At-risk youth face a steep climb to becoming valued members of society. Feelings of low self-worth contribute to young people’s tendency to get in trouble. Here are some tips for building self-esteem in at-risk youth.
What Causes Low Self-Esteem?
Unfortunately, many at-risk youth come from homes where parenting skills were lacking. Unhappy childhoods wherein parents—or other significant adults such as teachers—focus on criticizing the child rather than supporting them. This can destroy their budding sense of self-worth. A child who feels they’ll never be good enough doesn’t have much motivation to try to do well—at school or in life.
Signs of Low Self-Esteem
While children and teens give off signals that they’re not doing well, you may not recognize the problem as low self-esteem at first. Signs of low self-esteem include:
- Sensitivity To Criticism: Youth who have low self-esteem may be extra sensitive to criticism—even constructive criticism—whether it comes from parents, peers, teachers, or coaches.
- Social Withdrawal: Self-isolation can be a signal of many different problems, such as substance abuse, being the victim of bullying, or academic problems. Each of these may stem from or carry an element of low self-esteem.
- Hostility: Feeling bad about oneself can result in hostility toward offers of help or questions about what’s wrong. Youth with low self-esteem may regard well-intentioned expressions of concern as confirmation there’s something fundamentally wrong with them.
- Excessive Preoccupation With Personal Problems: Wallowing in what’s wrong instead of taking positive steps to solve problems reflects a sense of low self-esteem. Kids who don’t believe in themselves give up easily.
- Physical Signs: Self-harm, frequent illness, crying, or other signs of depression and anxiety may stem from low self-esteem.
How To Help At-Risk Youth Build Self-Esteem
Some helpful tips for building self-esteem in at-risk youth include the following:
- Focus on Effort and Accomplishments: Children and teens should receive praise and rewards for what they have accomplished instead of what they haven’t. Praise them for what they have done instead of telling them to achieve “perfection.”
- Teaching Positive Self-Talk: Encourage teens to think of self-coaching as a form of self-care. Make sure they know it’s OK to treat themselves with compassion. Encourage them to remind themselves of their talents, values, and accomplishments.
- Encourage Teens to Try New Things: Doing something they haven’t done before can lead to the discovery of new strengths and skills.
- Help Them Set Goals: Help your teen set goals and take steps to accomplish them. Teaching a step-by-step approach can help a teen break down a seemingly unattainable goal into attainable stages that move them towards what they want to accomplish.
Self-esteem is important because it builds self-confidence. Self-confidence helps at-risk youth and teens stand up for themselves, and refuse peer pressure to engage in negative activities. The Arise Foundation provides character development lesson plans for elementary through high school students. Teachers, youth workers, and juvenile justice officials can use our curricula to build skills to help at-risk youth develop better self-esteem. Contact us today for help in selecting the curriculum that best suits the ages of the at-risk youths you work with.