How to Build Your Teen's Self-Esteem—5 Tips for Parents

No wonder teenagers often struggle with low self-worth. Peer pressure, changing bodies, the struggle to excel in academics and sports—it's a lot. Here are five tips from Mighty Mommy to help boost your teen's self-esteem and set them up for success.

Cheryl Butler
5-minute read
Episode #605
The Quick And Dirty

Parents can play a significant role in helping to build their teen’s self-esteem. Here are five tips.

  1. Give them responsibilities (to show you trust them with important tasks)
  2. Encourage them to become problem solvers (to show you're confident they can meet life's challenges)
  3. Let them take healthy risks (to let them explore and build resilience)
  4. Connect regularly and be a thoughtful listener (to show them you care)
  5. Praise their efforts, not their innate qualities (to keep the focus on things they can control)

A teenager's life isn't easy. They have constant access to social media, which can make them feel like they're nowhere near as cool as their peers. They compete to excel in academics, sports, and even to find friends they vibe with. Overcoming these hurdles can seem monumental. It's hard to have positive self-esteem when you never feel quite good enough!

You want your child to feel confident and to know that they are always good enough.

Of course, you want your child to feel confident and to know that they are always good enough. Helping them cultivate a strong self-image means they'll grow and thrive in all areas of life, both now and in the future. But helping them find that confidence isn't always easy! Many teens not only struggle to find acceptance in the outside world but also (and maybe more so!) within themselves.

5 ways to boost your teen's self-esteem

Give them responsibilities

Let your teen know just how capable you think they are by trusting them with responsibilities.

As a working mom, I rely on help with meals. My kids know they'll be starting dinner on the days I get home late. They understand the benefits we all receive when I work extra hours. By sharing the responsibilities of weekly dinners, my teens know I'm counting on them. I value their participation and so does the rest of the family.

Communicating your needs is key. When your young adult knows he's fulfilling an important role, his self-esteem will grow.

Encourage them to become problem solvers

Kids develop self-esteem by doing things that are hard for them. Babies learn to crawl and then walk. Young children learn to tie their shoes, ride a bicycle, and read. As parents, we cheer on these milestone events. As they grow, kids continue to master new skills, leaving them with a great sense of pride. These accomplishments help build a foundation for strong self-esteem. (Not to mention, problem-solving skills ranked third out of 16 in The Harvard Business Review’s study on successful leaders.)

Our job as parents is not to solve everything for our kids—it's to teach them how to find their own solutions.

Kids face daily challenges. They navigate peer pressure, meet school deadlines, and learn new skills to be part of a sports team. Our job as parents is not to solve everything for them; it's to teach them how to find their own solutions.

Ask your teen for input about everyday family decisions. Does she want more privacy? Have her brainstorm ways to create a nook for herself. Let your son coordinate carpooling for football practice. What's her advice to her younger sister for handling friend rejection? There are endless opportunities for you to invite your child to share their insight. And, in the process, you'll be demonstrating that you trust and value their judgment.

Ask your kids for advice when you're struggling with something. When my mother passed away, I needed to get her home ready to sell. The process was endless, so I asked my teens for advice on finding a fair way to distribute her things. They found dozens of creative ways to streamline the process. It was helpful for me and they felt great knowing they made a positive impact.

Let your child take healthy risks

Allowing space to explore and take risks is an incredible tool to build self-esteem.

From the moment your baby is born, it’s your job to nurture and protect him. You do everything in your power to keep him healthy and safe from harm. It can be exasperating to stand back and let your child fend for himself. But, allowing space to explore and take risks is an incredible tool to build self-esteem.

Susan Sachs Lipman, the author of Fed Up With Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, says sometimes we have to show kids what risk looks like. In the article Why our kids should take risks—sometimes even (slightly) dangerous ones, she said, “Most of the traits we want for our kids—resilience, confidence, empathy, academic achievement—flourish when parents and children have time to be together and experience role modeling and positive support.”

My eight kids and I went white river rafting several years ago. It was out of my comfort zone, but my kids loved that we were doing it together. We hit a few rough spots but enjoyed the experience. It was thrilling and satisfying to see everyone do so well.

New experiences can offer another healthy tool to feel successful and confident.

RELATED: 4 Ways Failure Can Benefit Your Child

Connect regularly and be a thoughtful listener

Kids want to know that they rank highly in our busy lives. But we all get caught up in the grind of work, running a household, and trying to keep on top of finances and bills. When it comes to family life with our teens, it's easy to be lax with our interactions. Look for opportunities throughout your busy day and week to connect with your teenager. When you do, you send an important message: "You mean a lot to me!"

Richa Bhatia, MD, a dual Board Certified Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychiatrist, recommends that parents and their kids spend at least 10 to 20 minutes of meaningful time together each day. Engage in an activity of your teen’s choice or strike up a conversation about a subject they’re interested in. Bhatia encourages parents to set the goal to be an active listener when connecting with their teen. This reinforces that you care, building their self-worth.

Your child knows when you’re listening, so make important moments count. By giving him your full attention, you’re teaching him what good listening skills are.

For a heartfelt look at a teen’s view on self-esteem, watch this TEDxYOUTH talk by Caileigh Lydon, a ninth-grade student.

Praise your teen's efforts, not their innate qualities

Praise is a powerful tool, especially when it’s given genuinely for a job well done. But make sure to praise your kids for their efforts and not innate qualities and traits they can't control. We can't all be natural-born geniuses, but we can work hard to expand our knowledge. Most of us aren't born looking like models, but we can have fun with creative self-expression.

Three of my children overcame significant learning disabilities. Their progress was slow but steady. We learned from the experts that the best way to praise children with low self-esteem is to compliment them on their behavior. Here are a couple of examples.

Praising a quality

You're so smart!

Praising effort

The extra time you spent on your science project really paid off!

Praising a quality

You look beautiful!

Praising effort

Wow! I love the creativity you put into planning your outfit today.

Constructive praise helps kids to appreciate their own efforts. Self-esteem comes from working hard toward a goal and feeling good about it.

RELATED: 5 Ways to Speak Positively to Your Child

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.