7 Ways to Help Build Your Teen's Self-Esteem

Many of today’s teenagers struggle with low self-esteem due to a variety of factors including peer pressure, changing bodies, and success in academics or sports.  Mighty Mommy has 7 tips to help you build your teen’s self-confidence.

Cheryl Butler
5-minute read
Episode #198

7 Ways to Help Build Your Teen’s Self-Esteem

Today’s teenagers are confronted with a variety of tough issues, including their physical appearance, who they choose as friends, how they behave in public, how well they perform in sports and school, and much more.

As a parent, you want to help your child be as successful as possible, especially when it comes to their self-image and self-worth.  Most importantly, perhaps, is that you want your child to grow into a confident and responsible adult, thriving in all areas of life. But that isn’t always easy.  Many teens struggle to be accepted, both by the outside world and by themselves.  Parents can play a very important role in helping to build their teen’s sense of self.  Here are 7 ways to help foster these traits in your teenager:


Tip #1: Set Boundaries and Expect Them to Follow Rules

Just like younger children, teenagers need boundaries. So establish firm rules and expectations that fit your family’s lifestyle and values.  For example, if you’re a single parent and need your teen to help start dinner before he heads out with his friends for the evening, explain clearly to him why this is important. Make it understood that you expect this to be done regularly and outline consequence that will follow if it isn’t. Clear rules communicate the value that you have for your child, and when your children know they are valued, this is the first building block of self-esteem. 

Tip #2: Be Generous With Praise

Too often we focus on what our kids haven’t done or haven’t done right.  Tune in to the positive things your teen has accomplished and offer specific praise.  If your daughter has a talent for assembling things that are difficult for most of us, tell her how much you admire that ability and how it helps make your life easier around the house.

When praising, include compliments for their efforts as well.  If your son has been having difficulty landing an after-school job, let him know you are pleased with how hard he’s been trying and that you know eventually his efforts will pay off.  Be sincere with your praise.  If you slather it on too thick, many teens will feel you’re paying them lip service and you’ll defeat the whole purpose of pumping them up.  Be generous, but don’t lay it on for every single good thing they do.

Tip #3: Encourage Decision-Making and Opinions

Teenagers have no shortage of opinions. So ask your teen for his ideas and try including them in some of the everyday family decisions.  Thinking of turning the garage into a new family room? Ask your son what he thinks about that or does he have any other ideas about how you can gain more living space in your existing home?   Teens want to be treated like grown-ups, so give them some opportunities to join you in the adult world when at all possible, and take the time to hear them out when they do have suggestions or concerns that involve the family or your home.  You might be surprised at some of their great ideas!

Tip #4: Stay Connected With All Forms of Communication

Teenagers like to be self-sufficient and want us to believe that they have everything under control—but that doesn’t mean that as parents we needn’t keep the lines of communication open and flowing. So when you ask questions, try to formulate them so that they require more than a yes or no answer.  For instance, instead of asking how math is going, ask what they are currently studying in geometry. 

Texting is a great way to stay connected throughout the day.  If your teen has a big game after school, send a quick message “I hope you and the team have a great game today.  I look forward to hearing all about it tonight.”   I started a communication tool I refer to as “Love Mom” journals for each of my kids when they started middle school.  Each of my older children has a notebook that they keep in their bedrooms. This is a “safe place” for them to mention anything that might be on their mind. They have expressed simple things such as what kind of sneakers they would like to get to something more personal such as being embarrassed that they have dandruff.  We go back and forth exchanging quick comments in the book and it truly only takes a few minutes each week.

Tip #5: Be Supportive During a Conflict

If your child is in the middle of a conflict at either school or with a friend or team member, listen to his side of the story and don’t be judgmental, even if you think he is at fault.  Be supportive by saying something like “I can understand why you think you’re a better choice for class president, and I’m sorry that you feel you have to point out Mary’s shortcomings rather than concentrate on what makes you the better candidate.” 

A conflict may seem silly and trivial to us, but to a hormonal teenager, it could be a major source of contention in their lives.  Get in the habit of supporting your child through the good and the bad and you will be laying a strong foundation for open communication when bigger challenges come around.  Most importantly, when things are going well, continually remind your teen that you are always willing to listen and help in any way you can.  Knowing they have a parent to lean on who loves and accepts them can greatly help build their self-confidence over time.

Tip #6: Criticize Constructively

No one likes to be told they didn’t do something right, particularly if it is done in anger.  Choose how you criticize your impressionable teen wisely.  If your daughter fails her algebra test, don’t say something sarcastic like “Well, if you had studied for this test instead of texting your friends all night long, this never would’ve happened.”

Instead, use a concerned tone and say, “It looks like you had some trouble with that math test.  How about if we set up a quiet time to study this week before the next test?”  And try never to criticize in front of others; that never helps in this kind of situation.

Tip #7: Encourage Their Individual Talents

Most of us have dreams for our kids even before they are born, but just because all the women in the family have gone to nursing school doesn’t mean your daughter will want to as well.  If your teen has an obvious interest or talent, despite the fact that it isn’t something near and dear to your heart, learn more about why she is passionate about it and encourage her every step of the way.  If your child knows you are behind her, she is apt to be much more successful and will feel confident and more secure in her decisions.  

These 7 tools can help you build your child's self-esteem and encourage them to take more necessary risks so as they mature, they develop into confident, well-adjusted adults.

Check back next week for more Mighty Mommy tips. If you have a question or a suggestion for a future Mighty Mommy episode, please e-mail me at mommy@quickanddirtytips.com.

Check out the Mighty Mommy Facebook page where I share lots of quick parenting tips all week long.  You can also follow me on Twitter @MightyMommy or join me on Pinterest.com where you can visit all of my family-friendly boards.

Enjoy spending time with your amazing teen and until next time—happy parenting!

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.