I once tutored a girl who had gone from having a 4.0 GPA to being on academic probation in the span of about a month. Her parents had reached out to me in desperation after her grades had suddenly started spiraling, and they made it very clear that she needed sensitivity and understanding, and that I shouldn’t be harsh with her. This was fine with me, since that’s more of my style anyway, but once we started working together, I realized that even my normal level of compassion was not going to be enough.
In our sessions, I couldn’t show her any sympathy, encouragement or praise, nor could I challenge her in the slightest, because all of these things would make her feel so insecure and vulnerable that she would tear up instantly. I had to tread so lightly that I eventually stopped asking her to do any problems altogether, and would spend most of the time explaining and showing her how to do the problems myself.
According to her father, the thing that had pushed her over the edge was a bad quiz grade in Math, something she had never received before. Then came a “bad grade” in Chemistry, and shortly after that, all of her grades were plummeting and fast. By the time we started working together, she had taken leave from school to try and catch up on her own because she couldn’t face her classes, but from the sound of it, her folks weren’t very optimistic about her being able to recoup.
The reason I’m sharing this story with you is to address a topic that I’ve come to believe deserves the attention of every parent of an adolescent, and that is: the fragility of teenager confidence and its consequences.
Confidence is often conflated with high self esteem, but the thing is, in my 10+ years as an educator, I’ve worked one-on-one with many kids that seemed outwardly confident, only to realize it was a just mask for low esteem. This would be most obvious in instances when they’d pretend to understand something rather than ask for clarity, or they’d get uncomfortable when discussing their mistakes. What good is it to be confident if one cannot be muster the confidence to believe in themselves when it matters most, such as when having to withstand peer pressure, or to make a comeback from failure, or even to make wise decisions?
For parents, the risk of not recognizing the signs of a false confidence that masks low self esteem can leave them just as shell shocked in the event of a sudden collapse. Still, there are many that do recognize the presence of low self esteem in their kids, but it’s a very difficult thing to influence a change in. You can’t exactly convince someone to believe in themselves just by telling them they should, they have to buy into it themselves.
After repeatedly witnessing firsthand, the prevalence and significance of low self esteem in my students, I spent several months researching and learning about it, trying to understand what can be done, if anything. There’s a lot to share, so I’ve compiled it into a 3-part email series, in which I go over:
- What is self esteem and why does it matter?
- How to tell if your son or daughter suffers from low self esteem (and how to recognize high self esteem).
- What the impact of low self esteem is on kids.
- What the Psychology academics have to say about self esteem.
- What you can do to help your kids.
- What the antidote for low self esteem is.
If you would like access to the remainder of the series, please submit your info below and we’ll email it to you over the next few days.
Subscribe for the “Teens and Low Self Esteem” Series:
Ava is a growth mindset coach and student motivation expert. She is passionate about empowering teens and tweens with a growth mindset.