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May 8, 2015 / BTM

Self-Esteem Booster for Teens

“I know a secret about you,” Stand to Reason’s Greg Koukl sometimes likes to say in his talks. “You have low self-esteem.”

How does he know this secret? Because almost everybody does.

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According to psychiatrist David Burns, possibly the most common mistake that people make in evaluating their self-worth is measuring it against outward achievements, love, or status.  These are the kinds of weaknesses we often find in teens, although adults are not immune either.  The problem is, no amount of outward achievement, love, or status can provide you with anything but a temporary boost in self-esteem.

That’s because self-esteem can’t be earned.  Only you can determine your self-worth.

If you are a teen, or are the parent of a teen, this may be one of the most helpful lessons to learn or teach during the teen years.

Consider this:

How do you define when you are ‘good enough’?

I mean, ‘good enough’ to be considered a worthwhile human being, or a likeable person, or a good sportsman, or acceptably popular, etc.?  What makes you ‘good enough’?  What would make you not ‘good enough’?

For example, maybe your self-worth rests on popularity.  You might think that you’re ‘popular enough’ if you always have plans with friends on the weekend.  What happens when a weekend arrives and you have no plans with friends?  What if you call around to invite some friends out and receive ‘nos’ from everyone?  Do you feel worthless, rejected, or insecure?

Or maybe your self-worth relies on approval from others.  You feel ‘good enough’ when everyone appears to like you and seems to enjoy being with you.  What happens when someone seriously objects to something you’ve said or something you did?  What if your friends think something you said was really stupid?  What if they hate your ideas?  What if they constantly cut you off or appear to exclude you in a conversation?  How much would that affect your self-esteem?

Here’s the crux: your definition of what makes you popular, smart, acceptable, or ‘good enough’ is likely wrong. 

Most people with low self-esteem never even consider this question.  Why not doubt your self-evaluation – even just a bit.  Are you really right?

Is it at least possible that your friends all have equally empty weekends as well – on purpose?  Have you ever thought that what someone else said was stupid or boring?  Did you ever want a temporary break from a friend?

No one is 100% good or 100% bad at everything 100% of the time.  No one is 100% liked or 100% disliked by everyone in exactly the same way and for exactly the same reasons.  No one is 100% successful 100% of the time in 100% of what he or she attempts to do.

All of us fail from time to time.  All of us have problems.  All of us are in need of improvement.  From time to time, we’ll want breaks from certain people.  From time to time, we don’t like everything others say or do.  The flip side is true as well.  All of us say smart things; all of us do something well; and all of us succeed at least some of the time.

Take a look at how you would define what makes a person ‘good enough’.

Is it possible to live up to your definition of what is ‘good enough’ all of the time

Of course not.  All of us fall short of our own definitions of what is ‘good enough’.

David Burns says that one of the most common thinking errors of people with low self-esteem is all-or-nothing thinking.  This is the tendency to react to an incident by thinking of yourself in black and white terms only: ‘I did poorly on that test; I’ll never get good grades.’  ‘I barely touched the ball during the soccer game; now everyone knows how terrible I am at sports.’  Really?

Another is labelling: ‘If X happens, then I’m a loser.’  ‘If I fail at Y, then I’m a total failure.’  Says who?  (You.)

A third is magnification: exaggerating the importance of one event , one failure, one personality trait above all others.  ‘That horrible presentation will break by career.’  ‘No one with a nose like mine will ever get a date.’  Is this the only thing defining who you are?

These examples might seem arbitrary and  silly, but that’s because they aren’t your self-esteem triggers.  To someone else, your triggers might appear just as arbitrary and ridiculous!

Evaluating your self-worth in these kinds of faulty ways is unrealistic, highly self-defeating, and creates high levels of anxiety.  Who wants to live like that?

Why not critically evaluate your definition of what is ‘good enough’.  Could anyone be ‘good enough’ based on your definition?  If not, revise it to something more reasonable.  Like: ‘I like to be busy with friends, but if I find myself faced with a weekend on my own, I can find plenty of ways to amuse myself.  I could make a list of things to do on weekends like that.”

If you are a parent of a teen who is struggling with self-esteem (and who isn’t?), help them to do this exercise on their own.  You can affirm your teen’s self-worth all you want, but she has to believe it before it sticks.

The bottom line is: give yourself a break.  Preach the gospel to yourself: you are a sinner, saved by grace.  You are not perfect, and neither is anyone else.  If God isn’t condemning you any more, why are you condemning yourself?  And nothing can separate you from the love of God, not even your worst mistake, nor what appears to be the ‘popular opinion’ about your worthiness or acceptability.

When you choose a more realistic definition of what is ‘good enough’, you’ll find that your self-esteem will grow as a  result.

That is the result of you choosing your own self-worth – because your self-esteem isn’t riding on anything but your own evaluation of yourself.

If any of these comments resonates strongly with you or your teen, I highly recommend David Burns’ book Feeling Good for more examples, insight, and exercises of this nature.  NB: it is NOT a Christian book , but can be usefully applied when Christian principles and truth are used to correct thinking errors.

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