In my last post, we discovered some facts about the vital role of uniqueness in the self-esteem of our teenagers. We surfaced what a healthy sense of uniqueness looks like in a teenager and what behavior exists when he or she has problems feeling unique.
12 ways to build healthy uniqueness
So, what can we do to increase our teenager’s self-esteem? Obviously, we will need to have a strong relationship with her, one in which we are positioned to acknowledge who she is as we are mindful of specific issues that she is facing.
That strong relationship presupposes a certain level of communication, understanding and sensitivity, which may be difficult to create or engage when your teenager is feeling like she does not matter. It takes substantial intentionality to help a teen navigate her own sense of self-esteem.
To increase teenagers’ sense of uniqueness, parents and caregivers can:
- encourage them to express ideas different from their own
- communicate their acceptance
- point out things about them, as well as about other people, that make them different
- allow them to do things their own way (as long as they don’t infringe on other’s rights)
- increase opportunities for them to express themselves
- avoid ridiculing or shaming them
- help them find acceptable ways to express themselves
- praise them in private
- give them some private space
- provide incentives for good performance
- consider their special skills, talent or interests when you assign chores of responsibilities
- be flexible with rules
The unique science project
I remember the journey with my own teenagers…one of my sons really wanted to make a unique science project. I sensed that he wanted to build something very different although the project was requested to be generic. He had his own idea of what it was supposed to be, and he was probably a bit more interested in pleasing his male friends than his teacher. So, as long as it would meet the grading qualifications, I agreed to help him with it, including its workable unique qualities. (In fact, it was so unique that I knew it would be humorous to the class.)
When we finished, he was very excited to take it to school, demonstrate it and see the response. I am sure the teacher was somewhat less than impressed, but when he came home, he was beaming with pride because he had created his unique idea, earned a good grade and entertained his friends.
My son had created something that was uniquely his. He had made a place in the world that was distinct–even in a school project–and it was a way I could work with and affirm him so he could find his uniqueness.
Moments like these are simple, yet so important to building self-esteem in your teenager through uniqueness. It can be a great deal of fun or sometimes challenging, but in the big picture, it is a valuable gift to give to your teen.
Gerry Vassar, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network
*Some information taken from Understanding Teens, Diane Wagenhals, 2007.