For many, it has become cliché to talk about self-empowerment and high self-esteem in teen girls. Apart from that, emphasizing the attainment of these qualities has become a lucrative marketing platform for many corporations. Businesses use the message of being a self-empowered girl as a backdrop for selling toiletries, and personal care items from tampons to razors, to birth control.
While we may dismiss these efforts as convenient marketing ploys, there are real reasons, as parents, mental health professionals, and policymakers to be concerned with the issue of low self-esteem in teen girls. Lowered academic achievement, mental health problems, and relationship issues are often times tied to low self-esteem.
According to an extensive OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) Report, the ABC of Gender Equality in Education: Attitude, Behavior, Confidence (March 2015), conducted internationally and here in the United States “a strong correlation exists between girls’ confidence and academic success in particular in Math and Sciences.” This study and others show that girls with lowered self-esteem are not living up to their full potential academically. This will have lasting adverse effects on the future lifelong earnings of girls, since economic data predict that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields will command higher incomes than most.
As far as mental health goes, I see teen girls for a range of issues in therapy from depression, anxiety, peer-conflict, family relationships issues, risky sexual and cyber-sexual behaviors, suicidal ideation, academic issues, sexual identity, and substance abuse issues. My years of experience of working with teen girls and being a mother of a teen girl I cannot help but notice that all these conditions inevitability have a contributing or resulting component related to self-esteem challenges. Therefore, in addition to addressing the presenting problem, I work with parents and the teen in exploring and developing goals around enhancing self-esteem.
In our current culture, many teen girls feel they are constantly under a microscope. Comparisons with ubiquitous images of perfection, presented in traditional media (TV & magazines), and in the everywhere, ever present social media, along with normal teenage insecurities, can lead girls to “beat-up” on themselves more than adults or parents realize. Girls will forcibly express to me that they hate parts of their bodies, like their thighs, lips, their smiles, or even dislike their personalities, with no apparent evidence of why they should feel this way. The internal pressure they place upon themselves and external pressures to live up to artificially created images in the era of airbrushing, contouring and the like become overwhelming for some teen girls leading to or exacerbating already present mental and emotional distress. Hooray for performers like Megan Trainor, who recently took down a video post after the company producing it, air-brushed her waist to an absurdly unrealistic size.
Relationships can become strained between the teen experiencing lowered self-esteem and those around her. In some instances, the teen may isolate themselves and not want to interact with others, parents, or friends. Additionally, the teen may develop a distorted view of friendships seeing these as a further threat to her self-worth or self-image as she may always be comparing herself to her peers. Teens can become defiant to redirection or influence from well-meaning adults if they already feel disempowered and not valued.
Tackling this problem on several fronts can go a long way to increasing awareness and developing systematic efforts to address it. First promoting further collaboration of mental health professionals trained in this area with large systems such as education and workplaces will be helpful. Second assisting teen girls in developing positive self -messages, teaching assertiveness skills (vs. aggressive or passive responses), giving parents and loved one’s practical support skills, and valuing teen girls for who they are vs. who others think they should be are a start to enhancing self-esteem. Finally, empowering girls through our collective messages, letting them know they can and deserve to be/ achieve whatever their dreams are, will go a long way to reducing many mental health problems, improving academic outcomes, and enhancing a teen girl’s relational health, both with herself and others.
Feel free to contact me if you have a teen girl struggling with self-esteem issues, or you may register your teen for the upcoming Be Bold- Teen Girls Summer Self-Esteem and Empowerment Workshop