Low Self Esteem in Girls: How to Help
In today’s world, girls are constantly being bombarded by billboards, commercials, advertisements, and posts telling them how to be the “perfect” girl. This “perfect” girl doesn’t exist, though, which contributes to feelings of hopelessness and low self-esteem. When a young person feels worthless, they may start to show poor performance or stop trying to achieve in areas in which they feel defeated: in school, in relationships, and in activities they used to enjoy. Perceived failures can be especially tough on girls with low self-esteem, as they are more likely to experience shame.
If your child is struggling with low self esteem, treatment options geared towards helping her recognize her strengths and explore her passions can help her overcome low self esteem.
The guide is meant to be comprehensive, but as such, not every section will be applicable to everyone. Instead, we invite you to click on the links in the table of contents to jump to the sections that most interest you.
What is Self Esteem?
Self-esteem isn’t necessarily the same as self-confidence, but improving one builds the other. Self-esteem is an evaluation of one’s overall self-worth that reflects how much one likes or appreciates themselves. Girls with low self-esteem often worry about being judged for not being “good enough” when they try to be themselves. Confidence, on the other hand, describes trust in one’s ability to achieve positive things. For example, your daughter may be interested in dancing and may believe that they are good at it, but, when it comes to trying out for a cheer team, they may be anxious about not making the team.
Why is Self Esteem Important?
Self-esteem is all about feeling good about who you are and where you are at. Many people worry that people with high self-esteem are narcissistic and equate lower self-esteem with being humble, but this isn’t true. Improving one’s self esteem may reduce feelings of anxiety and worthlessness and empowers teens to follow their personal goals, without needing approval or permission from others. While confidence may change from situation to situation, self-esteem is often seen as a personality trait, which means it is relatively consistent across scenarios.
Signs of Low Self Esteem in Girls
- Sensitivity to constructive criticism
- Social withdrawal or social anxiety
- Excessive preoccupation with personal problems
- Hesitant to contribute opinions in conversations
- Perfectionistic tendencies
- Trouble accepting compliments
- Compares self to others
- Trouble following through with goals
What are the Causes of Low Self Esteem in Middle School Girls?
Young girls are very observant and sensitive to their surroundings. They place a lot of value on other people’s opinions and worry about how they are perceived. For some, this is more adaptive than for others. Many people who base their self-esteem on external validation or accomplishments struggle with seeing their worth as something that is fixed rather than contingent on performance or social acceptance. Doubting their self worth often leads to doubting their ability to succeed. Girls who struggle with depression, anxiety, body image issues, and attachment issues are more likely to have low self-esteem.
Other factors contributing to low self esteem may include:
- School Struggles. It is not uncommon for students to base their self-esteem on the feedback they get from grades and assignments. While education is important in shaping goals, it’s not necessarily healthy to base their identity solely off grades, especially if they struggle with learning differences or anxiety that affects their school performance.
- Social Media platforms are designed to help people filter what parts of their lives they want to share with others, which can lead to unrealistic pressure to look a certain way and comparing oneself to others. Girls’ self-esteem is often influenced by likes, followers, and comments on social media.
- Body Image Issues are frequently linked to time spent on social media, as girls receive a lot of messages about what their body should look like and which products will help them do so online. Body image issues are particularly prevalent among girls going through puberty, who are already insecure about their body changing. Girls often become interested in shopping and makeup as a way to become more confident, but, for others, it may mask their insecurities.
- Identity Exploration. Adolescence is a period of trying different activities and, as a result, often changing friend groups as teens explore who they are and who they want to be. Girls with low self-esteem may find it hard to commit to any activity if they have an unstable sense of self or don’t feel good enough at what they do. This can lead to a constant desire to reinvent themselves without resolving identity issues.
When Does Your Child Need Treatment for Self Esteem Issues?
Low self-esteem can have a domino effect on a young girl’s mental health, as it is often linked to depression, anxiety, and relationship issues over time. There are a number of ways to help build self-esteem through adolescence, but it gets harder to challenge those negative beliefs about themselves the older they get and the more fixed those beliefs become. When your daughter is struggling with mental health issues or academic issues, well-rounded treatment programs can help her get to the root cause of these issues. Teens who have higher self-esteem aren’t necessarily less likely to struggle with mental health issues, but, they are more likely to cope with these struggles in a healthier way and to believe that they are capable of facing these challenges.
Ways to Help Girls Build Confidence
- Encourage her to find and hone her talents. If your daughter discovers her life’s passion at an early age—whether it takes the form of sports, the arts, STEM, etc.—then she will have something to focus on and take pride in; and as she accrues honors and accomplishments in this area, her self-esteem will escalate and she will cultivate interests that could lead to a future career.
- Respect her personal goals. As a parent, of course we want our children to love the things that we love–but that’s not always the case. You may have loved cheerleading, but your daughter may be more into pursuing art and it’s important to make sure she knows that’s perfectly fine. Exploring an area of passion builds confidence in girls and allows them to build a sense of self. If you’re not acting as if that passion is important, then she may feel as if she’s disappointed you in some way.
- Set realistic expectations. While you may have high hopes for your daughter and believe in her potential, it is unrealistic to believe that she can be perfect. It is just as important to be kind and forgiving when things don’t go as planned or as you would have hoped, such as getting a bad grade even when she’s studied This doesn’t necessarily mean lowering your expectations, but rather having a more open attitude toward the outcome. Praise her efforts, not her accomplishments. This creates a more lasting sense of confidence.
- Role model confidence. You may be consistent in telling her that she is worthy and capable of anything she sets her mind to, but she may struggle to believe it if she listens to you talking negatively about yourself or doubting your own worth. Role modeling healthy self esteem helps your daughter internalize positive beliefs about herself. Family therapy and parent support calls in a therapeutic boarding school are geared towards helping parents learn similar skills to the ones their child is learning.
How Do Therapeutic Boarding Schools, like Asheville Academy Help Teens Struggling with Low Self Esteem?
A Caring Community
At Asheville Academy, we strive to create a caring, loving community that offers the level of support our girls need. This community includes not just the peers around a student, but also the staff, therapists, and even our animals. With a strong community there to help you get up when you stumble, confidence can foster and grow.
For many struggling girls, academics are an area of embarrassment and not empowerment. If your daughter learning differently, it can make a large classroom in a traditional school setting very difficult to get her needs met. At Asheville Academy, we work to help our girls find the power and excitement of education. To do this, we have small, individualized class sizes so each girl can learn in the way she thrives best.
Focus on Family
When it comes to building self-esteem, we remind children that it is natural for praise and approval to influence the way they think about themselves. It only becomes unhealthy when they struggle to internalize positive beliefs about themselves and the messages they hear from others are short-lived. Self-esteem may be a personal issue, but it’s all about relationships. This is why we offer intensive family programming to help girls see how improving their self-esteem can affect their relationships. We work closely with families to help them learn how to be a stronger support system for their daughter when she transitions home–by actively listening to their insecurities, communicating clearly, role modeling body positivity and self-love, and setting boundaries instead of rescuing them.