Being an extravert and the loudest person in the room does not mean that your teenager is self-confident or that they have high self-esteem. A young person may be quiet or shy and still believe in their abilities and have self-worth. Positive self-esteem for teenagers is important as it sets them up for a healthy and positive future, allowing them to try new things, move on from making mistakes and learn problem solving skills.  


What is the difference between self-confidence and self-esteem? 

According to Wikipedia1, “self-confidence is trust in oneself”. Put another way, it is a positive attitude toward your own skills and abilities – and it implies that you accept yourself. Having self-confidence is not innate – neither is it instant. Self-confidence must be built.  


Here are 3 examples of varying behaviours that illustrate high and low levels of self-confidence.   

  • Doing what you believe to be right, even if people may mock or criticise you for it. 
  • Basing your behaviour based on what other people will think of you.  
  • Admitting your mistakes and learning from them. 
  • Working hard to cover up mistakes and hoping that you can fix
    the problem before anyone notices.
  • Being willing to take risks or go the extra mile to achieve new and greater things. 
  • Staying in your comfort zone and avoiding risk for fear of failure.  


It must be noted that self-confidence is not the same as self-esteem. Self-esteem is the measure of how we perceive and value ourselves. Because self-esteem is based on what may be deep-seated beliefs about ourselves, it may be difficult to boost our sense of self-worth.  People with lower self-esteem, are more likely to: 

  • experience self-doubt 
  • engage in negative self-talk 
  • continually seek approval and have people-pleasing tendencies 
  • have trouble setting boundaries with others 
  • experience problems in personal relationships 


Here are 3 examples of the manifestation of high and low self-esteem.  

  • You see others as your equal.                                                       
  • You mostly see other people as better than you.  
  • Being teased about something probably won’t bother you as it does not derail your perception of yourself. 
  • Being teased will likely result in you taking negative remarks to heart and knock your confidence.  
  • It is less likely you will engage in antisocial behaviour, like acts of bullying or manipulation.  
  • You may be more likely to use aggressive tactics to earn attention or social power.  


What can cause a lack of self-confidence and self-esteem in teenagers? 

There are numerous factors – some nature and some nurture – that are believed to influence a person’s self-esteem. These include genetics, personality traits, life experiences and social circumstances. Here are five factors that can impact a young person’s confidence and self-esteem: 


  • Body image: In their teens, young people go through the process of identity development. Part of this includes their self-image and sense of self. The way adolescents perceive their physical appearance = sometimes in a distorted fashion – can contribute significantly to a lack of self-esteem. Body image is particularly challenging for teenagers who struggle with weight issues. Social media is known to impact a teenager’s self-esteem by creating a distorted image of reality that causes teenagers to feel inadequate. The pressure to present yourself as being perfect can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. 
  • Peer pressure: Being accepted by their peers is important to how teenagers view themselves. Teens want to be liked and to be like others. The pressure and desire to conform and fit in with their peers can have far-reaching consequences. Teenagers who give in to peer pressure may struggle with substance abuse and other high-risk behaviours. This can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment – not to mention falling foul of the law in extreme cases.  
  • Bullying: Being bullied by peers or experiencing cyberbullying can profoundly impact a teenager’s self-confidence and self-esteem. Studies show that teens who are repeatedly bullied have higher rates of depression and anxiety. In the hands of teenagers – not just adults – social media platforms have become a breeding ground for trolls and online bullies who can hide behind the anonymity of the internet to harass and intimidate their classmates and peers.  
  • Academic Performance: Experiencing poor grades in school is one reason teenagers can have trouble maintaining positive self-esteem, affecting their mental health. When a learner experiences failure in school it is typically accompanied by receiving negative feedback – sometimes in public – and having to face things they did not do well. Poor academic performance can also have a negative impact on a teen’s social standing, affecting self-esteem. 
  • Fear of judgement: Due to a fear of judgement or sticking out as different or “less than,” teenagers may avoid team and social activities, like sports or parties, because they fear that they will be judged as flawed or inadequate. Teens who suffer from low self-esteem will show signs of being stressed around others and may habitually look for signs that people do not like them. As a result of their fear of judgement, many adolescents become withdrawn and introverted as they try to figure themselves out. 
  • Chronic abuse and criticism: According to Psychology Today2, some key causes of young people’s low self-esteem are adverse childhood experiences (trauma), chronic criticism, societal expectations and attacks on identity. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are events that occur during a child’s development that may be traumatic, such as neglect, witnessing violence, the death of a family member, or the imprisonment of a loved one. 



How can parents help foster confidence and self-esteem in their teenage children? 

Parents and teachers can help improve young people’s self-esteem by demonstrating love, praise and emotional support. Here are 6 ways to help build confidence and self-esteem in your teenager: 


1. Parents, show unconditional love  

Regularly tell your teenage children how much you love them and point out what makes them special to you. Try to be as specific as possible to get them into the practice of noticing their own attributes and abilities. This will build their self-esteem more than just giving them general praise.  

2. Teach teenagers to treat themselves with compassion 

Teenagers can be extremely hard on themselves. Encourage them to treat their own mistakes with the kindness and forgiveness they would show a friend. This self-compassion will help your teen to deal more positively with mistakes or setbacks and will help to build their resilience in the face of adversity. Teach them to view failures as not fatal – but rather as an opportunity to learn about themselves and grow.  

3. Help your teen to understand their strengths and weaknesses 

Help your children to develop a realistic yet positive view of themselves by helping them to understand their unique strengths and weaknesses. Like anyone, teenagers will learn about their strengths and weaknesses through feedback and support. Parents, teachers and mentors can provide valuable insights and guidance that not only builds their confidence but also helps to identify any areas for improvement and growth. Be sure to do this in a non-judgmental way.  

4. Look out for negative self-talk  

When you hear your teenager using negative language, encourage them to challenge their negative thoughts and question their validity. Just because that is what they think does not make it true. Teach them through repetitive intervention to replace negative thoughts and language with positive and empowering words. This will teach you teens to identify their own negative self-talk patterns and then switch them into being positive and empowering.  

5. Help them to start a gratitude diary 

Get your teenagers a journal or visual diary and encourage them to write down one thing they are grateful for when they wake up, and one thing they are grateful for before they turn in for the night. This will re-focus your teens’ attention on the positives of their day. The more things your teen is aware of being grateful for, the less they will be sidelined by negative thoughts and positive mindset helps to alleviate low self-esteem.  

6. Teach them to give back 

Helping others is known to boost a sense of belonging and positivity. In fact, the positive feelings that come from helping others can be felt for days and weeks after the fact. The more regularly teenagers engage in supporting others, the more confidence they will gain. However, any long-lasting effects on self-confidence and self-esteem hinge on consistent action. The more regularly teenagers engage in supporting others, the more confidence they will gain. 


Stay connected 

It is interesting to note that for teenagers who are experiencing problems – whether these are at school or home – a carefully curated social media feed can act as a smoke screen that masks their problems with confidence and self-esteem. Because this effectively hides their feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth, family and friends may be none the wiser. Staying connected and actively listening to what is going on in your teen’s life will help you pick up more easily on their state of mind. Sometimes casual, everyday activities like the drive to school or watching TV together are the best times to tap in and gently encourage your child to share things with you. 

Over to you for sharing your comments and experiences.

About the Author: Kerstin Jatho

Kerstin is the senior transformational coach and team development facilitator for 4Seeds Consulting. She is also the author of Growing Butterfly Wings, a book on applying positive psychology principles during a lengthy recovery. Her passion is to develop people-centred organisations where people thrive and achieve their potential in the workplace. You can find Kerstin on LinkedIn, Soundcloud, YouTube and Facebook.

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