Ways to Address Low Self-Esteem in Teens
Adolescence is a trying time under the best of circumstances. For teens with learning disabilities, the daily and life-long struggles of coping with their disability-related symptoms can be wearing and dispiriting. Repeated failure, taunts from peers, and negative feedback from teachers often come at a considerable psychological cost.
Many youth and adults with LD develop what is known as emotional overlay, secondary psychological issues that must be addressed along with the primary characteristics of LD. Although emotional overlay does not always develop into a major mental health problem, the psychological symptoms are very real and can be extraordinarily draining. This chapter will help you identify the psychological symptoms of emotional overlay in your child and will suggest various treatments to address them.
Your teen with LD may be very bright, yet as a result of his LD-related struggles, believe himself to be far less capable than he actually is. Many individuals with LD attribute their failures to being “dumb” and their successes to being lucky (instead of attributing it to their having talent or working hard). Their feelings of inadequacy are the unfortunate byproducts of chronic failure, of frequently being misunderstood by others, and of lowered expectations by family members and teachers alike.
16-year-old Brian complained that he had been left out of the dinner clean-up rotation in which his other four siblings participated in his home. His parents had felt he would not be able to load the dishwasher or do a thorough job of scrubbing the pots due to his learning disability. Although they had thought they were doing him a favor by excusing him from this task, their lowered expectations served only to decrease his self-efficacy and make him feel less capable and marginalized within his family.
After consulting with me, his parents began teaching him the step-by-step process of scraping the dishes and then loading the dishwasher... After he mastered rinsing and loading the dishwasher, they taught him how to scrub the pots and pans. Once they committed the time to training him properly for this important life skill, Brian felt like more of an equal within the family, and then joined the chorus of his siblings’ complaints about having to do this chore!
Many individuals with LD find it hard to recognize that they have strengths that offset their areas of challenge. When I asked 19-year-old Ashley to make a list of what she was “good at” during a session early in her work with me, she was unable to identify even one area that was positive. Happily, that changed with therapy over time as she progressed and developed greater self-understanding, self-efficacy and self-acceptance. Now in her early twenties, she counts among her strengths that she can act, knows how to cook a delicious stir-fry, is an academic “plugger,” and can create a beautiful beaded necklace. For some individuals with LD, feelings of inadequacy are so deeply ingrained that they simply expect to fail at all their endeavors. They devalue the opinions of those who believe in their potential, and find it difficult to accept encouragement and praise. Based upon their history of academic struggles, they believe they will be unable to succeed, no matter how intense their effort, and wonder why they should bother to try at all. Many slip into a pattern of procrastination and fall short of finishing tasks both in and out of school to avoid what seems like an inevitably disappointing performance. There are a variety of steps that you as a parent can take to foster development of self-esteem in your child.