That said, the causes of teenage insecurities are countless: being alone, rejected, not a part of the popular crew; having bad grades, not-good-enough-for-mom-and-dad grades, not-good-enough-for-college grades; making mistakes, failing to achieve something, and therefore, disappointing one’s friends, parents, teachers, or oneself; having the “wrong kind of” body, clothes, hobbies, entourage, and the list goes on.
According to Real Girls, Real Pressure: A National Report on the State of Self-Esteem, commissioned by the Dove® Self-Esteem Fund, seven in ten girls believe they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way, including their looks, performance in school, and relationships with friends and family members. The researchers contend that these insecurities sprout from low self-esteem and that teenage girls with inadequate self-worth are more likely to engage in harmful coping behaviors.
However, it is not just the girls who fall prey to insecurities—boys get affected just as much, according to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, published in Psychology of Men & Masculinity journal. Just like their female counterparts, teenage boys excessively worry about their body image, which is a risk factor for elevated depressive symptoms among adolescent boys.
Teens face pressure from a multitude of sources: self-inflicted, peer, parental, and societal pressure compounded by the hormonal changes, continuously cut the ground from under their feet and feed into their insecurities. Adolescence is the time when yesterday’s children start making their own decisions, search for the ways to express themselves, and benchmark their worth against one another. A previously solid bond between a parent and a child tends to weaken during this time and the relationship resembles a roller-coaster ride more than anything else. Facing challenges with a compromised support system, or without having someone to rely on, is a daunting task indeed.
Pinpointing specific causes of teenage insecurities oftentimes proves a difficult task for parents. Most teenagers don’t share or discuss their doubts with others—especially adults—which makes it hard to figure out what troubles them and how the situation can be remedied.
Even the most confident and outspoken people have some things about themselves that they are not completely happy or satisfied with. It is completely natural to sometimes doubt the choices we have made, regret the things we have said, or want to improve ourselves in some area. In fact, fighting complacency is essential for making progress and reaching new heights.
However, critical self-assessment is not the same as insecurity. Insecurity arises from the lack of confidence and feeds upon a weak character, whereas only those who are confident in themselves can impartially judge their own imperfections. It takes time to learn how to gain a footing in your life and comfortably grow into your own skin.
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Around half of teens who experience a brief episode of depression or anxiety do not go on to have a mental illness in adulthood, according to a study from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.
Half of girls and almost one-third of boys have an episode of depression or anxiety in their teens but rates drop sharply when young people reach their 20s.
“The good news is teen problems are not a life sentence,” said lead author Professor George Patton. “Many of these problems, particularly if they’re brief and last for six months or less, or in boys, tend to get better.” This might be the result of adolescent development, including maturation of the brain systems involved in social and emotional processing, and learning new cognitive and emotional skills.
If not addressed, teenage insecurities may persist well into early adulthood. An alarming fact, considering the potential harmful effects of teenage insecurities and low self-confidence. Trouble sleeping, aggression, withdrawal, clinical anxiety, and depression are among the issues that insecure teens struggle most with. When a struggle proves too much for them to handle, teens often adopt dangerous coping mechanisms, such as disorderly eating or substance abuse, which in reality only make things worse, and in extreme cases may even be lethal.
To ensure peace of mind and safety of their children during adolescence, parents need to take early preemptive action. Helping children build self-confidence and instill a sense of self-worth from a young age is fundamental for helping them fight their insecurities later in life. Still, teenage years are full of uncertainty and teens’ self-confidence can be easily swayed, so even most confident teens need parental reassurance from time to time. To help teenagers improve their self-esteem during adolescence, and also strengthen and maintain a positive relationship, parents should take advantage of the following few pieces of advice:
1. Eliminate negativity form words and thoughts. Start with positive self-talk. It is very easy to get frustrated with people who don’t cooperate and lose your cool with them; easy but unproductive. To understand and support a struggling child, you need to help them open up to you about things that burden them. If you criticize your children for every petty detail, they will not share their concerns with you for the fear of being judged and censured. In order to sustain a positive dynamic between you two, you must maintain positive outlook at all times, even when your child is not around.
2. Foster open communication. If something is troubling your child, you should be the first person they would come to ask for help. You need to let your teenagers know that they can tell you anything, that you will listen and won’t judge, that you will try to understand the problem from their point of view, and that you will offer constructive feedback, reassurance, and advice instead of condescending “What kind of a problem is that?” “It’s your own fault!” or “I told you so”.
3. Identify the triggers. What causes your child’s anxiety, aggression, or reticence? Where do their fears come from? What makes you react one way or another in a course of a discussion or an argument with your teenager? Knowing their—and your—triggers is a powerful weapon for facilitating a conversation with your teen as well as removing them from the “danger zones,” thus reducing their stress levels.
4. Ensure structure wherever possible. Structure gives teens that extra layer of comfort and support, and instills a greater sense of stability in them. When going through an emotional turmoil, teens get easily overwhelmed by the simplest inconveniences or unforeseen circumstances. Structure brings certainty, it gives them something to rely and count on when everything else seems to be in chaos.
5. Help the teens work on their goals and strategies to achieve them. To fight uncertainty, you need to rely on your goals and progress benchmarks. Uncertainty can make you feel helpless and stuck in one place—often a bad one—in life. Sense of achievement is indispensable for building self-confidence in teens. Setting realistic goals, breaking those into smaller sub-goals, and measuring related progress can make a difference in your child’s attitude and outlook on the world.
During teenage years insecurities are omnipresent and rife; in truth, overcoming self-doubts is a major part of growing up and maturing into adults. While insecurities do affect every teenager, they manifest themselves differently and with varying intensity, depending on a person’s strength of character and environment.
Teenage years are challenging in many ways. It is the time of great changes in life, and with the changes come pressure, worrying, uncertainty, and fear. Under such circumstances, sometimes a seemingly small incident can escalate into a major anxiety, which may engender a potentially self-destructive coping mechanism.
Beverly D. Flaxington
Child Psychiatrist in London