Parenting and Your Teens Self-Esteem

by Stephanie Partridge

"Does Your Teen feel they are Good Enough?"

I have been talking to some teens, or actually, I have been listening to some teens.  I wanted to know what was on their minds, what was bothering them, what was impeding their relationships with their parents.

I tried asking my own kids, but they were no help.  They both said, “Mom, I can’t complain.  You listen to us; you respect us, when we tell you something you really hear us.  You trust us, you show us you love us, you are our best friend.  We have no complaints at all!”

Well, that was a big help.

So, I began talking to friends of my kids.  Many of them have said that they wish they could live at my house, wish I could adopt them.  I laughed at the time, but I am not laughing now.  The raw pain I have witnessed as these teenagers have poured their hearts out to me is no laughing matter.  These kids come from all walks of life, all economic stations.  Both boys and girls, these kids have complaints that are universal – can potentially tragic.

One of the big issues that they talk about is never being good enough.  No matter what they do it is never quite good enough.

One 16 year old girl I know well told me how she will spend half of the day cleaning the house while her mother is at work.  She will wash dishes, sweep, mop, clean counters, and scrub everything till it shines (I know, I have seen her work), only to have her mom come home and say, “Where’s dinner?”

All the hard work this girl has done is ignored.

Too many parents seem to forget that their kids are thinking, feeling individuals.  They respond to praise and positivity.  They respond when their efforts are recognized, when their hard work is acknowledged.

OK, your kids don’t always do what he or she is supposed to do (NO kid does).  However, that doesn’t mean that you completely ignore the good things that they have done, or the things that they have done right.  In fact, if you only focus on what they aren’t doing, the things that they are doing will get fewer and farther between.  Mark my words.

The “Sandwich Effect” is great in these situations.

The “Sandwich Effect”

It is a simple concept, really.  When you have to deliver criticism, sandwich it between two positive statements.  For instance, “Jimmy, you have really been doing a great job of bringing up your grades.  I am really proud of you.  I do need you to pay more attention to your chores and take more responsibility in the things you do to help the family.  But you are very smart and I am very proud of you so I know this won’t be a problem.  I can help remind you for a while until it becomes habit.  Will that help you?”

Now, instead of blowing up and possibly berating the child, you have just reminded him that you recognize the efforts he makes.  You also reminded him that there are other things he needs to improve, but you let him know that you have confidence in him and even offered to help him get started.

Avoid Generalities and Finger Pointing

You NEVER help me around the house!  You ALWAYS talk back!  This is a huge pet peeve of mine and it can really damage a kid.  Avoid generalities at all costs.  No one is all bad.  You kids may mess up.  In fact, they are going to mess up, it’s their job as kids!  But they aren’t going to mess up all the time.  It also is a bad move to put them on the defensive by finger pointing.  Don’t point the finger at them to show them how bad they messed up.  Think about how often you proceed a comment  to them with the word “You,” particularly when you are telling them what they are doing wrong.

If you want them to take out the trash, try saying, “I really need you to take out the trash, please.  Come on, I’ll help you by emptying the bathroom trash can while you tie up the kitchen garbage.”

If they aren’t doing what they are supposed to, try saying, “I really need you to help me out around here. I do what I can, but you sweep/mop/wash dishes/cook so well and it really helps me out.”

Avoid Nagging

The only thing nagging will get you is a migraine and a disgruntled child (and likely not the goal you intended).  Ask three times then hit ‘em where it hurts.  Take away the cell phone, computer, car, whatever and don’t give it back until they do what you asked.  But whatever you do, DON’T NAG!

Accentuate the Positive

If they do something right, let them know.  Enough Said.

Give a Choice

No one likes to be told what to do.  Now, before you blow up and say, “They’re kids!  We’re supposed to tell them what to do!” hear me out.  I am not saying that you should give them a choice whether or not they do what you tell them.  I am not saying that at all.  What I am saying is that you should give them choices whenever and wherever you can.  Let me give you an example.

My youngest is in charge of the trash.  He takes it out whenever it gets full.  Some days, though, he forgets.  I get up in the morning to a full garbage can.  I go to his room and the conversation goes something like this:

Me:        Ben, we need to do something about the garbage, I just walked into the kitchen and it spoke to
me.  It even knew my name – I was a little scared.

Ben:       (laughs) I’m sorry, Mom.  I forgot.

Me:        OK, well, we need to do something.  Do you want to take it out after breakfast or when you
leave for school?

It is that simple.  I gave him a choice of how he would carry out his duties.  I did not give him a choice of whether or not he would do it.  But I will tell you, this technique is about 98% effective and I don’t have to punish, gripe or fuss.  I leave him to make the choice that I gave him and it gets done.

This sends him the message that a) he has some control in his life, b) I trust him and believe in him enough to allow him to make some of his own decisions, and c) that I respect him enough to treat him like a person instead of someone I can order around.

A bonus to this is that I have seen my kids make very good decisions and they don’t get into trouble.  They are leaders and walk to the beat of their own drums because they are confident in who they are and what they can do.

Trust me, believing in your kids and letting them know it (not just by telling, but by showing) is one of the best things you can do for their self esteem and confidence.  Let them know that they are good enough and that what they do is appreciated.

Biography
Stephanie Partridge is a freelance writer and photographer as well as a FOIA analyst for a federal agency in Washington, D.C. She is a single mom to Jeffery, 19; Micah Elizabeth, 17 and Benjamin, 15. She is also the author of the ebook, “Diet is a Dirty Word.”

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