Teen Self Esteem

The teen years are a time when many teens have self esteem problems, especially teens with weight issues. Teen self esteem is important to a teen's well-being, however, and there are ways that teens and their loved ones can help build teen self esteem.

During the teen years, teens' bodies change a lot, and teens become more conscious of their appearance and what their peers think about them. This can affect the way teens feel about themselves, known as their self esteem. Some teens think that unless they look a certain way they cannot feel good about themselves. It is important for teens to learn to have good teen self esteem regardless of their appearance and to value their positive traits.

Having a good teen self esteem does not mean teens should think they are better than others or that they don't have things they can improve about themselves. It means realizing that they have value and are worthwhile, and recognizing the positive things that they have to contribute.

Having good teen self esteem helps teens to:

  • Feel good and have optimism even during rough times, when things aren't going their way or they are faced with set backs or criticism
  • Treat themselves well, including make good choices about their health and well being
  • Be more outgoing or friendly to others, which will help them to have friends and to be more attractive to others
  • Have more confidence and success in life
  • Set and achieve realistic goals
  • Not feel as afraid to voice their opinion or be true to themselves
  • Have fun and try positive new activities
  • Learn from setbacks and mistakes
  • Act responsibly and develop into their best self

Some things can have a negative effect on a teen's self esteem. These things may need to be addressed to help teens recognize the good things about themselves:

  • Teens who have been bullied or abused may need counseling to overcome negative feelings from these events.
  • Teens should understand that the media sends unrealistic messages about appearances and other aspects of life, and that they shouldn’t base their self worth on what they see or hear in the media.
  • Teens who have been subjected to a lot of criticism at home or from others whom they trust may have trouble having a positive view of themselves.

Teens often try to change their appearance to improve their self esteem. This actually is not the best way to build teen self esteem. Teen self esteem has to come from teens recognizing their own positive qualities and worth. Every teen has good qualities and is worthwhile, but it can be hard for some teens to believe this about themselves.

Some things that teens can do to improve their teen self esteem:

  • Recognize that everyone has flaws and makes mistakes, and while it's fine to try to improve the flaws that can be changed, you should also focus on your positive qualities and achievements.
  • Take good care of yourself. Exercising and eating healthy improve the way our minds and bodies feel, and can boost teen self esteem.
  • Learn to set realistic goals, and to break big goals up into smaller steps so it’s easier to reach goals and feel successful.
  • Try out new things, like learning to cook, taking up a sport, or reading a new book.
  • Make lists of things you like about yourself and things that make you feel happy. When you start to think negatively about yourself, read your list or remember the things you wrote on it. If you have trouble thinking of things to put on your list, talk to someone you trust, like a family member or friend, who can tell you what they like about you.
  • Learn to recognize negative thoughts and where they are coming from. Sometimes teens criticize themselves, the media makes them feel bad about themselves, or a coach, teacher, or even parent may be holding them to unrealistic expectations. Teens have to learn to ignore or overcome these negative thoughts.
  • Take time to help other people. Volunteering can help you discover talents and feel better about yourself.
  • Get help if you feel depressed or can't shake your feelings of low teen self esteem. Talk to a trusted adult or call a teen help line. Be very cautious about online help groups because they are to always safe and may give bad advice.

Parents and other loved ones can help teens develop good teen self esteem by:

  • Focusing more on praising a teen's positive qualities and accomplishments, and not on criticizing or comparing teens to others. This does not mean that parents should not set and enforce rules, offer advice, and hold teens to reasonable expectations, but they should focus on building teens' positive qualities rather than criticizing their negative ones.
  • Never framing criticism as mocking, ridicule, blame, or teasing, especially about weight or physical appearance.
  • Having realistic expectations for teens. Appreciate their positive traits and don't expect them to be something they're not.
  • Spending time with their teens, talking to them and expressing love and concern for them.
  • When teens criticize themselves, helping them see their positive traits too.
  • Encouraging teens in their positive goals and activities.
  • Setting a good example by not putting yourself or others down, and by having a positive attitude about trying new things and setting goals.
  • Getting help for teens who have an ongoing struggle with teen depression or low teen self esteem. School counselors, doctors, mental health professionals, or community health resources can help, and many communities have free or low cost counseling for those who can't afford to pay for it.


Nemours, TeensHealth, "Body Image and Self Esteem" and "How Can I Improve My Self Esteem?" [online]

Ken Chisholm, LiveStrong, "Self Esteem" [online]

SAMHSA's National Mental Health Information Center, "Your Child's Mental Health: Building Self-esteem in Children" [online]

Related Article: Teen Body Image >>