How to Help Your Teen Develop Healthy Self-Talk

teaching teens positive self-talk
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Throughout the teen years, an adolescent’s inner monologue can either bolster their self-esteem, or hold them back from being their best. Thinking things like, "I'm stupid," or "I always embarrass myself," can have a negative influence on the way a teen thinks and behaves.

The good news is, you can help your teen develop healthy self-talk that will help her feel better about herself. Teach her to replace her overly negative thoughts with more realistic ones so she can stop putting herself down and beating herself up.

Teach Your Teen About the Link Between Thoughts, Behaviors and Feelings

Teens can be dramatic by nature and they’re prone to mood swings. Teach your teen how her current emotional state is likely to influence her thoughts. Additionally, talk about how her thoughts and feelings will greatly influence her behavior - which means negative self-talk can easily turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Here are a few examples:

  • A teenager who feels anxious about an upcoming exam may think, “I know I’m going to fail.” Rather than spend  time studying, she may spend hours talking to her friends about how her future is doomed. Since she didn't spend her time studying, she will increase chances that she gets a poor grade on her test..
  • A teen who thinks, “No one ever likes me,” may feel anxious in social situations. As a result, he may be less apt to participate in conversation. Since he doesn't engage in conversation, he'll decrease the chances that he'll make any friends.

    Help Your Teen Examine Whether a Thought is True

    Explain to your teen that thoughts aren’t always true. They can easily be exaggerated or distorted. Discuss examples of times where you may have assumed the worst or exaggerated how bad a situation was and share how your thinking wasn’t helpful or productive.

    When you hear your teen put herself down or make exaggeratedly negative comments, point out how her thoughts may not be accurate. Rather than tell her she’s wrong however, ask questions that can help her draw her own conclusions.

    Teen’s often think about things in terms of all or nothing. For example, a teen may think, “I always embarrass myself in class,” or “I’ll never be able to learn math.” Helping her recognize evidence to the contrary or exceptions to the rule can help her develop a more balanced outlook.

    For example, if she says, “I know I’ll never make the basketball team,” ask, “How do you know that?” Continue the conversation by asking, “Is there any evidence that suggests you might actually make the team?” If she struggles to find any evidence, point out your observations such as, “Well, you’ve played basketball for years and you almost made the team last year.”

    Assist Your Teen in Developing a Rational Outlook

    Intense emotions – whether it’s anger, sadness, or fear – can make it difficult to think rationally.

    A teen who is really nervous about an upcoming presentation may be completely convinced that her performance will be horrible. Similarly, a teen who feels a lot of regret over a mistake may conclude she’s a terrible person.

    Teens are usually very good at offering words of encouragement to their friends. So it can be helpful to ask, “What would you say to a friend who had this problem?” Show her how she can offer those same words of encouragement to herself. Rather than tell herself, “I know I’m going to mess up,” she may be able to remind herself, “If I practice hard and do my best, I’ll be fine.”

    Encourage Your Teen to Keep Practicing

    It takes practice to replace overly negative thoughts with more realistic thoughts and it can be especially difficult during the teen years. But, teaching your teen to positive self-talk can be a skill that will help her throughout the rest of her life.

    Sometimes, mental health issues like depression and anxiety disorders can distort the way a teen thinks about herself and the rest of the world. If you have concerns about your teen’s mental health, seek professional help. Mental health conditions are very treatable, but without help, they often get worse.

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