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What Can I Do to Reinforce My Freshman's Self-Esteem?

By Joe Connolly, Consulting Educator

Question:

My high school freshman daughter, who by the way is a National Honor Society and straight A student, recently said "I no longer have stomachache problems and actually have friends because they don't think I'm a nerd."

It is true, she is going to track meets and after-school activities where before she wouldn't open up to anyone after having a group of kids in junior high shun her because she was too studious. I haven't seen any grades yet but am worried and asking you what I can do to reinforce her self-esteem. I always told her it doesn't matter because when she graduates from college and becomes what she wants she will look back at all that junk and say what a waste to worry about that. It is important to be popular; it's not that she just wanted friends. It's such a painful time - I remember all too well.

Answer:

First of all, let me congratulate you for recognizing the pain that most teens face at this stage in their life, including your daughter. It sounds as if you've got a really wonderful young lady who is starting to figure out how to balance academics and a social life.

There are lots of little things you can do to help reinforce her self-esteem, but let's take a look at some of the things that can cause that low self-esteem in the first place.

Teens start to develop their own identity during the adolescent years. For many years our sons and daughters took on the identity that we gave them. Once they reach the teen years, they see the need to forge their own way in life. We see this in the clothes they wear, the music they listen to and the friends they keep.

Additionally, it is also a time of social development. During the grade-school years, our children can easily put family first. Mommy and daddy can do no wrong and they enjoy doing things with us. However, adolescents find it much easier to put their friends before family. Having friends and interacting with them is a vital part of their development.

When we factor in the pressure our kids face each day, it can be very difficult to put things in perspective. And the pressure is not just coming from their peers, although that can be enormous. The pressure they feel from us to do well in school, to keep up with their chores and to "not worry about being popular" or with fitting in, can be too much to handle.

Problems arise when we parents, with the wisdom of perspective, try to convince our teens that trying to be popular and /or wanting to be somebody we don't think they should be is a waste of time. To them, it's not a waste of time; it's an important part of their life.

My first suggestion would be to continue to recognize what it feels like to be a teen in today's world. It's much harder than when we were teens. Try to put yourself in your daughter's shoes, but without the wisdom of perspective that you now have. Hopefully this will allow you to empathize with her. She will continue to share her thoughts and concerns with you, as from your account, she seems to be doing now. Be open to her thoughts and ideas without criticizing. If she feels comfortable, she is more likely to continue sharing with you.

Secondly, continue to find small opportunities to show her how proud you are of the person she is becoming. Praise her for making good decisions, small and large. When she does something good at school, let her know how you feel. When she clears her plate off the table, tell her "thank you." When she remembers to clean her room without being reminded, tell her how much you appreciate it. And when she brings home a friend who is somebody you like, let her know that too.

It's really easy for us to take our kids for granted sometimes. But at this stage in their life, it's even more important to let them know how much we appreciate their good decisions.

Lastly, I would suggest remembering to love your daughter unconditionally. Most parents want the best for their children and we know how we want them to turn out. It's often helpful to remember to love our children for who they are, instead of who we want them to be.


Joe Connolly is the author and creator of 3 STEPS to parenting teens and the One Minute Rule. One of the founders of Good Parents, Inc., Joe is a sought after speaker of family topics and is widely known for his expertise and powerful speaking on parenting. Joe has been a featured speaker at Stanford University's "Stressed Out Students" conference, the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, California State Senator Jackie Speier"s "Girls Day" and at corporations including Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and Genentech. Joe is the dean of students (K-5) at the Harker School in San Jose, CA. You can learn more about Joe and the services he provides at joeconnolly.org. Joe can be reached at joe@joeconnolly.org.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

11/17/2009:
"Hello, I have a grand daughter age 16 and a sophomore. She is very quiet and shy, makes good grades and has tried to participate in some sports. She quit because of bullying her first year of basketball and for the past two years has run cross country. She made state both years and has done well. She received the sportsmanship award and her coach talked about what a good role model, never complained, is always at practice, etc. However, when he gave out the awards for participating and for maintaining the grade-point averages, he completely left her out (two years in a row)! Needless to say, she was very upset and embarassed. How can we talk to teachers and coaches without them thinking we are always complaining? They seem to take every comment or question and make it about them instead of the child."
11/5/2008:
"Hi there. I feel obligated to answer this particular question regarding my credentials. For what it is worth I have been married for 25 years and am the proud father or three children. My oldest son is 22 and in graduate school. My second son is a 19 year old sophomore in college and my daughter is a 17 year old senior in high school. I have also been fortunate to work with hundreds of families on a variety of issues involving teens. Thanks for your input. "
12/26/2007:
"Just out of curiosity, is Joe married, for about oh 20ish years, and does he have a teen himself who is about 15-18 years old? (Always remember to consider the source!! :)His advice is good, however only if he has personally known the anguish and stress of a parent of a teen himself. Thanks."
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