I enjoy the in-depth interactions I have with adolescents. Their points of view are both interesting and enlightening to me. One of the reasons I enjoy this group so much more is that they remind me of my own adolescent years, with all of their struggles, fears, love, and uncertainties.
One interaction with adolescents reminded me of the importance of self-esteem among adolescents. Self-esteem is a person’s assessment of their own worth. It is the value that adolescents place on themselves. Let me share the experience i had with Daniel.
Daniel was sixteen years old when I met him. He was a bright child who enjoyed interacting with others but only when he felt safe . He is the type of adolescent who would never volunteer to lead or supervise an activity. He was a laid-back guy who preferred to sit in the back.
Even when the weather was relatively warm, Daniel was always dressed in oversize clothes and hoodies the entire week. He couldn’t make eye contact while speaking, and he believed he was incoherent, or so he thought. These are some of the symptoms exhibited by adolescents who are struggling with self-esteem.
When I finally got the chance to speak with Daniel, he explained that he prefers silence because when he tried to speak in school, his classmates laughed at him since he couldn’t pronounce words correctly. This is where his fear of speaking originated, and it was a contributing factor to his low self-esteem.
When he was six years old, the housekeeper would hit him and lock him in the toilet if he refused to eat. She threatened to harm his parents if he ever told them about the beating and locking. Daniel started punching the toilet wall whenever he was locked up. This made him feel better. When she finally opened the toilet door, he went straight to his room and sobbed, feeling like the worst child in the world.
He had punched the wall and hurt himself on several occasions when he was angry. He also felt he was too tall, thin, and unattractive, which is why he always wore hoodies. He believed that hoodies concealed his flaws. He had stopped going to church because of his negative self-image. He preferred to stay at home, and most of the time in his room, where no one would notice or think of him.
When I asked how he was doing at school, he said he had become withdrawn over the last two terms because he felt like a failure after dropping his grades. Even if they didn’t say it, his parents were disappointed in him. Every time he brought home a report card, he felt so embarrassed.
This was both sad and beneficial. The unfortunate part was because this is a situation that could have been corrected earlier, but it’s also beneficial because sixteen was an appropriate age to intervene. We had a few more sessions with Daniel and his parents. At home, his parents began to support him by engaging in activities that would boost his self-esteem. Daniel also agreed to do things differently for himself once he recognized what his challenges were.
These are common adolescent struggles. They struggle with their self-esteem partly because their bodies and mental processes are changing so rapidly, and also because they are learning to relate to peers for the first time in the midst of so much pressure. As a result, they require support to develop healthy self-esteem.
What is the cause of low self-esteem among adolescents?
I’ve seen a lot of adults compare themselves to others, whether it’s their coworkers, friends, or even celebrities. I’ve met people who feel inferior to others, who judge themselves harshly and believe others do better than them. If this adult is a parent, they will undoubtedly pass on the same to their adolescent children because we only give what we have.
When you compare an adolescent to another, you become a tool to help them internalize the fact that they are not as good as the other child. If this continues, they will develop a victim mentality in which they believe they can never do anything right, that there is something wrong with them, and that other people deserve better. This lowers the adolescent’s self-esteem.
Perfectionism is a way of life in which people believe that certain things should be done in a specific way. They believe their way is the best and will sometimes act as if there is no other way. These are people who are in pain and shame and are constantly giving it to others, even if it is not their intention. They are constantly on the lookout for what is wrong, find it, and then become upset by it.
Perfectionism is one way for a parent to lower their child’s self-esteem. The parent who uses perfectionism may deceive themselves that the goal is excellence; however, the reality is that it results in shame-filled adolescents who believe they cannot do anything right. In this environment, they judge themselves and are judged by a parent for failing to meet the set standard.
Adolescents’ self-esteem is completely destroyed when they believe they will never measure up. Mistakes equal failure in their eyes. They ruminate on their failure, which can lead to other mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.
Use of threats
Methods such as yelling and issuing threats instill fear in children while also communicating to adolescents that they are unimportant. If your adolescent children do well when you are present but not so well when you are not, they are acting in fear and have not learned any sense of responsibility. When children are driven by fear and not a sense of responsibility, they are struggling with self-esteem.
In other cases, the parents make entry and the children leave to their rooms. Some children enjoy freedom until their parents arrive home. If this is happening in your home, it is an indicator that your adolescents lack self-esteem and they are struggling with being authentic.
Parents raise fear-filled children because that is how they themselves were raised. Recovering from the pain caused by one’s upbringing enables people to parent differently. With recovery, parents of adolescents shift from a fear-based to a love-based approach.
Fear causes insecurities in adolescent children, leading them to seek love, acceptance, and freedom from others. These adolescents end up in the arms of the first person who shows them love and acceptance.
-By Joan Kirera- Family Therapist. For more visit: www.joankirera.com: Facebook: Joan Kirera, YouTube: Joan Kirera