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Self-Esteem and Adolescence

The teenage years. For some parents, this time period can evoke feelings of fear, frustration, and despair. Why did he/she say that? Why did he/she do that? What was he/she thinking?! These are some of the many questions one asks oneself when dealing with the seemingly strange and unwise decisions made by our youth. Most people can remember being “that way” themselves. It can be explained away by many things: “It is just a phase”, “They are still immature”, “Their frontal lobe is not fully developed (this is the part of the brain that aids in impulse control and decision-making)”, “They need to figure things out through experience.” The list goes on and on. However, there could be more going on with your teen that deserves thoughtful consideration.

Self-esteem plays a large part in the emotional, intellectual, and relational life of everyone, but for teens, it can be a crucial aspect of their development. Carl E. Pickhardt suggests in his article Adolescence and Self-Esteem (2010) that adolescents tend to experience two major drops in self-esteem during this time in their lives. The first occurs between the ages of 9-13 in which the adolescent is adjusting to the loss of being “the child”. They must adjust to their new role as pre-teen or teenager. The second occurs between the ages of 18-23 as the individual is confronted with the realities of independence and responsibility. The stress of these life transitions can bring about feelings of self-doubt, anxiety, and depression as they work to define themselves within the scope of their new identity.

When individuals undergo a critical evaluation of themselves and they are unhappy with the outcome of their actions or decisions, Pickhardt (2010) asserts that they experience thought processes that lead to progressively lower self-esteem:

  • Make a bad choice
  • Suffer hurt feelings
  • Take burden of guilt
  • Self-criticize or blame
  • Punish self for acting badly
  • Treat this mistreatment as deserved
  • Spend more energy on penance than recovery

This process can not only cause low self-esteem, but it can also lead to relational difficulties for people trapped in this pattern of thinking.

While these steps can apply to individuals of any age, perhaps it can be a springboard for more empathic communication between adolescents and the adults in their lives who seem to just not understand. What can you do to improve your own self-esteem? What can you do to help improve the self-esteem of an adolescent in your life? If you would like more information or help concerning adolescents and self-esteem, please call Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to make an appointment. 

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