Teens usually experience vulnerability in which they are experiencing a time in their development in which they are questioning where they fit in, who they are, and analyze how they could be better. With this level of scrutiny usually comes negative self-talk. This usually comes about in teens who compare themselves to others and feel they are not good enough for whatever reason. As a parent, it could be hard to see your teen experience a lack of self-esteem and falling into the comparison trap. There are ways to help your teen so that they can first feel heard and next get help with refocusing and reframing these negative thoughts/feelings.
Anchor Therapy is a counseling center in Hoboken, NJ with psychotherapists specialized to help teens and adults with anxiety, depression, and life transitions.
Empathize with your teen
This is a very important first step. If you notice your teen feeling down on themselves then you don’t want to jump right in by asking, “Why do you feel that way? … You’re perfect! … Brush it off!” Instead, you want to validate their feelings. You want to show you understand what they’re going through and that being a teen is hard. They’re always comparing themselves to others- whether it’s through social media, peers at school, celebrities, etc. This is something you can’t shield your teens away from seeing. But what you can do is empathize with them and acknowledge it is hard to feel happy with yourself when you see others seemingly doing better. Explain to them that others usually present in a “perfect” way, especially on social media. These people may post they’re relaxing at the beach with their family, but behind the scenes they’re actually yelling at their family members and are angry. You can also humanize it by explaining a time, as an adult, you still experience this feeling of self-doubt sometimes. Before you go into the next steps, you want to get on your teen’s level by showing them that you are listening and you care. You can even add in some stories about when you were a teen and how you felt a similar way.
Reframe your teen’s negative thoughts
When your teen is using negative self-talk, you want to help them correct these thoughts. For example, your teen may be telling themselves, “You’re too fat and nobody likes you.” As a parent, you would first empathize that they feel this way (as mentioned above) and then you would help challenge the reality of this thought. Challenge your teen by asking, “So nobody likes you at all? You have no friends?” And then once they see that they have at least one friend, a teacher, or anyone who likes them then they will have to change their negative self-talk since it actually is not true that NOBODY likes them.
If your teen is overweight then you want to still reframe what does being a larger size than their peers, celebrities, models, etc. actually mean? Does this make them less of a person? Does their size actually make people not like them? If your teen is an average size and/or below average size then you also want to help reframe their thoughts around their weight to show that they are not “fat” and are actually a healthy weight. In these moments, you want to be careful how you phrase it but you also want to check-in to see if they have any eating disorder issues forming. (This is something to always be mindful of, no matter what weight your child is). If you’re unsure, then you may want to pay more attention to their eating habits, getting on the scale often, tracking calories, hiding food, binge eating, signs of purging, or any other symptoms that may indicate an eating disorder.
Model Positive Self-talk and positivity
If you are doing all of the above, but continue to verbalize negative self-talk about yourself then you will not get through to your teen. Kids and teens model their parents’ behaviors. If you are constantly comparing yourself with others, weighing yourself daily, going on a strict diet, or are negative about your looks then your children will most likely act in a similar way. In contrast, if you spend your time talking about all of the features you love about yourself and show the importance of loving yourself as you are, then your children will start to do the same. You want to show your children what optimistic thinking and self love looks like.
The power of, “yet”
This is another powerful way to reframe your teens’ negative self-talk. If your teen says, “I can never do well on a math test.” You want to add the word, “yet” by turning the sentence into, “I can never do well on a math test… yet”. This shows there’s hope for the future for you to change and grow. We are never stuck in one place. It may be realistic that your teen is unhappy with something about themselves currently, but it doesn’t mean this will be the case forever. Show them there is life beyond being a teen.
Remind them of their success
This will not be just one conversation with your teen. You will need to repeat these actions and modeling behaviors so that your teen continues to reframe their negative self-talk. Whenever you notice your teen experiencing negative self-talk, then help reframe their thoughts by refocusing on their achievements. Reflect all of the great things that they have already accomplished. Sometimes people get so stuck in their head about the negatives that they forget about the positives.
Negative self-talk can be very depressing if it is on a constant loop. This is a cycle that a lot of teens fall in. As a parent, you want to work on your own self-talk so that you are modeling more positive behaviors to your children. You then want to start helping your kids with their self-talk so that is starts becoming more positive. Try to come up with some positive self-talk mantras that both you and your children can use moving forward.
Courtney Glashow, LCSW
is a licensed psychotherapist practicing in Hoboken, New Jersey. She specializes in helping teens and adults with anxiety, depression, and life transitions through counseling. Courtney can help NY or NJ residents through telehealth (video/phone) therapy sessions as well.