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  • Teenhood is characterized by awkward, confusing changes that can make or break one’s mental health.
  • A key to thriving during this time is understanding self-esteem and self-awareness and taking the necessary steps to develop a healthy degree of both.
  • Parents can help their kid do so by first praising their teen for the things they do well, like getting home on time or putting away the dishes.
  • They can also facilitate this process by really listening to their teen and then offering advice in a way that is not overwhelming or judgmental.
  • Lastly, teaching responsibility and then allowing their teen to make their own decisions can go a long way when it comes to the teen’s self-esteem and self-awareness.

The teen years are, in one word, awkward. Sure, it’s a time for growth and self-discovery, but it’s also marked with confusing and uncomfortable changes. Physical, mental, and emotional changes that can leave one feeling extremely self-conscious. I remember walking through the doors of my high school on the first day, feeling suddenly embarrassed about my “too-big” feet, my “weird” curly hair, and my Hollister wardrobe—all of which I never felt embarrassed about previously.

Before the teen years, I wasn’t one to worry about what other people thought of me. Sure, it was embarrassing if I tripped in the hallway or realized there was a huge stain on my shirt—but I also forgot about these things in a matter of seconds. Whereas in high school, it was the end of the world if I did anything slightly embarrassing: a dark cloud would follow me for days to come.

The thing is that developmental changes often make teens ultra-sensitive. Which means it’s super important that they talk about and understand two matters regarding the self: self-esteem and self-awareness. That’s where you, as a caring parent, comes in! Gabrielle Freire, a licensed marriage and family therapist with over 13 years of experience in the mental health field, offers an effective plan for talking to your teens about self-esteem and self-awareness:

1) Start with praise.

“Praise your teen for the things that they do well, such as putting their dinner plate away, getting up for school on time, or coming home from a friend’s home on time. A simple statement such as, ‘I love that you came home on time,’ or, ‘So glad you’re home, I was worried.’ That’s it… be simple and direct, no long explanation how the parent was worried and started to pace in the bedroom or that the teen’s tardiness negatively impacts the entire family. Praising your teen for things that they do well that aren’t about their appearance (i.e., hair style, makeup, or body size) assists the child in learning that their character is liked and accepted by their family. This helps with self-esteem (most people respond well to praise) and self-awareness (because their behavior impacts other people).”

2) Listen.

Another thing a parent can do (again, a simple suggestion) is listen. Yeah, simple, but most parents don’t listen. Close your mouth, and open your ears. If you can try to be a neutral listener, you may hear more from your teen then if you ask questions or worse yet, if you get angry and snap at them. Just listen… know that you may need to file that info away for the future… but please parent, read between the lines (their friend Joe is drinking alcohol so that means that maybe your son or daughter is exposed to alcohol). With that info, you can start providing some psycho-education about teenage drinking or give them ideas on how to avoid a friend who may be engaging in risky behaviors such as using alcohol or drugs.

3) Teach responsibility.

Give your teen a task they need to complete… like a chore. That helps with self-esteem because the teen is expected to contribute to the running of the household, which helps the teen feel like part of a group (i.e., family). When they are feeling awkward because they have a pimple on their chin, knowing that their family accepts them for who they are (even when they don’t look perfect or when they make a mistake) helps with their self-esteem.

4) Loosen the leash.

Let your teen make some decisions for themselves, and don’t laugh or make fun of their decision—so, for example, if the teen is socially awkward, but they tell you that they want to learn how to act or participate in a talent show, go for it… let the teen learn how to make a decision for themselves and then the parent should be there, along the way, as a cheerleader or to pick them up off the floor. It makes for relationship bonding and lets the teen know that they are accepted by their family (when their peers may laugh at them). Also, it starts the autonomy process and helps the teen learn how to make decisions.

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