Children who are entering adolescence, going from the middle school life to the dreaded high school life are undergoing several changes al together. They’re in that very sensitive age where, they’re making the transition from childhood to adulthood, they’re going through puberty and several other social changes.
They feel very alert about everything about themselves. How they look, especially. The displeasure of how they look bleeds into their behavior, how they generally feel about life and how their outlook is. They can develop anxiety and even depression.
“I’m so stupid!” “Nobody likes me!” and the two phrases you should be looking out for the most “I’m ugly”, “I’m fat”. These sort of phrases are sometimes throw away, they will say these phrases in order to garner a response from you, and they’re just looking for attention.
But check their tone whenever they say these sort of things. Experts say negative self-talk can reflect an unhealthy tendency to think the worst about themselves and that can lead to something a lot more serious than you anticipated.
Self-talk in the inner monologue every individual has. It can be a way of narrating what is happening to you, what is happening around you, practicing language, practicing what you preempt to say or just as a guiding voice to help you through tasks.
While self-talk in extremely important because of how constructive it can be, the opposite can also be true. We all engage in self-talk and critical self-assessment from time to time, it isn’t cause for immediate concern. But it is useful to think about when your child might be using their inner monologue to talk down to themselves, it might be cause for actual concern.
Trying To Be Perfect
Like we mentioned in a previous blog, the way kids think about themselves is a very ego-centric way. This build onto a way of thinking that is all or nothing, meaning if they’re not good at something at something the first time they do it, they might as well not try at all. For example, if they’re taking guitar lessons or just learning how to play themselves and they don’t do so well at the first try, they will think that they’re just not cut out to play guitar so they shouldn’t even bother. The truth is that anyone who is good at guitar has practiced and has learnt over the course of time. But this type of thinking can lead to children thinking that they are not good at anything.
This type of thinking means that they’re sort of a perfectionist, not in the positive sense. What this means is that they think they’ll never be good at something if they are not perfect at it the first time around. Because of this, they might not try new things at all, for the fear of failure is too overwhelming for them.
This downplaying of their abilities can be taken in the opposite manner as well. The social atmosphere that they are in really determines how they think about activities. Phrases like “I’m definitely going to fail this quiz” or “I’m so fat” may be some sort of a defense mechanism in an environment where being smart or having good grades may equate to being a ‘nerd’ and it simply may not be cool to be smart.
In these types of situations, they might actually have a skill or an ability that they downplay or don’t give themselves enough credit for. In a similar manner, giving preference to superficial traits such as caring more about one’s appearance over one’s grades may be a way to fit in, or a way to be popular/liked.
Sometimes children will dwell on self-deprecating humor or commentary out loud in an attempt to manipulate other people in an effort to garner attention from them. “No, come one, you’re beautiful!”, “You are not fat at all!” With parents, children might talk about terrible they are to them and that they deserve to be punished.
A lack of self-resilience cam be a product of self-critical thought which means that they lack thick skin or grit. If they respond to disappointment with negative self-deprecation that seems way uncalled for, this just means that they are not motivate to persevere through anything difficult and will give up at the slightest thought of something difficult happening.
Bullying can be something that is extremely detrimental to cementing this negative image of one’s self identity. If your child is the target of being picked on, it is very easy to internalize the insults that are aimed at them. If your child is being made fun of, after a while they would start to believe all of the negative that is aimed at them by their classmates. They will start to actually believe that they are ugly, and children are ‘straight forward’ with their insults, they will point of imperfections, something like lips being too big or hair being messy or nose being too pick.
If not looked to, these insults becomes personal belief and stay like that for the rest of their lives.
Some Signs to Look Out For
Negative self-reflection is very common in isolation, especially when you’re recounting the events of the day before you are going to bed. Negative self-talk can be alarming when it is a sign for low self-esteem, a root for learning disabilities and anxiety.
These are some things you should have an eye out for when you suspect that your child is being too hard on themselves:
- The self-deprecation becomes a regular and pervasive
- It is far-fetched and not based in reality. For example, if they get invited to parties yet still claim that no one likes them. This will lead everyone else to not even bother being friendly with your child. Another example is when your child is actually good at school but keeps claiming that they aren’t and remain anxious that they will fail.
- Their relationships at school will deteriorate.
- Their eating habits and sleeping habits will change
- They will cycle between two moods. One where they do not care about their physical appearance and will make no effort to make themselves look better. Their clothes will be un-ironed, hair messy and greasy and their room will be messy. The other mood will be where they obsess about how they look, they will go out and spend a lot of money on clothes and products that will help them look more appealing.
Here Is What You Can Do To Help
Empathize with them and validate their feelings. It is very easy to give in to the urge of ignoring when your child expresses negative feeling about themselves by saying something like “Oh it’ll pass” or “it’s not that big of a deal”. Even if the comments they pass are unrealistic and not based on any truth, it is something they are dealing with and chose to tell you. You should act as a safe space for your child to be around.
Be real with them. Battling critical self-talk with an overly optimistic and positive thinking is counter-productive. If you’re basically just saying the opposite of what they’re going through, you should think that they probably know that. If they confess that they’re afraid of their first day of school and think they won’t have anyone to talk to, don’t say “don’t worry honey, the first day of school will be absolutely great, you will make a lot of friends!” but say “The first day of school is always a little bit scary, it will take a little while for you to settle in but you will likely make friends and you’ll grow to love them”
Put their experience into context. Offer a broader perspective and help them identify specifically what made them feel upset and why it did. Teach them to be self-critical in a broader perspective and that one bad experience doesn’t mean that it is the worst thing to ever happen and that it will constantly repeat itself.
And eventually, model their self-talk to be more realistic and positive. Have them to try and stop saying self-deprecating things about themselves. Don’t dwell too much on the negatives, your weight, your hair, and your clothes. Try sharing experiences from your own life, “I dropped my groceries in the supermarket, everything went flying everywhere. Some people laughed, but then some people came over and helped”. Try to avoid comparing the experience you’re sharing with theirs. Things like “You think that’s bad? Back when I was your age…” The point is to be more realistic.
Model yourself too. If you punish yourself for small mistakes too, they’ll copy your behavior and model themselves to you. “God, I’m such a terrible cook! I burnt the dish!” You burnt the dish, no need to constantly fret about how bad you are at cooking. “You know what I’m great at cooking, I just burnt the food and I cook every day!”
Be in touch with your child’s teachers and school staff. Check in with them about how their behavior is when you’re not there. Getting a perspective from a completely different party will give you more insight. This kind of information is useful if you want to get if you plan to get professional help. Be in touch with their friends as well. To have a good relationship with their close friends is a great asset when you’re trying to figure out what is up. The friend will give you better insight than anyone else.
Professional help should never be frowned upon when you are concerned with mental health, for your child, for yourself or for anyone you love. Professional help can be the key to actual real change and positive development. One can tell their friends or their parents about their issues and how they don’t feel happy or feel a certain way sometimes. Parents and friends can offer genuine advice and their help will be with good intentions, but they can’t always hit on the points that help the most.
Reaching out to people who are professionally trained can make a world of a difference. The taboo of receiving professional psychiatric help is still there and your child might be vary of it too. They might be afraid of the backlash from their peers or classmates and that fear is very real. Other kids might make fun of them for trying to get help. Trying to first convince your child will be the first mountain to climb. You have to convince them that the opinions of others will not make a difference to their journey of self-help.
The other mountain to climb will be to have them be persistent and power through the sessions. They will be resistant to the therapy and they might not like it, they might feel that they’re being talked down too or they might be resistant to sharing details about themselves to complete strangers.
But power through, be persistent. You will see results soon enough. Professional help can pinpoint what is going on and how it can be treated.
Teenagers and adolescence is a very peculiar time in your life. Everything is changing and everything is suddenly becoming different, things around you that you can’t control take control of your life and determine how the rest of your life will play out.
But remember, you are not alone in this. There are ways, people and methods that will help you when you need it. It isn’t always hopeless and you can get better if you want to, just try and reach out to someone. Your parents are there to help you. It is okay, it is very hard to be a teenager. It is a lot harder when other teenagers make it worse for them to be around.
Everyone is going through their own battles. Just look out for one another, it will be okay!