Building Self-Esteem in
by Suzanne E.
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
adolescentís job is to separate from the family, become an
independent individual capable of making choices and being able
to take care of her/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 oneís
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 oneís
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/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
s/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
oneís 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,
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
Those of us who have influence in a young
personís 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 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.
Following is the Teen Self-Esteem Awareness
Inventory from my book, Empowering Teens to Build Self-Esteem.
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
Rate yourself on a scale of
0-4 for each statement as to your current feelings and
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 peopleís 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
_____ 6. I do not like to be alone.
_____ 7. I see peopleís 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
_____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
_____14. I develop my interests and use my
_____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
Note to teachers: These statements make good
discussion and journal questions. Ask for examples.
Taken from Empowering
Teens to Build Self-Esteem,
by Suzanne E. Harrill, M.Ed. www.InnerworksPublishing.com