Building Self-Esteem in Youth
by Suzanne E. Harrill
Ask any second grade class of students, “Do you love yourself?” and most children will raise and wave their hands and say, “Yesss!” By high school that number has taken a considerable dive. Developmentally the adolescent’s job is to begin separating from the family to become an independent individual capable of making choices and being able to take care of her or himself. This is difficult to do when one is emotionally hurting and has self esteem issues. What can we as adults do to make a difference in helping teens accept themselves, think about their values, make healthy life-style choices, develop integrity and a conscience, and be responsible. First, let us define self esteem and look at characteristics of high and low self esteem. Then we will discuss ways to positively help our youth.
Self esteem, very simply, is how one feels about oneself. It may be high or low and is based on a personal assessment of self. The things one tells oneself and the images one sends oneself may be true or they may be false. With high self-esteem, one has a strong internal locus of control, and is therefore able to evaluate and think about choices and consequences. One is less manipulated by negative peer pressure and the desire to please others when it goes against one’s value system.
Other characteristics of high self esteem are liking oneself, knowing oneself and only trying to be oneself, extending kindness and compassion to others because it is done to self first, taking positive risks to learn new things, and accepting self even if wanting to change some things about one’s personality, habits, etc. It is being able to honestly assess strengths and weaknesses, to take responsibility for choices, to be honest with self when having a problem or making a mistake, and making amends if actions or words hurt another or overstep boundaries, to name a few.
How would we recognize a person with low self esteem? We would look for extremes in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We might notice one who tries to dominate with their opinions or one who has no opinions to express. One who has a short fuse emotionally and is constantly reacting to others or one who does not feel their feelings and emotions also gives us clues that someone is hurting with low self esteem. Looking at behaviors, we note the person who does not take care of her or his appearance or the person who is overly concerned about looks, popularity, and name brands. A person with low self esteem is more concerned with what other people think about them and being accepted, than what they think about themselves. It is important to note here that one who boasts and brags does not have too much self esteem, as some people believe. On the contrary, they are suffering from low self esteem. A person with either an inferiority or superiority complex gives us a clue she or he is suffering from low self esteem.
Now we will look at three helpful ways to positively impact youth with their self esteem. It is helpful to introduce concepts that reinforce positive emotional health. For example, we can teach that there is value in each individual, that is each is lovable and capable, and it makes a difference that each is in the world, no matter what the circumstances. Another is that poor choices and bad behavior are not who a person is, but, the result of unawareness. We need to separate one’s behavior from the essence of who one is. As each person learns and grows from experience, wisdom is gained as well as the ability to make healthy, wise choices. These and many more concepts will benefit youth, helping them grow into mature, responsible adults.
The second idea to help youth is to teach them about self talk and how to update the negative voice within the mind with positive affirmations that reprogram false, unhealthy beliefs. As one changes the critical voice of self talk to a loving, positive, encouraging voice, it improves one’s self-esteem.
Those of us who have influence in a young person’s life, as a parent, grandparent, educator, or relative can make a significant positive difference by challenging our youth to THINK, so their minds, conscience, and value system will grow positively. As we interact with them we might ask often what she or he thinks about a situation. We can say, “I wonder why she is doing that behavior,” when we hear a complaint. We want to help them process the experiences they have so they can grow emotionally and gain the inner strength to stand on their own when they are launched from home. Dialog is important.
Following is the Teen Self Esteem Awareness Inventory. You have my permission to copy it for educational purposes. It along with teaching positive emotional health concepts and improving self talk are ways to help our youth build a stronger foundation of self-esteem.
TEEN SELF-ESTEEM AWARENESS INVENTORY
by Suzanne E. Harrill
Rate yourself on a scale of 0-4 for each statement as to your current feelings and behaviors.
0 = I NEVER feel or behave that way
1 = I RARELY feel or behave that way (25% of the time)
2 = I SOMETIMES feel or behave that way (50% of the time)
3 = I USUALLY feel or behave that way (75% of the time)
4= I ALWAYS feel or behave that way
_____ 1. My feelings about myself are dependent on other people’s opinions.
_____ 2. I get my feelings hurt easily.
_____ 3. I find it difficult to be myself when someone popular is near me.
_____ 4. I feel uncomfortable if my friends know that I make good grades or am proud of my achievements.
_____ 5. I find it difficult to say no when my friends want to do something of which adults would not approve.
_____ 6. I do not like to be alone.
_____ 7. I see people’s faults before I see their good points.
_____ 8. I say positive, kind things to myself in my mind with my self talk.
_____ 9. I feel my own feelings and think my own thoughts, even when those around me think or feel differently.
_____10. I am a good person, even when I make mistakes or behave badly.
_____11. I am of equal value to all other people. I am not “better than” or “less than” anyone else.
_____12. I forgive myself and others for making mistakes and being unaware.
_____13. I accept responsibility for my choices both wise and unwise, and willingly accept the consequences.
_____14. I develop my interests and use my talents.
_____15. I choose to love and respect every human being, including myself.
This is not a test and is not scored like a test. It is designed to make you think. A person with high self esteem scores low on the first seven statements and high on the last eight. A person with low self esteem scores high on the first seven statements and low on the last eight.
This is not a measure of your worth, only an indicator where you can benefit by looking at beliefs fostering low self esteem. As you update false beliefs, you build healthy self esteem.
Note to teachers: These statements make good discussion and journal questions. Ask teens for examples and encourage dialog.