Building Positive Self-Image in Teens

When, as parents and youth leaders, we talk about a person’s self-concept, we are talking about the total perception an individual has about himself or herself, that is, being able to answer the questions “Who am I?” and “Who am I in relation to others and to God?”

If we stop to think about it, we realize that our behavior is based on our perceptions of reality (or self-concept) rather than reality itself. Our self-­esteem affects our decision-making, our ability to take calculated risks, our coping ability, and our spiritual lives.

Adolescence is a developmental period in which young people are very vulnerable to negative self-concepts brought on by rapid physical and emotional change. They are only beginning to reason abstractly. They are preoccupied with their appearance and behavior. They feel like everyone is watching them and that their feelings are unique. Peers often­times become more important than family. Because of all this rapid change, the teenager’s self-concepts are extremely fragile.

One of the primary reasons young people use drugs is because they feel worthless and powerless. The drugs act as a crutch to deal with others and to cover up their fears and insecurities.

These children feel empty inside. “I can’t” is one of their favorite phra­ses. They don’t feel loved and will follow the crowd hoping to gain acceptance. Taking appropriate risks is just too overwhelming. They lack the motivation. L­ife is too scary.

How do we address such important yet complex needs in our young people? We must focus on taking positive steps to mentor their growth and healthy development. Consider the following important principles:

1.YOUNG PEOPLE NEED TO EXPERIENCE A LIVING AND GROWING RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.
We must find creative ways to instill in youth that they are God’s children. They need to realize that they are unique individuals with a pur­pose God has given them. They should know within their hearts that they have an active faith. It’s important for teenagers to know that God loves them unconditionally. Young people need to understand that if they believe and embrace this word of grace, God will not only guide and direct them through troubled, difficult times, but grant them a life worth living.

2.YOUNG PEOPLE NEED TO FEEL LOVED AND KNOW THAT IN THIS LOVE THEY CAN LOVE OTHERS.
It is important that our church communities teach our children-that God wants them to take the risk of loving others as He has loved us.

3. YOUNG PEOPLE NEED TO LEARN HOW TO RECOGNIZE AND COPE WITH THEIR FEELINGS AND EMOTIONS.
Our youth need to learn that there are eight basic feelings in life (glad, sad, fear angry, lonely, shame, guilt and hurt), and it is perfectly normal and “okay” to feel and express each one of these feelings. Young people need to learn different ways to express these feelings and to know when each expression is appropriate.

4.YOUNG PEOPLE MUST LEARN WHAT STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES THEY POSSESS AND KNOW THAT IT IS PERFECTLY NORMAL TO HAVE WEAKNESSES.
We should teach our children that their personal walk with Christ will help them to cope with their weaknesses and use them as an opportunity for learning and growing. We need to teach our children to understand and utilize the power they have within them­selves to change those weaknesses they do not like by utilizing the strengths that God has given them.

5.YOUNG PEOPLE MUST LEARN TO FUNCTION IN A GROUP AND TO BE COMFORTABLE ALONE.
We must teach our children how to cooperate and compromise with others. These skills are crucial to their quality of life.

6.YOUNG PEOPLE NEED TO LEARN HOW TO RELATE SUCCESSFULLY TO THE WORLD AROUND THEM.
We must teach our children how to communicate their thoughts, feelings, ideas, and questions to people of all types and personalities.

7.YOUNG PEOPLE NEED POSITIVE ROLE MODELS AND MENTORING RELATIOSHIPS WITH MATURE ADULTS
As parents and youth leaders, we need to relate to youth in ways that will help them feel free to ask questions, state opinions, or make observations without fears of reprisal or ridicule.
We need to allow young people the freedom to be themselves, to find an accepted place within the church setting and encourage them to respect the rights and pri­vileges of others.
Through our role modeling as church members and as supportive family, we need to demonstrate to our youth how to be positive toward one another. While criticism is important for their learning experience, it should be kept positive.

Self Image and Teens
Who am I?

“Here I am, Lord standing here on the stage all alone.
I feel funny in this roles, all dressed up in this silly mask.
But my parents, my friends put me here
And now they are sitting on the front row prompting me
On what to say and do.

Is it wrong Lord, to want to be ME? To play the role you gave me?
I long for the chance to rip off the mask,
TO BE ME.
But who am I, Lord?”

Developing a positive self-image and learning to love oneself is one of the major tasks of adolescence. Many days, teens wake up to the thought of hating themselves and the person they see in the mirror. The negative self-image is enhanced throughout the day as the teen struggles to deal with complicated peer relationships at school.

Several factors contribute to a negative self-image in teens. First, they are keenly sensitive to what their peers might think of them and whether they feel accepted in a group. Unfortunately, interactions with peers often negatively define what teens believe about themselves. In addition, unfinished business in relationships and overwhelming expectations and “to do” lists can create feelings of hopelessness in adolescents and lead to an unhealthy view of self. Problems never go away, and teens need to learn how to work their way through them. Most importantly, broken relationships can negatively impact the way teens see themselves. Boy/girl problems, being left out socially, and hurtful gossip can cause deep pain and damage an adolescent’s self-concept.

It is important to help teens see themselves as God sees them. As children of God, they are precious and honored in His sight. The Bible says that God loves us in spite our performance and deals with us according to grace. If teens can understand that their relationship with God is based on unconditional love, they can form their self-image in the reality of God’s love. When teens are faced with failure and poor choices, they can be encouraged to accept responsibility for their choices, face their problems, and rely on God’s love to cope with their problems. Their self-image should be defined by God’s evaluation and not the evaluation of their peers.