Empowering Teens to Build Self-Esteem


Nearly every teenager could stand to learn more about self-esteem–how it affects their lives and how they can affect it. In “Empowering Teens to Build Self-Esteem,” Suzanne E. Harrill (a licensed therapist and counselor as well as teacher and writer) attempts to help them do just that.

This is a follow-on to a children’s book on self-esteem from the same author (which I haven’t read); this shows in a couple of ways (both positive and negative). On the plus side, Ms. Harrill truly understands how to get her message across in simple, easy terms that aren’t condescending and don’t talk down to her audience. On the negative, the little stars-as-people figures adapted from her children’s book are very silly and might turn off some teens with self-esteem problems who could see them as childish. Of course if they don’t bother you they’re actually rather fun (and often hilarious).

The book is a quick read for a proficient reader and it’s easy to understand. It can be read on one’s own or used by a teacher or counselor to help others. It includes evaluation questions to help you roughly determine whether you have a self-esteem problem. The questions in the main part of the book are aimed at teens, but in the back of the book you’ll find similar questionnaires aimed at children and adults. There are also journal questions provided at several points in the book.


Part I introduces the basic concepts of self-esteem and includes the teen self-esteem evaluation I mentioned earlier. Part II goes into greater detail, discussing the differences between high and low self-esteem, why people can have low self-esteem, and how to tell if someone has low self-esteem. It also discusses a number of behaviors, thoughts, and feelings associated with and indicative of low self-esteem. The specific, clear details found in this part can make it much easier for someone to recognize their own problem areas and what may have brought them about.

Part III addresses ideas that build positive self-esteem. It uses eight simple “principles of self-esteem,” together with a few explanatory points, to communicate how we can start to build up better self-esteem. The principles include such basic ideas as accepting yourself as you are, right now; looking to yourself in order to feel good rather than expecting the outer world and other people to make you feel good; avoiding value-judgments of yourself (”shoulds” and “oughts”); separating yourself from your behavior (the idea being that even if you engage in a “bad” behavior, that doesn’t automatically make you a bad person); not comparing yourself to some imagined perfect standard; taking responsibility for your life rather than expecting someone else to solve your problems; and more.

Part IV discusses practical ways in which you can go about building good feelings about yourself, primarily through positive self-talk, positive mind pictures and affirmations. It includes a number of affirmations as well as explanations of the principles behind those affirmations and why they’re important.

Part V is a bit of a hodge-podge of information that didn’t fit elsewhere. This is where you’ll find journal questions, some summary lists, and the children’s and adult’s self-esteem indicators.

Part VI consists of self-esteem related dating tips for teens. The author expresses the hope that if she can explain the ways in which self-esteem makes relationships better, teens will be more willing to give the subject their attention–after all, relationships naturally occupy a fair amount of many teens’ attention and concern. She does a good job of explaining the ways in which self-esteem affects relationships for good and ill, ways in which to approach dating and relationships (healthy and not), and more.


I think the book does a good job of addressing its intended teen audience. Surprisingly there’s actually a fair amount adults can get out of this book, however. Its simple approach can benefit almost anyone, and adults could even benefit from many of the same general relationship tips.

The book does an incredibly good job of balancing two very important issues that often get skewed out of alignment in one direction or the other: the idea that yes, many self-esteem problems have their origin in childhood events and family environments, but that today, now, is the individual’s responsibility. While it’s often important to understand where these problems come from (for example, if you can recognize that you’ve unconsciously picked up the behaviors of a parent you may be able to more easily see those behaviors in yourself and alter them), it’s just as important to recognize that you’re ultimately the person who can help you and make your life better.

The book is written so a teen can read and understand it herself, but it’s also written with teachers and counselors in mind. It’s clear, straightforward, and well-balanced–if you’re looking for some help with self-esteem issues but find the larger or more technical books out there too intimidating, this could be a great solution.





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