5 Causes Of Low Self Esteem In Teenagers & Why We Need To Pay Attention

Teenage girl in pink fully sweater with long dark hair looking out the window in profile. Her knees are pulled up and one arm hugs her knees while the other rests on her knee with her hand at her mouth. She looks sad and lonely.

Low self-esteem is a common problem among teens. It affects their ability to succeed in school, relationships, sports and more. Read on to discover why teenagers have low self esteem and how it may cause serious lifelong issues.

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As a mom of teenagers, I think about teen self esteem pretty often. I also teach at a university and it’s a topic that comes up in class with students and conversation with other faculty.

Before we get too far, let’s define self esteem so we’re clear about the issue we’re addressing. Especially because it seems to be a particular focus and concern for Generation Z.

According to a study in the official journal for the Academic Pediatric Association, self esteem is feeling worthy of happiness and being able to successfully address life’s challenges. It’s incredibly important to adolescent development and mental health.

Signs of Low Self Esteem in Teens

When teenagers have low self esteem, they may show it in a variety of ways.

Graphic with gray background title in burgundy: "Signs of Low Self-Esteem in Teens." List of signs are inside various colors of rounded rectangles: low confidence, negative thoughts and self-talk, negative emotions, procrastination, avoidance of social situations, reluctance to try new things, difficulty concentrating at school, trouble asking for help, difficulty accepting compliments, taking criticism too personally. SALT effect logo at the bottom.

Sometimes the signs of low self-esteem are subtle, like low confidence or negative self-talk. Maybe you notice changes in body language as teens deal with more negative emotions and negative thoughts.

Does your teen seem to be procrastinating more often? Are they having a hard time concentrating at school or getting their homework done? And yet they don’t want to ask anyone for help. These signs may indicate a fear of failing.

Are they reluctant to try new things? Do they seem to be withdrawing from social situations? Teens with low self esteem may be avoiding potential negative consequences.

A teen who is struggling with self esteem also has a hard time accepting compliments. They see the world more negatively and then incorrectly believe they don’t belong.

When a teen’s confidence becomes a bigger issue, it can show up in mood disorders, mental health issues, an eating disorder or substance abuse.

READ MORE >>> 101+ Stats About Self Esteem in Teenagers

5 Reasons Teens Have Low Self Esteem

Low self esteem is a reality for many teenagers. Research shows 5 primary reasons for poor self esteem: social media and phone use, peer pressure and social situations, body image, depression and anxiety and parent influence.

Graphic with gray background, burgundy and white icons, white rectangular backgrounds and black text. Heading says "Reasons For Low Self Esteem In Teenagers" and 5 reasons are listed: social media and phone use, body image, depression and anxiety, parent influence, peer pressure and social situations

1. Social Media & Phone Use

For anyone raising or working with teens, it’s no surprise that social media has profound impacts on teen self esteem. These kids are growing up in a world that idealizes nearly everything, so it’s no wonder they have a distorted perception of reality.

But the problem with social media is not limited to literal comparison.

Research shows that phone use by teenagers leads to poor sleep quality and sedentary activity. These, in turn, lead to poor self-esteem and mental health.

2. Peer Pressure & Social Situations

Adolescents spend an extraordinary amount of time seeking a place to belong. Being accepted by their peers is important to how they view themselves. Teens want to be liked and to be like others which often leads them to give in to peer pressure.

When teens are in social situations that don’t go well, they may take things personally which results in lower self esteem. This low self esteem may cause them to avoid more social situations or to misread social cues. The cycle becomes difficult to break.

3. Body Image

Body image and self esteem are consistently linked, especially in adolescents. Most teenagers find fault with their bodies in some day, but it has a greater impact on teen girls than teen boys.

Obesity is a primary concern for teen girls, while underweight teen boys tend to struggle more with self esteem.

4. Depression & Anxiety

We know mental health is an important issue across all age groups, but it’s a growing concern for teenagers, especially since the beginning of the pandemic.

Teens who struggle with depression and anxiety are at greater risk for poor self esteem. And those with low self esteem are more likely to become depressed or anxious.

5. Parent Influence

If you’re in the midst of parenting teens, it can feel like your influence over them is completely gone. But it’s not. Study after study shows that parents play a huge role in the development of a teen’s self esteem.

Teenagers who don’t have a close relationship with their parents are at risk for low self esteem. This is also true for teens who have intense conflicts with their parents.

READ MORE >>> 101 Teen Self Esteem Statistics: Facts We Cannot Ignore in 2022 [infographics]

Long-Term Issues Caused by Low Self Esteem

Addressing self-esteem issues during the teen years is critical because low self esteem can have so many negative consequences.

Graphic with gray background, black circle in the middle with black text inside that says "Issues Caused by Low Self Esteem in Teenagers" and "SALT effect." Issues are white font inside burgundy rectangles around perimeter of circle: limited economic prospects during adulthood, risky and criminal behavior, poor school performance, financial problems, fewer years of post-secondary education, poor health and eating disorders, long-term unemployment, psychological problems

A study in the International Journal of Health & Allied Sciences found that low self esteem in teens may cause:

  • eating disorders
  • psychological problems
  • poor school performance

According to the Academic Pediatrics Association, low self esteem for teenagers may lead to:

  • fewer years of post-secondary education
  • increased risk of joblessness
  • financial problems

A study in PLOS ONE found that low self esteem in adolescents predicts:

  • poor health
  • criminal behavior
  • limited economic prospects during adulthood

According to the International Journal of Environmental Research & Public Health, adolescents with low self esteem are at risk for:

  • academic problems
  • poor health
  • long-term unemployment
  • economic problems
  • criminal behavior

We’ve covered the reasons for low self-esteem in teenagers and the significant issues that can result.

But now what? How can we fix this?

There are ways for parents, teachers, coaches and other adults to help teens improve their self esteem. Check out 9 Tips for Teens with Low Self Esteem and 51 Activities for Teens to Build Healthy Self Esteem.

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