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Who? What? How?

Updated: Jul 14, 2023

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and is also Teen Self-Esteem Month. National Teen Self-Esteem Month is a designated time for parents, educators, and the community to focus on supporting teens in building a positive self-image, which should also be going on all year. I think it is fair to say that mental

health and self-esteem go hand in hand: mental health challenges contribute to low self-esteem and the other way around. And of course, the kids are our future, so we want them to grow healthy and strong in body and mind, and having a balanced sense of self-esteem is a big factor in that.

The teenage years can be full of fun, exploration, and growing independence, but they can also be just brutal. As we get ready to return to school, let's all help the teens go in with a great attitude about themselves and their potential and resilience against negative influences.

Physically and mentally healthy teens are better able to learn in school and avoid risky behaviors that cycle back to contribute to poor learning and poor health.

Risky behaviors include:

  • use of alcohol, drugs, tobacco products (often vaping),

  • risky sexual behavior, which of course can lead to teen pregnancy as well as STIs potentially leading to long-term health problems, and,

  • other risky choices like not wearing a seatbelt, driving at high speeds, distracted driving or driving while impaired, or riding in a vehicle with an impaired driver, which can result in “unintentional” injury or death.

Negative learning experiences contribute to poor teen self-esteem, and all of these can cause missed school time and impact long-term health.

Social media has a lot of benefits because these platforms allow teens to communicate and build social networks that provide support, especially for kids (or anyone) who may be isolated by circumstances or illness, even without the COVID factor. There’s the opportunity to interact across geographic distances and to be creative.

SM can even help when someone is down by providing entertainment (cat videos 😸) and connection.

But it also seems social media has an even more significant negative role than TV did a generation ago in setting up comparisons to what’s considered successful or accepted. And it allows bullies to reach further and cause more damage. What do they say: Once it’s on the internet it’s there forever?

At a basic level too, the time spent on social media can disrupt sleep, distract from schoolwork, and replace the face-to-face connections that might exist “IRL” (In real life)

Here are some tips for parents and primary caregivers specific to social media:

  • Parents can negotiate reasonable limitations for time spent on social media and encourage physical activity and safe and appropriate face-to-face contact.

  • Parents and trusted adults can, and probably should, be open to sharing the things teens are seeing and use this time together as an opportunity to have a discussion with their child(ren) about what is OK to post versus what is just not appropriate or even safe to share, helping guide their teen(s) in how to understand what it out there and how to engage with it, or not engage!

In February 2023, CDC released a report that analyzed data collected from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveys between 2011 to 2021. A major conclusion is that teen girls are experiencing record-high levels of violence, sadness, and suicide risk and that girls are being affected more dramatically than boys. For example, the rate of teen boys who persistently felt sad or hopeless rose from 21% to 29%, and in teen girls from 36% to 57%. This means that about 3 in 5 girls are having those thoughts!

Teen years also bring on issues like body image, taking on more personal responsibility, figuring out how to relate to adults while being in that in-between not a child/not an adult stage, so much going on.

Focusing on what we can do to help build self-esteem and resilience is a more hopeful approach than harping on negative statistics.

Positive self-esteem includes physical, intellectual, social, and emotional/psychological aspects, and also relies on factors within the family, community, and school such as:

  • feeling safe,

  • having supportive relationships,

  • having opportunities to build skills,

  • a sense of belonging, and

  • trusted adults to turn to with questions or problems.

So, what can we do?

  • Lead by example when it comes to positive self-talk, avoid being negative about yourself, for example, if something doesn’t go as planned model flexibility instead of becoming angry or saying negative things about yourself or others.

  • Be open to listening to their interests and engaging about stuff that might not seem important because you are building trust; if your teen knows you will listen to the little stuff, they will be more likely to come to you with the big stuff.

  • Foster activities where teens can feel included and belong.

  • Encourage them to make their own decisions using your guidance and advice.

  • Promote one on one time with their health care provider.

Give them space when they need space – AND be ready to recognize when they may be withdrawing too much, having severe mood swings, their sleep and/or eating habits change significantly, showing anxiety or complaining of unexplained physical pains because these can be signs that they need some more significant support.

Among the many articles on this theme, from national and international organizations like World Health Organization and CDC to counseling websites and mommy blogs, the suggestions repeated were the ones that stressed how important it is to have open communication - listening to teens, acknowledging their opinions are worth hearing and discussing. Also, making a habit of pointing out when they’ve done something well, or kind, or made a good decision – which is nice for all of us but is crucial at that age when the foundations of self-esteem are being built.

NCHD participates in a program called Communities That Care (CTC) which provides a framework for local educators, community members, parents, and teens to work together to develop prevention plans that are specific to their community based on their strengths and needs. The goal is to reduce risk factors (like substance use, school dropout, and antisocial behaviors) and increase protective factors such as community engagement, recognition for prosocial behaviors, and bonding with trusted adult role models. Our CTC team currently works in Wray and Sedgwick County but has, and can, work with communities throughout the district. For more information about CTC and contact info please visit the Communities That Care page under the Programs tab on the menu bar.

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