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Strengthening Your Teen’s Self Worth: Wellness Message

When posed with the question, “What do you hope for your teen?” parents nearly always respond with some version of they want their teen to be happy and successful.

Most MVLA students believe this but can also feel overwhelmed with the pressure of what they believe it is going to take to be happy and successful, namely, that they have to be perfect.  This desire to be perfect is woven in the culture of fear and scarcity in which we live, the world in which most of us go to bed at night thinking about what we did not get done and wake up in the morning feeling like we did not get enough sleep.

The landscape of social and economic conditions is far tougher now than it was 30 years ago.  Our teens, especially our juniors and seniors, understand that once out of high school their arena will be a worldwide competition. They often feel that to have their best chance, they must rise to the top of the social and academic heap in high school and outdo friends and classmates, students they often perceive as smarter, more socially adept, better looking, and with nicer things.

Some signs of perfectionism to watch for include:

  • All or nothing thinking
  • Unrealistic standards (I have to excel at everything I do; if I don’t I am a failure)
  • Focus on results
  • Being depressed by unmet goals
  • Resisting starting a task because of being afraid of not being able to do it perfectly
  • Avoiding classes or school

The most painful form of perfectionism is when teens believe they have to be perfect to win the approval of friends, parents and teachers. This struggle for approval is actually an unconscious struggle to increase self-worth and inevitably leads to painful outcomes.

Teens often feel like something is wrong with them, that there is something broken, deficient or damaged about them. And the last thing they want to do is admit this or talk about it.  A way you can be helpful is by paying attention to how your teen is talking about themselves. If your teen tells you that they are stupid because they did not score well on a test, you can respond that not studying for the test was a bad choice, but they are not stupid. If this conversation becomes intense, experts like Brene Brown advise:

  • Listen. A good conversation opener is, “What happened?”, “What’s going on?”
  • Empathize with your teen’s experience Do not fix, offer a silver lining, or problem solve during this moment.
  • Provide hope (i.e., concrete achievable plan that aligns with your teen’s need/goal)
  • Reassure your teen that you love them unconditionally and that you will get through this together
  • Be grateful you and your teen are connecting

In a book titled, “Just a Thought: Uncensored Narratives on Teen Mental Health,” local teens (including students from MVLA) share helpful things parents have said to them.  They include:

  • “Do you need a therapist?”
  • “Reassured me that my concerns/cause of mental distress were not something that would affect my future and that I needed to concentrate on being happy.”
  • “That they would do anything to help me feel happy again.”
  • “Mental health is just as important as physical health.”
  • “I’m here for you no matter what.”
  • “Said that they were open to talk about anything with me with no judgment.”
  • “Grades won’t be written on your gravestone.”
  • “To take a step back and relax.”
  • “Expressing love.”

Here are some resources to help you with these conversations

What Adolescents Really Need from Parents

“Teen Stress:  What Parents Need to Know”

“Shame Resilience Theory:  How to Respond to Feelings of Shame”