensitive that even good-natured teasing can hurt their feelings.
• Communicate Effectively. Most teenagers still want to communicate with their parents—just not all the time. Privacy, to many teens, is an important part of becoming an adult, and teens may not want to tell you everything that’s happening in their lives. This doesn’t mean that they are hiding information; rather, it’s a sign of becoming more independent. You, in turn, may need to adapt your method of communication by making opportunities for meaningful conversations and learning to “read between the lines.” The following tips may help you better communicate with your teen.
BE AN ACTIVE LISTENER
Teenagers often complain that their parents don’t listen to them. To listen actively to your teen, be sure your conversations take place at a time and in a setting where your complete attention is available. When your child speaks, listen and then repeat your child’s major points by saying, for example, “If I understand correctly, you’re upset because your teacher seems to be giving you work that is too advanced.”
It also helps to focus on what you perceive to be your child’s feelings about a situation: “I gather you’re really angry about this.” In this way, you can avoid misunderstandings and, at the same time, help your child identify and manage his or her emotions. Toward the end of the conversation, ask your child if there is anything else he or she would like to talk about. Over the next few weeks, follow up. Ask about the level of work the teacher is assigning, how your child is managing it, and how he or she feels now. By reminding your child of the conversation, you show that you were listening—and that you care.
Everyone, including your teen, needs empathy—listening without judgment and connecting on an emotional level. For example, if your son complains about the way a teacher treated him, try not to lecture about how he should make an effort to get along better with the teacher. That won’t ease his frustration. Instead, listen with a sympathetic ear and tune in to your teen’s emotions. Reassure your child that you understand by acknowledging his or her feelings and offering empathy, support, and guidance.
Meaningful conversations with your teenager can be extremely satisfying. An exchange of thoughts, ideas, and observations with your teen opens the door, even if just an inch or two, to the many changes he or she is experiencing. It can reassure you that you are doing a good job as a parent. It can also tip you off to situations to watch out for. When talking to your teen, consider the following tips:
• Avoid lecturing. Teens generally don’t like to hear how things used to be or how you think they should be—and may tune you out.
• Don’t act as if you have all the answers. Ask your child for ideas on how to handle situations. This shows you value your teen’s thoughts and opinions.
• Keep judgmental thoughts to yourself. Stick with the subject at hand.
• Allow your child to talk without interruption until he or she gets to the point. It may take your child a few minutes to state what is really on his or her mind.
• Show respect for your child’s point of view, even if you don’t agree with it.
• Develop common interests with your child such as a sport or favorite movie. Enjoying similar interests and hobbies provides a rich source from which to draw for future conversations.
Tip—Your child should be aware of your schedule and how to reach you at all times. Although teenagers may act as if they don’t care, it may make them anxious not knowing your whereabouts and how to get in touch.
With so many responsibilities and time pressures facing families today, opportunities for family communication can be few. It’s important to set aside quality, face-to-face time to promote communication and assure your child that you are available and accessible. Consider the following approaches:
• Build structure. Make one dinner a week mandatory for all family members, allowing no telephone interruptions or visits from friends. This gives family members a chance to talk about what’s going on and to focus on each other.
• Seize the moment. Catch up with your child whenever you have an opportunity, though this may require some spontaneity. Being in a car together is almost always a good chance to talk. Ordering a pizza to share when you have a quiet night at home is another way to catch up.
• Eliminate distractions. Cutting down on household distractions, such as cell phones and television, sets the stage for conversation. Try not to bury yourself in your phone or a book when it’s possible to have real communication.