Building a Healthy Self-Image in Your Teen

An ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure.

The same goes when raising a teen. It is best to be proactive. Do not wait for your teen to exhibit behavioral problems where you will end up enrolling him in a troubled teen program. Nip the problem in the bud by nurturing a healthy self-image in your teen. This will prepare him to face the tumultuous time ahead, where he can cope with peer pressure, academic stresses, personal struggles and other issues a teen will usually face.

A healthy image equips the child with the capacity to face challenges and stresses in a positive manner. He is more able to make independent decisions (rather than just go with the flow), handle frustrations and take personal responsibility for his actions. A teen that has a healthy self-image will also tend to respect his body more, so that he is not easily tempted to try drugs or indulge in other self-destructive behavior. On the other hand, a teen with a poor self-image will tend to turn to others for acceptance and validation, be more prone to depression and anxiety and will shy away from responsibility.

So, how can you as a parent help build a confident teen that has a healthy self-image? Here are some ways:

-          Build up rather than put down. Your words have power, and it will impact your teen not just at present but also the future. Keep watch of what you say. Otherwise, you may not be even aware that all your teen hears from you are criticisms, negative feelings and “sermons.” Watch for opportunities where you can praise your child or express positive feelings about them. “I am blessed to be your mother.” “I like how you worked to finish that project.” These are words that can help build your teen up. Make it a point to give a word of encouragement to your child every day.

-          Do not smother them with praise. On the other hand, be sure that the praise is sincere and deserved. Your teen knows if you mean what you say. He can tell whether praise or positive word you are giving is just something you give him to make him feel good.

-          Give constructive criticism. Your teen will actually expect and appreciate it, although it may not feel that way at the moment. This allows your teen to see that he is not perfect and that he does not need to be. Seeing that he has areas where he needs to grow eases up on the pressure of having to do everything right. It also sends the message that his mistakes will not cause you to reject him. Also, never criticize him publicly or in a way that demeans him as a person.

-          Focus on character and effort. Focusing on your teen’s appearance and abilities may even place more pressure on them. Of course, there are times when positive words about these are warranted. However, the teen may feel that appearance and abilities are of utmost importance. Look for opportunities to point out positive character traits such as being considerate, generous or the ability to control the temper.

-          Train your teen to make decisions and to face the consequences of these decisions. Avoid the temptation of making the decisions for your teen. Rather, guide him so that he can weigh the pros and cons of a decision, to look at the various aspects of a situation, and the possible choices and solutions he can make. Also, resist the temptation to spare your teen from the consequences of his decisions, especially if these consequences are not life threatening. You can also have a walk-through with your teen, where you take a look at the results of his decision.

-          Encourage your teen to speak up. Rather than anticipating what he wants and giving it to him without him asking for it, encourage your teen to ask for what he wants. Ask for his opinion, especially in key family decisions. Show him that his opinion is important and that his suggestions are being carefully considered.

-          Discover his gifts and nurture these. Your teen will have unique abilities, talents and interests. Encourage him to pursue healthy hobbies and sports. This gives a boost to his self-confidence as he discovers what he is good at and what he enjoys. These interests will actually make a good outlet that allows him to decompress and distress.

-          Serve the community as a family. Look for ways where you can perform community service. The ability to give back to society and to serve others is a strong validation that tells your child that his role in the family and community is meaningful.

-          Provide boundaries and rules. These are structures where expectations and consequences are set clearly. Surprisingly, it is the lack of structure and discipline that can actually be quite scary for a teen. Having no rules sends the message that you do not care enough for the teen to set standards for him to follow. On the other hand, boundaries and rules, which are consistently applied, show your teen that you value his growth and development as a person and as an adult.

-          Seek help when necessary. If you already have problems with your teen’s behavior, remember that it is not too late. There is always something you can do. If needed, consider enrolling your teen in a teen wilderness program or a troubled teen residential program. These programs can serve to correct problematic behaviors by guiding him towards building or re-building his sense of self.