I am sure you are familiar with this kind of problem. We don’t think we have put extra pressure on our children. The oldest child, a boy and a freshman in high school has a real problem with self esteem. He does not think he is capable of doing anything well or right. He is very negative, and we have tried to tell him his view of himself is wrong. We would like to help him, but we don’t know what to do. Would he be helped by an anti depressant? Could talking to someone outside the home be useful?
Before you start with diagnosing your son or becoming as negative as he is, confront your fear and concern.
Of course there is help, and, yes, talking to someone would be my first effort. Self esteem is a product of hard wiring in the brain (at least in my opinion) and experiences throughout life. Remember, brains do not live in jars. They respond to experiences which leave lasting ideas, ways of thinking.
More often than not, low self esteem is a maladaptive effort to garner love and acceptance. Our most basic fear is that of abandonment. Thus, from childhood we think if we are not perfect we will be unloved and abandoned. It is a ridiculous riddle, but it happens so often and is helped along by excessive competitiveness, subtle coaxing and direction from those whom the child respects, and even teachers and friends.
Some youngsters are simply more prone to responding to these ideas than others.
Most parents are not the best coaches for ending negative self esteem. An outside source can be very helpful. Find a therapist with energy and humor, someone who will appreciate your son. Contact a teacher or guidance counselor in school. Make certain it is a confidential contact so your son will not be seeing you as negative toward him. Then, let him own his feeling. Don’t over praise or scold. Let him work on this. When you do acknowledge something he has done well, do so without editorial and with a low profile. Later, medication may be considered.
Best of luck. Parents hurt with their children.
Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. Email him questions or comments at lrryllrsn@CS.com.