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A Brief Discussion: Youth & Low Self-Esteem

Updated: Jan 2, 2022

I believe that this is an important topic; one that I can go on forever about but I will only touch on briefly. This information is for those of you who may know a young person who you believe to suffer from negative or low self-esteem. Please take the time to read this; it may help you help that child.

Working in the field of mental health and human services for over 17 years, I have met many youths with low self-esteem. I don’t know how accurate I am in saying this (it is my opinion and not based on research) but I do believe that over the years the number of youth with negative feelings of self has grown.

Examples, hmmmm…here is one:

Let’s consider a child who has been removed from their home after being abused by a parent. Not only has this child suffered abuse and has been taken away from the only home they have ever known, but now they are in a place full of other young people who more than likely have suffered from some kind of horrible situation as well. Here you are with a room or building full of youth with low or negative self-esteem. We can only imagine (I’ve experienced it first hand) how mean they can be to one another, especially to the one or two weakest links that have been ostracized; therefore making their already low self-esteem even lower. Now that you have a visual, let’s also consider this child having no clothing, and no hygiene products; they cannot wear clean or different clothing, shoes are worn down, cannot wash and style their hair, cannot put on deodorant or brush their teeth….you get the picture. What do you think the young folks will do? How do you think they will treat this child? How about the child living in a disenfranchised community….going to school? Their parent/s cannot afford to buy them what they need; do you think they would have it any better?

Defining low self-esteem:

Self-esteem is when an individual has confidence in themselves; their worth. They feel bad about themselves; they feel that they are not good at anything, they do not deserve to be loved or supported, and they do not believe anything will work out in their favor. It is an explanation of the regard or respect that one has for oneself; if one has negative feelings about whom they are then they will have low self-esteem.

Having low self-esteem can also cause one to have low self-efficacy; although the two are different they do go hand in hand. We will not discuss self-efficacy; however, I would like to provide a clear definition. Self-efficacy is one’s belief in their ability to reach a goal. It corresponds with the level at which people feel confident. To clarify, self-efficacy depends on one’s judgment about their capability to perform a particular task via the use of a specified level of performance; whereas self-esteem depends on the confidence in the worth of self.

I must point out that not only youth who have been removed from their homes or reside in disenfranchised communities suffer from low self-esteem. This can happen to any child. There are many causes for low self-esteem, and some may be temporary. For example, a young person may simply be going through a particular stage in their lives or may be starting a new school or moving into a new neighborhood. As long as the child has a great support system they are usually able to move past the issues causing the low self-esteem.

On the other hand, you have those youth who do not have a support system. In this case, their situation can be permanent if not recognized and addressed at some point. Other examples, which are more common in cases of mental health and human services, can include a child that has experienced difficult times in their lives such as abuse/neglect, out of home placement, loss of a family member, health issues, etc.; something they are not able to recover from. They can experience bullying, societal stress, abuse; or they can naturally have a more negative outlook on life than others.

Here are some of the characteristics for low self-esteem:

  • Have a negative image of themselves; they may feel ugly, bad, stupid, or believe they are not capable of being liked by others

  • Lack confidence

  • Find it difficult to make and keep friends, and often times they feel victimized by others

  • Tend to avoid doing new things, and do not like change

  • Do not cope well with failure

  • Put themselves down

  • Are not satisfied with their accomplishments; they always think they could have done better

  • Are constantly comparing themselves to their peers in a negative way

In order to motivate our youth, we must begin by understanding them. This too is a whole-nother topic, but I think it is important to mention. Motivation orientation is often influenced by one’s environment; to add, motivation can be influenced by one’s physiological, behavioral, cognitive, or social desires for growth. When youth struggle with low self-esteem they also struggle with motivation. Believing that they are important, and can accomplish anything they set their minds to is difficult for them to grasp.

When individuals get to the point in their lives where they lack motivation due to their low self-esteem, it is sometimes referred to as ‘learned hopelessness’ - when one gives up trying after having constantly failed in life. This concept is often applied to conditions and behaviors, such as clinical behavior, domestic violence, poverty, child maltreatment, and substance abuse; but again, these terms do not discriminate and can be found in youth that has not experienced some of what has been mentioned.

Listen people….low self-esteem is a serious, serious thing. There are so many youths who smile at us and tell us it is all okay, but they are dying inside. Low self-esteem is a very difficult thing to cope with, especially if the child is suffering from outside issues such as bullying, family issues, and so on.

Youth blossom when they are involved in high-quality interpersonal relationships, this is especially the truth when working with youth that has had negative life experiences; there is a greater chance of success in working with this population through connectedness on personal and emotional levels. Youth who are struggling with learned hopelessness can thrive if provided an ample amount of support and encouragement; strong, trusting relationships can help with successfully getting through challenges, emotional support with daily obstacles, and simply provide companionship during activities; let’s not forget the inclusion of critical thinking and self-regulation, we must not exclude them from their own ‘therapy’.

Our young people are stressed, they suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues; often silent killers.

It takes a village…. Love, listen, guide and protect…let’s uplift our youth together!

Tomaro Monique

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