Helping Children and Teens Derive Their Self-Esteem From the RIGHT Sources

Helping Children and Teens Derive Their

Self-Esteem From the
RIGHT Sources

by Alex McFarland

Dennis Smith (a fifth grade teacher at a Christian school) was rushing in to teach his next class, when he met one of his students lingering in the hallway.

"You're going to be late for class."

The student turned away, staring out a window. The young man was crying as he said to Dennis, "The other guys say I am not cool. They tell me that constantly."

The final bell rang as they walked toward the classroom, and Dennis gave the student a parting word of encouragement. "My heart just ached for him," Smith said. "Feeling like he didn't fit in was crushing this kid."

As a teacher (and parent), Dennis Smith has seen firsthand the emotional and social struggles that youth face. "Self-esteem is a huge issue for all teens," he says, "but especially so for guys. The young man I met in the hallway was only 11 years old, but his buddies had been berating him for not being willing to use profanity and for never having had a sexual experience."

Teen girls: Trying to see clearly in a Photo-shopped world

Madison Coffee is a ninth-grader who enjoys two social structures known to contribute to positive self-esteem: an affirming family and a healthy church. But Madison says that even Christian teen girls feel the pressure to appear "beautiful and perfect in every way." She said, "From magazine covers, to movies, commercials, at school, even in youth group - for girls my age, everything is about body image."

Haley Hughes, a high school senior says, "I am perfectly content with my body right now. But in middle school, no way! I was so self-conscious." She observed, "We tell ourselves that we have to compete with digitally-enhanced magazine covers."

Beverly Odom is assistant director of 24K, a large youth ministry in Georgia. She says, "Teen girls are constantly comparing themselves to each other and to images they see in the media. I often see the body obsession thing linger on into adulthood."

"That's true," said Haley. "Some girls at my school would not be your friend if you are a size four or bigger. It begins to mess with your mind. There are girls I know who are the same size as me, yet I look at them, and I feel that I am so much larger."

Self-esteem: Developing a sense of how I see me

Whether positive or negative, realistic or not, the views we form of ourselves during adolescence stay with us for years. Our self-esteem influences mental acuity, emotional health, and behavior. Odom says, "The pressure on most kids today is just unbelievable. The quest to be accepted goes on '24-7.' Even Christian teens can lose sight of all that they have in Christ, and can be pressured to do things that, deep down, they know are wrong."

How do we help the youth in our lives arrive at Biblically-informed, balanced sense of self? "The kids we've seen flourish are the ones who accurately understand who they are in Christ," says Odom. "They must draw their identity from Jesus. Parents should try and steer their kids away from allowing peer-pressure, social posturing, or the media sour their perspective."

A Christian response in a "world about me"

For a Christian, there are clear and tangible reasons to feel OK about who they are. Your child's understanding of his own worth should be grounded on (and bolstered by) the following realities:

By the fact that they are made in God's image;

2. In the awareness that Jesus personally cares about them;

3. Through the unconditional love present in your home;

4. Through the accepting haven provided by one's church;

5. In their true status as a resident (and heir) of heaven;

6. In the confidence that God truly has a plan for their life.


These truths can be a great source of encouragement, but we know that emotions don't automatically "catch up" to the facts that we hold in our mind. Self-esteem issues often feed on irrationality. We must vigilantly pursue an honest view of ourselves, of our circumstances, and of our Lord. Feelings shouldn't be allowed to "trump" facts.

Notice that the Christian's self-esteem is grounded in things outside of themselves. Of the six realities listed above, none lead us to find our value by comparing ourselves to others. Somebody will always come along who is prettier, a better athlete, more wealthy, or who has a higher GPA. In a world of more than six billion people, that's inevitable.

Approach life as a competition, and it doesn't take long to realize that we all eventually get left in the dust of the next fastest runner. The comfort is in knowing that we are a priority to Christ.

A person's self-esteem must come from their knowledge of Who Jesus is, and from acceptance of His love and care. This provides lasting purpose and clear direction even to those traversing the heady, challenging, and sometimes "tooth-and-claw" years of adolescence.