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Self-Esteem: Father, Mother & Child (I)
( Teenagers )
Aug 1998 Alan S.L. Wong

Self-Esteem: Father, Mother and Child (I)

Most books on parenting have something to say about self-esteem. What is self-esteem? What is so important about self-esteem?

  1. Self-esteem is how one perceives himself ... having "good feelings about oneself."

    But the fundamental question is, "What is the basis of our self-esteem ... our own preconceptions ... the evaluation of others?" What is the true foundation of our self-esteem?

  2. Self-esteem is important because how one feels and thinks about himself affects the way he acts.

    Ten of the spies who were sent to explore the land of Canaan perceived themselves as grasshoppers (in comparison to the tall inhabitants of the land) and concluded that they were unable to take possession of the land ... they acted in fear (Num. 13: 31-33). Low self-esteem may lead to behavioural problems.


A teenager goes through many physiological changes during puberty. These changes tend to interfere with his sense of personal identity. He now wonders about what others think of him.

Our world deems appearance as important in life. There is no escape from this reality! Take a look at the billion-dollar beauty and media industries. Besides physique, the other sources of self-esteem for many are performance and possessions. We live in a performance-oriented society ... you get praise and reward based on performance. People are also admired for their material possessions. There can be an unhealthy fascination for branded goods among teenagers.

Reason with our teens and share God's perspective

  1. Physique morph-aging

    Physical appearance cannot be a strong foundation for self-esteem because we age. Moreover, God values a man's inner disposition and character rather than his outward appearance (1 Samuel 16:7).

  2. Performance

    Performance is undependable in that our performance can deteriorate. If our self-esteem is based on our performance then our self-esteem rises and falls with our performance. Moreover, others can out-perform us ... does this mean we are less worthy?

    What does God say about my performance as a believer in Christ?

    1. Past: God has forgiven me (Col. 2:13) and remembers my sins no more (Heb. 10:17). I have been accepted by God.

    2. Present: He loves me unconditionally (Rom. 5:8). I am a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17) and I have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16).

    3. Future: I can do all things through Christ (Phil 4:13; Eph. 3:20).

  3. Possessions

    Possessions is another shaky foundation for self-esteem because in an economic downturn, we may have to give up some of our possessions. Our possessions are not permanent ... they can be stolen or destroyed (c.f., 2 Pet. 3:7,10).

True self-esteem is rooted in our relationship with God ... I am a child of God (John 1:12) and I belong to Him (Col. 3:4). In Christ, I have been made complete. Come what may, my relationship with Christ is not going to change. We must share God's perspective with our children so that their struggle becomes ...

Do I believe what God and His Word says about me? Man Turning Head ... Left and Right Do I believe my own self-perception and the evaluation of others?

Prayerfully they will conclude that no matter what they think and what others say about them are not going to change their identity in Christ. Nevertheless how a teenager perceives himself is often based on the evaluation of others.

How else can we help our teens?

  • Love them unconditionally

    Erikson describes an optimal sense of identity as a sense of psychosocial well-being ... a feeling of being at home in one's body, and of knowing where one is going and of recognition from "significant people" around him.

    But who are these people whom the adolescent considers "significant?" Will it be his parents or his peers? If a teenager is not loved, accepted and valued by his parents for who he is then he may seek to find love and acceptance from his peers. Then peer influence becomes very great!

  • Help determine their peers

    Question for thought: "Can I as a parent influence in any way who my adolescent child's peers are?" The positive side of peer influence is reflected in this proverb, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." (Prov. 27:17)