8 warning signs of low self-worth in a teenager

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In theory, our teen years should be some of the best of our lives. 

We should be able to look back at those years and smile nostalgically. 

Think about it. When you’re a teenager you’re generally not yet exposed to some of the harsh realities of the grown-up world like high interest rates and bad marriages. 

But sometimes, our teenage years are filled with complex feelings in their own right such as angst, loneliness, and low self-worth. 

Maybe it’s the overly strict parents, or being bullied, or feeling misunderstood; but suddenly, that youthful vigor takes a backseat to negative feelings and emotions.

In this article, I’ll walk you through the different signs teens exhibit when they have low self-worth. 

Let’s get to it!

1) They withdraw socially

I’d say it’s fairly normal for teenagers of a certain age range to be a little standoffish, irritable, and sneer at others, particularly family or parents. 

They might even roll their eyes condescendingly from time to time.

However, if they consistently avoid social interactions or isolate themselves for prolonged periods, quietly doing God knows what in their rooms, then this could potentially be a cause for concern–and also a telltale sign of low self-worth

2) They people-please excessively 

Conversely, if your teen has an unnatural need to please other people, even when it comes at the expense of their own values and dignity, this is a pretty clear indicator of a lack of self-worth. 

When you’re a teenager, you’re still finding yourself as a person. 

Regardless of how confident you present yourself, there are often deep-seated insecurities festering beneath the surface. 

Hence, getting constant approval from others, particularly peers with “higher status”, becomes a significant priority. 

When I was in high school, I desperately wanted to be one of the “cool kids.” 

Like any teen male, I wanted to be invited to parties. I wanted to meet girls. I wanted to be competent at sports.

I got my much-anticipated ‘in’ with the cool kids since apparently, they found me ‘funny’, thus making my presence tolerable. 

But this pursuit of popularity came at a price.

It meant that I had to stop hanging out with my original, nerdy, and all-around less cool friends. 

I instinctively felt that maintaining ties with them would detract from my image with the popular crowd. 

So, I started to actively ignore my old buddies. 

Today, as a full-blown adult, I still feel bad about ditching those guys just to climb the social ladder. 

As an adult, I’m essentially now indifferent to social hierarchies, especially when they’re as blatant as my high school days. 

Fortunately, I’ve taken steps to overcome my lack of self-worth. 

The “live and learn” rule applies here, I suppose. 

3) They engage in negative self-talk

Self-esteem issues in teenagers are a fairly normal occurrence; however, it can become an issue when they’re constantly making negative statements about themselves or deflecting compliments. 

Sure, they call it the ‘awkward stage’ but deep down, behind the routine teenybopper uncertainty, there still should be at least a degree of self-belief. 

Words are powerful so listen to their specific phrases. 

Things like “Everyone hates me,” or “I’m such a loser” often indicate an underlying issue(s). 

4) They neglect themselves physically 

How we carry ourselves often has a direct correlation with how we feel internally. With teenagers, it’s no different; in fact, the link may be more obvious.  

If they do things like neglect personal hygiene, dress sloppily, gain too much weight, get too skinny, or all of the above, then it’s worth looking into. 

Often enough, this could be evidence that they don’t value themselves. 

Don’t let this go on for too long or the damage may be hard to reverse. 

Sometimes, all a teenager needs is someone who is willing to sit down and listen to them. 

5) They have a hard time setting boundaries

Real talk: Our teenage years can set the tone for how we turn out as adults. 

So if a teenager isn’t assertive about saying no, or often lets others walk all over them without standing up for themselves, this can be somewhat worrying. 

They can become an easy target for bullies–creatures who are capable of making existing damage exponentially worse… and more permanent. 

Their inability to set boundaries and passivity comes down to not having adequate self-worth and confidence. 

And they don’t know truly their worth because it has not been frequently articulated to them in the past–something that needs to change. 

6) They’re struggling academically

Granted, school’s not for everyone–some may just coast through classes, doing the bare minimum to make it through. 

If, however, a teenager who was once a standout student has an abrupt loss of interest in schoolwork, with their grades plunging, this is surely worth looking into more deeply. 

A sudden lack of motivation in anything usually doesn’t occur randomly.

Skipping classes, getting into spats with teachers or other students, or other forms of anti-social behavior in school can be red flags too. 

7) They’re highly sensitive to criticism

Sure, many teens, with their raging hormonal activity, can be emotional and sensitive. 

But those with low self-worth might occasionally react violently to even the mildest of criticisms

Maybe you’ll reprimand them over something and they’ll respond by storming out of the room or bursting into tears.

They simultaneously have an underlying irritability towards the world and personal foundations that are quite tender and delicate. 

Therefore, people around them need to tread lightly and approach the situation gently. 

Oh, to be a teenager. 

8) They avoid challenges/taking risks

Avoidance is the typical route for a teenager who has a deep-seated fear of failure or embarrassment. 

In the process though, they might deprive themselves of some key coming-of-age experiences and opportunities like making friends, young love, participating in extracurricular activities, etc. 

Teens with low self-worth are generally averse to risk. 

They may have the desire to partake in activities like the other kids, but they’re so intimidated and overwhelmed about how things could go wrong that they never leave their comfort zone. 

When I was in high school, I, like many of my peers, wanted a girlfriend. 

But I was always too shy and awkward and had such low belief in myself that I never did anything about it. 

I went to an all-boys school and every semester, we’d have school-sponsored mixers with students of the girls’ school across the lake. 

During these festivities, I’d be a wallflower with my fellow dweebs, fantasizing about having the balls to go up to a girl and asking her to dance. 

In reality, I just couldn’t get myself to do it. 

I remember one of my classmates, who was universally ridiculed for being a vertically challenged geek with too much acne (teens are mean), smooching a nice-looking lass. 

The rest of us naysayers could only look on with disbelief and admiration. 

I remember someone telling me, “he got the girl, you know why? Because he tried.”  

That sentiment stood out to me and still does to this day. 

From that point on, I started actively battling my feelings of low self-worth and started trying–not just with girls in high school but in life in general. 

Final thoughts

As the late icon Whitney Houston once gloriously belted out: “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside.”

Our teen years are crucial because they really set the tone for the rest of our lives.  

Teens are also highly impressionable, as much as any age group. 

So it’s key that we approach them with care, open-mindedness, and a willingness to listen and be supportive. 

If you have a teenager in your life, it’s worthwhile to make them feel regularly heard and valued. 

They’re inheriting this planet anyway; we might as well treat them right. 

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Clifton Kopp

Welcome to my writings on Hack Spirit! I'm a bit of a "polymath" in that I like writing about many different things. Often I'm learning from the process of writing. I hope you enjoy, and please leave a comment on one of my articles.

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