What causes low self-esteem in teenagers? - At-riskyouthprograms.com

Updated on August 17, 2022

Low self-esteem in teenagers, especially girls, is a major factor in nearly all types of mental illnesses and personality disorders. More vulnerable to experiencing low self-esteem than adults, some teenagers may need self-esteem therapy for major depression and anxiety arising from feeling inadequate, flawed, and unlovable.

Although psychologists have studied the concept of self-esteem and how it affects adolescents for years, disagreements persist over a complete definition of self-esteem. Generally, self-esteem is viewed as how someone perceives their sense of self-worth.

Teens with low self-esteem tend to compare themselves unreasonably with peers who they consider more attractive, smarter, and popular.  While peer comparison among teens is an ordinary feature of adolescent development, kids with extremely low self-esteem and pre-existing mental or behavioral health issues should consider self-esteem programs for youth.

What is Low Self-esteem and How Does It Affect Adolescents?

Adolescent psychologists view low self-esteem as a thinking disorder that, unless corrected, becomes ingrained in thought patterns. Teens with severe low self-esteem may obsessively ruminate about their faulty beliefs and engage in self-defeating behaviors like not studying for an exam and failing it (“See! I can’t even pass a simple exam!”), or deliberately being late for school and then blaming falling grades on their incompetency.

Self-esteem and Self-identification

Self-esteem is also closely associated with who or what a teen identifies with. Carol is a 15-year-old sophomore who joins the school swim team. Although she is about 20 pounds overweight, she loves to swim and was thrilled to finally be a part of the swim team. After two months on the team, Carol starts showing low self-esteem signs and tells her mother she doesn’t want to be on the swim team anymore. After talking to the team’s coach, Carol’s mother learns that Carol always comes in last during practice swim competitions and just isn’t as fast of a swimmer as her teammates.

Since joining the team, Carol has spent much less time with her non-team friends. Instead, she immediately identified with her swim team friends and stopped hanging out with friends she had had since grade school. Committing her identity to only one part of her life–the swim team–caused her to grapple with something she had never experienced before–low self-esteem.

According to an article in Forbes, Researchers found there was a distinct drop in girls’ self-esteem and sense of self between the ages of 11 and 14. 

 

 

At 11, 15% said they felt unhappy about their appearance. However, by the time they were 14, 29% said they weren’t happy.

 

Almost 40% of girls who spend more than five hours a day on social media show symptoms of depression. 

 

Common Signs of Low Self-esteem in Teenagers

  • Constantly criticizing and blaming themselves for not being “perfect.”
  • Making bad choices that worsen their self-esteem
  • Feeling guilty even when something is clearly not their fault
  • Allowing others to mistreat them because they think they “deserve” to be mistreated
  • Saying things like “I’m useless,” “Nobody likes me, “and “I’d just ruin the party if I went.”
  • May start teasing and calling their peers names. Verbal bullying is an active sign of low self-esteem. Physical and verbal bullying may indicate a more serious mental health problem.
  • Acting and/or speaking in an overdramatic fashion. Teens with low self-esteem crave validation and attention from both peers and adults. Once they discover acting or speaking in a way that forces people to pay attention to them, some teens may develop a histrionic personality or hypochondria.
  • Excessively bragging about themselves or exaggerating accomplishments to get attention.
  • Self-harming behaviors (cutting, banging their head against the wall repeatedly, burning themselves with lighters, pulling their hair out)
  • Hearing negative messages about them from others when, in fact, no such negative message was actually made.
  • Promiscuity
  • Inability to accept compliments
  • Abusing drugs and alcohol

Recognizing low self-esteem signs in teens is often difficult for parents since many of these behaviors are automatically attributed to teen angst and moodiness. However, parents might consider enrolling their child in self-esteem therapy for adolescents when a teen consistently shows symptoms of low self-esteem for more than three months.

What are the 4 Most Common Causes of Low Self-esteem in Teenagers?

1. Lack of Parental Nurturing

Low self-esteem issues can affect children as young as five. Parents or guardians who constantly belittle and criticize a child will raise a child without a sense of self-worth or self-identity. This makes them vulnerable to strongly identifying with groups or gangs to the point they feel useless and inferior without the group to support them.

2. Perception of Physical Appearance

Every parent of a teenager knows how much importance their child places on physical appearances–especially their own. In fact, teens are their own worst critics when it comes to their hair, noses, eyes, feet, hands, etc. Teens with low self-esteem often see imperfections when they look in a mirror that nobody else sees. Parents may feel like they are helping their teens feel better about themselves by allowing them to have rhinoplasty performed or paying for orthodontic treatments their child really doesn’t need. However, indulging these distorted beliefs only reinforces the teen’s low self-esteem and basically tells the teen that, yes, you are imperfect and need to be fixed.

3. Peers

Peer pressure is the everyday term used to describe a teen’s preoccupation with conforming to what other teens their own age are doing, wearing, saying, etc. Brain research into the neurodevelopment reasons teenagers worry so much about peer pressure has to do with structural and chemical changes occurring in the brain at puberty.

When teens are with peers, the brain’s reward center is activated. When in the presence of adults, this same center is not activated. The reward center also processes social information, which leads psychologists to believe this is a primary reason why teens are so painfully aware and attentive to peer behavior.

4. High Expectations from Parents and Teachers

When teens feel like they are under pressure to be “overachievers” and can’t live up to the unrealistic expectations of adults, they can develop low self-esteem signs, such as self-defeating behaviors, self-criticism, and self-harm behaviors. Everyone has a specific potential for doing the best they can, and they should be given the chance to discover that potential independently. Demanding a teen to be a straight-A student when they are B students can severely damage their self-esteem and potentially cause other psychological issues.

How Can Parents Help Teenagers with Self-esteem Issues?

Understanding what promotes low self-esteem in adolescents offers insights into what parents can do to help a teenager deal with a lack of self-worth and confidence.

Work on a Teen’s Decision-making Skills

Let your teen make decisions that can positively impact their self-esteem. For example, teens who procrastinate doing homework because they say, “I’m dumb, anyway. Why do it?” could be given a choice to finish their homework before or after they talk to a friend over Zoom. In other words, the parent is giving the teen a choice to do the homework before Zoom or the choice to affirm their sense of responsibility to keep their word.

Ask for Their Opinions

When you need to make a decision about something, whether it involves buying a present for a friend or how you should handle a minor issue at work, ask your teen what they would do if they were in your shoes. Listen attentively to what they say and indicate you take their opinions seriously.

Give Genuine Compliments Only

Teens instinctively know when parents compliment them but don’t really mean it. Make compliments personal, heartfelt, and appropriate for the moment. Repeat the compliment a few days later to let them know you haven’t forgotten how proud you are of them. 

How Can Parents Help Teenagers with Self-esteem Issues?

Understanding what promotes low self-esteem in adolescents offers insights into what parents can do to help a teenager deal with a lack of self-worth and confidence.

Work on a Teen’s Decision-making Skills

Let your teen make decisions that can positively impact their self-esteem. For example, teens who procrastinate doing homework because they say, “I’m dumb, anyway. Why do it?” could be given a choice to finish their homework before or after they talk to a friend over Zoom. In other words, the parent is giving the teen a choice to do the homework before Zoom or the choice to affirm their sense of responsibility to keep their word.

Ask for Their Opinions

When you need to make a decision about something, whether it involves buying a present for a friend or how you should handle a minor issue at work, ask your teen what they would do if they were in your shoes. Listen attentively to what they say and indicate you take their opinions seriously.

Give Genuine Compliments Only

Teens instinctively know when parents compliment them but don’t really mean it. Make compliments personal, heartfelt, and appropriate for the moment. Repeat the compliment a few days later to let them know you haven’t forgotten how proud you are of them.

What Treatments are Available for Teenagers with Low Self-esteem?

Self-esteem programs for youth utilize cognitive behavioral therapy to help teens restructure negative thought processes and reverse all-or-nothing perceptions of themselves and others. Counselors also work on improving a teen’s self-schema, or the cognitive framework of information and beliefs about one’s self that influences attention and perceptions.

self-schema n. a cognitive framework comprising organized information and beliefs about the self that guides a person’s perception of the world, influencing what information draws the individual’s attention as well as how that information is evaluated and retained. Compare social schema.

 

If you want to learn more about self-esteem therapy for teens or self-esteem programs for youth, please contact us today.

Speak to an expert about What causes low self-esteem in teenagers? and how it may help your child.

Connect with an Admissions Counselor who specializes in What causes low self-esteem in teenagers? to help your teen begin their recovery today.

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