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Tips to help young people build self-esteem

Self-esteem is how we think and feel about ourselves. It’s not just how we feel about the way we look (though this is certainly part if it) it’s about how we feel about ourselves, inside and out. As children grow up and try to work out who they are and how they fit into the world, their self-esteem can be quite fragile. But you’ll be pleased to hear there are lots of things parents can do to help boost their teens’ self-esteem, and help them grow into confident, happy adults.

In this short video, curriculum leader Arlene Cleland explains how parents can help boost young people's self-esteem.

What is self-esteem?

Self-esteem is how we think and feel about ourselves, and how much we value and believe in ourselves. If we have high self-esteem, it means we see ourselves in a mostly positive light. We accept ourselves the way we are and are more able to stand up for ourselves and move on when we make mistakes. If we have low self-esteem, we see ourselves more negatively. This means that we can feel we aren’t good enough and don’t deserve to be happy, and can find it harder to cope when things go wrong.

What’s the difference between self-esteem, confidence and resilience?

Self-esteem, confidence and resilience are all buzzwords we hear a lot. We know they’re important – but what do they all mean?

Confidence is about the belief we have in our abilities, whereas self-esteem is how we value ourselves as a whole. So for example your child might have high self-esteem, in that they know they are worthy of being loved and happy, but may have no confidence in their ability to do maths, or to speak up in class. Or they may be very confident when it comes to passing exams or playing sport, but still feel down on themselves as a person. However, the more confident we are in what we can do, the easier it is to build our self-esteem.

Resilience is being able to adapt to different situations and difficult times. It’s more than just coping – it’s coping well, and moving forwards by building on what we’ve learnt in the past. If we have high self-esteem and feel confident in our abilities, it’s easier to be resilient – they’re all linked! You can read our tips for helping teens build resilience here.

What affects young people's self-esteem?

Young people’s self-esteem can be affected by lots of different things. Things like doing well at school or receiving compliments can make them feel better about themselves, while things like being teased or bullied, or breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend, can lower self-esteem. Other influences like social media can also affect how teens feel about themselves.

Why is it important to help your teen build their self-esteem?

Dad and teenage boy sitting on a bench outdoors, looking at a phone

Dad and teenage boy sitting on a bench outdoors, looking at a phone

Most of us will have times when our self-esteem takes a hit and we feel more down on ourselves. Young people in particular can be very up and down. And as long as we’re more up than down, this is okay. But having low self-esteem all the time can make it harder for teens to deal with the challenges life throws at them, and can lead to feelings of isolation and mental health problems like anxiety and depression. So the more parents can do to help young people boost their self-esteem, the better.

How is self-esteem linked to body image?

Body image is determined by how we feel about the way we look, whereas self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves, including (but not just) the way we look. So feeling bad about the way we look can affect our self-esteem.

To help your child feel more comfortable about their body, read our page on supporting your teen to have a good body image and our tips for helping your teen accept their body.

How can social media affect self-esteem?

Comparing ourselves to people living seemingly perfect lives on social media can affect our self-esteem too. Our tips for helping teens get the most out of social media has suggestions for ways they can avoid the negative influences of social media, and create a safe, inspiring online space for themselves. 

Tips for helping your child build self-esteem

Getting help and support

There are lots of online resources for teens that can help if they’re struggling with their self-esteem. They may find these articles from Mind and YoungMinds helpful – maybe you could look at them together.

Aye Feel is a great resource from Young Scot with lots of information for young people on how to look after their emotional wellbeing and mental health, discover support from organisations around Scotland and get tips on how to promote a positive mindset.

If you’re worried that your teen’s low self-esteem is stopping them from doing everyday things, like eating properly, going to school or going out with friends, you can talk to your GP about it with your teen, or without them if they won’t come. Your GP can then talk to you about the support available in your area. Our page on getting help and support when you’re raising a teen has more advice and resources.

Last updated: 13 Nov, 2023