Teen Self-Concept: the secret to raising happy teens

Teens do not know who they are, and they are working like mad to figure it out.

Adolescents are…

  • Changing physically in appearance and in bodily urges
  • Know that within a relatively short time, they will be living in a new place, with new expectations, with new people, expressing themselves in new ways
  • Are beginning to think like adults – they can understand similes and metaphors, weigh abstract concepts, and wonder if means justify the ends. They have new access to what Piaget calls, formal operational thinking.

Often, anytime a teen looks at themselves, something is wrong. They’ll ask “What does a normal teenager look like?” or “How would a normal teenager act right now” or “What should I be thinking about?”. These questions drive them crazy. Because they haven’t built their self-concept yet, they are always in doubt. Often, we know when they are most insecure because they are acting the surest of themselves.

Additionally, teen cliques are changing constantly – they are competitive and unusually inconsistent due to the rapid changes each individual is going through.

Sometimes, especially when teens have “Drill Seargent” or “Helicopter” parents, teens will do anything to prove that they aren’t their parents because they feel so stifled and controlled. However, sometimes instead of finding their own voice, they will end up following a stronger peer. This is still them listening to a voice outside of themselves. We want to encourage teens to find their own voice and their own way in life, without having to follow someone else.

Things that damage teen self-concept:

  • Excessive criticism
  • Overprotection
  • Neglect
  • Perfectionism
  • Excessive or inadequate control
  • Pushing kids into school before they are ready
  • Learning disabilities

Minute-to-minute self-concept building: a parenting technique

Self-concept building gives your kids the message that they are ok. It lets them know that they can compete at home, in sports, in school, and with their peers. It tells them, “I’m ok”.

Building self-concept through decision making

Another way to let teens practice and build their self-concept is to slowly start surrendering power to them by offering them choices.

Give teens a choice if:

  • You can make at least one choice appealing to them
  • Make sure you can live with both choices
  • If you decide they can’t choose, make sure you can actually enforce that.
  • Do not turn a choice, into a threat.

It is natural to want to control your teenager – however, you must resist the urge to do that if you want to keep your sanity. Slowly and thoughtfully, surrender by offering choices to your teen. Do it often, and especially do it when they’re in a good mood.

Examples of choices:

  • “Would you like to come home at 10:30 or 11?”
  • “You’re welcome to ____ or ____.”
  • “Feel free to ____ or ____.”
  • “Would you rather ____ or ____?”
  • “What would be best for you ____ or ____ ?”

Strong self-concept building prepares our teens for future leadership

Leadership often runs in families. It’s not genetic however it is built into the culture of the home. It’s never too late to bring it into your family system.

Next-level self-concept building tips:

  • Encourage teens to stand up to you. Request that they give you respectful counterproposals and thoughtful disagreements. Encourage your teen to express different ideas and opinions than you in a respectful (not rebellious) way. As a parent, you can respond without agreeing or disagreeing, but by asking thoughtful and curious questions.
  • Let your children know how proud you are when they don’t give in to peer pressure. It is fine to say – “It looks like you’re alone in that idea. Perhaps it’s preparing you for leadership one day.”
  • Encourage respectful competition in the area of your teen’s strengths. It’s great if your kid wants to be the best at something!
  • Encourage your teen to self-evaluate rather than rely on your praise. It’s fine to say “Good job” however it encourages more self-concept to first ask “How do you think you did?”


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