Something happens to girls on their journey to adulthood that deeply impacts their self-esteem. In fact, by high school, less than one third of girls feel confident and positive about themselves. This lack of self-esteem can have a direct impact on friendships, relationships and school performance. Fortunately, there is much parents and teachers can do to provide support. This guide includes resources and information on helping young women have the best emotional health possible to ensure success and happiness in school and beyond.
Personal confidence has emotional, physical and social benefits. When a person has positive feelings about themselves, it often results in better academic work. On the flip-side, negative feelings can feed into negative results in school.
Numerous factors play into reduced self-esteem for girls, many of which begin early. “According to the American Positive Psychology Association (and research we’ve just initiated in the HERO Generation program) one of the most dramatic changes happens to students during the transition from elementary school to junior high,” says Jennifer Moss, author of Unlocking Happiness at Work and member of the UN Global Happiness Council.
“There are a variety of reasons, many of which are correlated to hormonal changes from puberty. Girls are becoming more self-conscious and self-critical. Their academic pursuits are sometimes deprioritized as mental bandwidth is now allocated to self-analysis. Also, students start to question their abilities and with less oversight. They require self-management for the first time.”
But that’s not all that plays into the issues of self-esteem and confidence. “They are also facing a more complicated social environment with more students, larger classes, less time with individual teachers. They are dealing with changes in the body that creates new differentiators and less homogeneity – this can make students feel like they are ‘standing out’ when they are unsure about whether they want to.”
Self-esteem refers to the way you view yourself. This view can include how you judge yourself, as well as your emotional state.
Body image is similar to self-esteem, except it focuses only on how you view your own body. This view is often completely unrelated to how others view you.
“When you analyze the value of friendships across all scientific happiness models, positive relationships consistently offer the most positive impact on our life satisfaction, performance, healthiness, longevity, etc,” says Moss. “Therefore, it makes sense (and myriad of scientific evidence substantiates) that positive and healthy friendships in school improves academic performance and the overall experience for both boys and girls.”
But sometimes, navigating the waters of friendship can be tough, especially in middle and high school. Here are common questions girls might have about friendships.
Friendships often grow organically, so begin by thinking about the things you enjoy doing and then look for others who share similar interests. Joining after-school clubs, organizations or organized activities can help you find those of like mind. You can also choose courses you’re interested in and perhaps meet someone in the classroom.
New friendships are exciting, but don’t forget the friendships you already have. “It may feel like middle school or junior high is a time to branch out (and it certainly is) but existing friendships shouldn’t be deprioritized as a sacrifice to making new friends,” says Moss.
“Maintaining those existing, healthy relationships are just as important – or perhaps even more important – while trying to navigate the stressful teen years.”
“This timeframe in your life is challenging,” says Moss. “I want people to know (young and old) that having just one, close, trustworthy, friend that offers psychological safety is far healthier than having a large group of superficial friendships.”
Don’t hesitate to tell someone you’re comfortable confiding in about the bullying. Being bullied is not a sign of weakness or that there is something wrong with you. Talk with a parent (yours or the parents of a friend, if that is easier), teacher or school administrator. They can help you navigate the situation. There may be also be special procedure in place to handle bullies. Read our full guide on Bullying Awareness and Prevention to learn more.
It’s not always easy to know who your true friends are. However, the best of friends are those who will stand by you even when things get tough, want what is best for you, like you just the way you are and give you a strong feeling of trust.
There are a number of signs that your friendship may no longer be healthy. If your friend begins to do any of the following, it may be a sign that your friendships should end:
Distance can be tough on any relationship. Taking steps to stay in touch and spend as much time together as possible is a great way to keep the friendship alive. Social media and the internet are amazing ways to communicate with little effort. But don’t forget that phone calls, in-person meetings and handwritten letters never lose their charm or excitement.
Finally, it’s important to remember that humans are in a constant stage of change. What seems important today might not seem that way a year from now; what gets brushed aside today might have vast importance in ten years.
“Remember that your brain won’t be as future-facing right now as it will be when you get older,” Moss said. “With that, it’s easy to get stuck in states of stress and unhealthy self-reflection. However, if you can develop skills like gratitude fluency and increase cognitive hope, resiliency and grit earlier in life – you will consistently have higher quality relationships and more importantly, you will better react when those relationships feel like they are in flux. There are plenty of research papers, books and online resources that can teach you how to practice gratitude, grit, efficacy and hope.”
“Are you snapping more at your friends? Are you skipping school? Are you more tired than usual because your sleeping habits have changed?” asks Moss. “These are all signals to others that you’re dealing with something, so it may be easier than you think to bridge that conversation with someone you trust.”
But how do you get things started? “As a conversation starter, acknowledge that you’re trying to get to the bottom of an issue and have hit a roadblock,” Moss advises. “Don’t feel the need to have the entire problem understood before you can discuss it. Sometimes just asking a mentor to work it out with you is better because it involves you in the process of coming up with solutions.”
With that in mind, here are some questions that can start the discussion with parents, teachers or another trusted individual.
Serves as an online resource for teen girls, parents and educators to help understand female health issues and concerns.
Run by the Office on Women’s Health, this site provides information and advice on issues teen girls commonly face in their personal and academic life.
Run by Columbia University health professionals to help teens and young adults get answers about their most pressing health issues and concerns.
Offers comprehensive information about all aspects of keeping children, teens and young adults healthy, both physically and emotionally.
The Jed Foundation recognizes the emotional difficulty of teens growing into young adults and serves as a resource to make the transition as easy and healthy as possible.
Designed for middle and high school students, this website gives detailed information on major health issues as well as self-help support for all teens.
Features quizzes, tips, articles and expert pieces that address teen issues, such as sexual health, drugs and alcohol, emotional wellbeing and nutrition.
Provides background information about mental health issues, dealing with stress and getting help.
Though it might be tough to believe, teenagers really do respect their parents. When things get especially difficult, teens will often turn to their parents for help and support. Therefore, parents play an important role in maintaining and improving their child’s well-being and overall health.
Parents play an extremely important role in both establishing a child’s self-esteem at a young age and maintaining it through adolescence. Here are some important facts for parents of teenagers.
Self-esteem directly influences how an individual views themselves. Without self-esteem, a child will be too afraid or otherwise unable to achieve their potential. And for practically all individuals, overall mental health is directly tied to self-esteem.
There are many things, people or events that can lower a student’s self-esteem, including:
Self-esteem plays an important role in academic performance. Without self-esteem, a student may feel there’s no point in putting forth the effort to get the best grades possible. But if self-esteem is too high, it could potential lead to worsening academic performance thanks to arrogance, overconfidence and narcissism.
Looking for conversation starters? These can help open the door to discussion.
Teachers hold incredible influence over students. For some students, the classroom may be the only place where they feel accepted and safe. As a result, teachers have a responsibility to support their students as much as possible.
Confidence and self-esteem make it more likely an individual will persevere until success is obtained. This is a very important trait for achieving academic success. Below are some things teachers can do to boost their students’ self-esteem.
“Teachers need to develop empathetic listening,” says Moss. “It isn’t an easy cognitive skill to cultivate and requires effort, intention and repetition in practice to turn empathy into a behavior. But, if you have empathetic listening as a skill (one of the traits of the highest performing leaders at the most influential companies in the world) it can be the key that unlocks profound growth – both in you personally and the students you’re helping.
“Empathetic leadership requires you to meet a student where they’re at emotionally. That means first, you need to understand why they are coming to you and most importantly, how they are feeling right now in the moment as they enter your room and face you.”
Here are some tips for teachers who want to start a meaningful conversation with their students:
Aims to enlighten girls (and society as a whole) about body image issues.
Offers free lesson plans for teachers on a variety of topics, including puberty.
Helps individuals recognize their unique beauty and eliminate negative body image. Resources include professional training and public workshops.
Offers teaching materials and training videos for teachers to help improve their students’ self-esteem and body image.
Provides a vast array of teacher guides based on grade level to help teachers promote healthy living.
A collection of books, toys, music and other items that promote confidence in girls.
This nonprofit organization has the sole mission of ending discrimination based on body size, with resources for a variety of groups, including teachers.
Intended for tackling common questions boys and girls entering puberty are likely to have.
Offers a variety of teaching resources on puberty and menstruation issues for parents, educators and adolescent girls.
Teen pregnancy rates in the United States began a downward trend in 2007 and continue to fall. In just one year, from 2014 to 2015, there was an 8 percent drop in teen pregnancy among teens aged 15 to 19 in the United States. For teachers and school administrators, this shows that teen pregnancy prevention efforts are paying off, but there’s still more we can do.
25 percent of girls will get pregnant before the age of 20.
30 percent of girls who drop out of high school do so for pregnancy or parenthood.
Only 38 percent of girls who have a child by the age of 18 will obtain a high school diploma by 22.
Offers a wealth of evidence-based resources for professionals, tailored to help prevent an unplanned pregnancy in youth.
Sponsored by the US Department of Health & Human Services, this page provides resources on international and domestic adoption as well as the foster care system in the United States.
A nonprofit organization that aims to help anyone dealing with an unplanned pregnancy.
Offers a wide array of information and resources to anyone affected by teen pregnancy.
Aims to help pregnant women have the healthiest baby possible, including finding local healthcare providers and obtaining emotional support.
Provides sexual health information to young people so they can make the best decisions possible and prevent unplanned pregnancy.
Based in Arizona, this website also contains pertinent information for all educators and parents who are dealing with teen pregnancy.
Helps users find programs proven to reduce teen pregnancy and risks associated with sexual activity in teens.