Encouraging Healthy Self-Esteem in Young People

By Jessica Fehrenbacher

Our current world allows us many opportunities to showcase ourselves and our accomplishments. Social media has made it possible to share aspects of our lives that just years ago would have never been brought to light. As a youth worker (and a parent), we want young people to share their thoughts, feelings, and ideas about themselves. We want them to have healthy self-esteem. However, in recent years with the boom of social media, there have been numerous discussions about self-esteem and narcissism.

In the article, “Narcissism and Self-Esteem are Very Different,” by Scott Barry Kaufman, he suggests that narcissism differs significantly from self-esteem in its development, origins, consequences, and outcomes. This research leads to a better understanding of narcissism and ways to increase self-esteem.

To start, the origins of both narcissism and self-esteem start to present around age seven. Children start to look at themselves as they perceive they are seen by others. Self-esteem is usually lowest during adolescence and increases as the years go on. Narcissism tends to peak during adolescence and then decrease into adulthood.

Parenting styles influence self-esteem and narcissism. Narcissism tends to go hand in hand with parental overvaluation. These parents tend to over praise their child’s performances, overestimate their IQ, and over claim the knowledge that they possess. As time goes on, the child can internalize these self view, which can unconsciously steer the child’s interaction with others.

On the other side, high self-esteem develops together with parental warmth. These parents tend to treat their children with affection, appreciation, and fondness. This type of parent has the child internalizing the message that they are valuable individuals.

“It’s very clear from this analysis that narcissists are much more driven to get ahead than get along,” Kaufman states. “Narcissism is associated with the need to dominate other and the need to achieve superior resources. In contrast, high self-esteem is much more associated with the desire to establish deep, intimate relationships with others.”

It is important that young people feel valued and appreciated. However, we need to pay special attention that we don’t over praise or overvalue the actual accomplishments that they are making. This needs to be done in such a way that the young people feel happy with themselves, but that they don’t see themselves as better than others. Healthy self-esteem allows a young person to grow and flourish as an adult that will lead to healthy habits and outcomes throughout their lives.

Jessica Fehrenbacher is the Make a Difference Grant Program Manager at Youth Resources of Southwestern Indiana. Since 1987, Youth Resources has engaged over 145,000 youth in leadership development and community service through its youth-led TEENPOWER, Teen Advisory Council, Teen Court and Make A Difference Grant Programs. For more information, please call (812) 421-0030 or visit www.youth-resources.org.