If you are expecting to be fostering a teenager, then self-esteem issues are something you'll probably have to think about.
Almost all adolescents have threats to their self-esteem through things like peer pressure, expectations around their school performance, body image and social media. For teenagers who have been through traumatic experiences, the risk of low self-esteem is even higher.
While every teen is different, those in foster care are more likely to have some personal experiences behind them that may have affected their self-esteem, so working with them to find activities that help them build a positive self-image is important.
The way that someone feels about themselves during their teenage years can have a lasting psychological effect, and low self-esteem can lead to serious problems like substance abuse, eating disorders and self-harm in young adults. This means that the more you can promote things that help the teens you foster feel good about who they are, the better things will be for them.
Here we look at some flexible ideas for things you can encourage teens to do, or do with them as a foster family, to help them develop positive self-esteem...
Writing down experiences and feelings gives someone a chance to think about what happened, how they reacted, and whether they could have done things differently. It also creates a record they can read back and remind themselves of small victories, days that made them feel good, and challenges they overcame. There are lots of different styles of journalling, and so maybe you can find one that appeals to the teenager in your care. Some people like to make lists, such as of things they are grateful for or goals they want to achieve. Other people prefer to write a diary.
Journalling doesn't have to be done the traditional way, either. Some teens may like the idea of keeping a video diary or recording the events in their lives through photos.
Encouraging a teen or preteen to keep some form of journal can be great for their mental health and self-esteem. However, be aware that depending on the type of journal they choose, they may not wish to share what they write or record with you. Be open to sharing journal updates together as a family, but always be aware that it may be something they prefer to keep private.
A great way to work on a teenager's self-esteem that you can either do as a family or encourage them to do with friends or local groups, is to take on adventure type activities. Things like rock climbing, ziplining, abseiling, rafting and camping can allow teens to get a sense of accomplishment, by doing things they may have found scary at first. Learning to take care of their equipment and help the other people they're doing the activities with can also bolster their self-esteem.
Which activities are available and financially viable will depend on your family's location and situation, but there is usually something adventurous and rewarding nearby for everyone.
Mentoring or volunteering
One really powerful thing when it comes to self-esteem is feeling useful, and like you can do something to help other people. While this can be something formal, like doing volunteer work, there are smaller ways this can be brought into a teen's life, such as helping a younger child in your household with their homework or teaching them how to do something.
These types of activities can not only make a young person feel valued but can also help them build leadership skills and a sense of being part of a community, which are both also big contributors to good self-esteem.
Sport and exercise
Physical activity has a great effect on mental health, and so is something you should definitely encourage. When it is a sport or activity that has either a learning curve or some healthy competition involved, it can also really help with a young person's self-image, by giving them goals they can accomplish and skills they can feel proud of.
This doesn't have to be limited to things only young people who already love sport or who are athletically inclined like to do, like team sports, either. Things like yoga offer a progression and good mental health benefits without being daunting to those who don't see themselves as sporty, or there are sports that rely on precision more than athleticism like archery. Maybe they don't enjoy football or basketball but would love to get good at skateboarding or hip-hop dance. Anything where they can see themselves improve as they work at it, and which gets their body moving, will be a beneficial way to spend their time when it comes to self-esteem.
Self defence training
While this can also count as physical activity, doing some form of self-defence training can be both fun and empowering, and can definitely benefit a teenager's self-esteem. There are different options here, from taking up a martial art properly as a hobby, through to doing a short self-defence course or seminar. This can even be something you do together, as self-defence lessons can be valuable for anybody.
Look out for classes in your local area, find out whether it’s something that your young person’s school offers, or head over to YouTube to find some beginner lessons.
One of the very best things someone can have when it comes to self-esteem is a creative outlet where they can express themselves and feel pride about what they created. There are lots of things someone might be interested in or be good at, such as drawing, music, photography, woodwork, making or customising clothing, or creative writing.
A teenager who has been through a lot of upheaval in their lives may not have had the time or opportunity to find an outlet that appeals to them, and so talking with them about what interests they might like to explore and how you can help them do it can be a good first step. Encourage them to spend time on creative hobbies, and if they choose to share things they've made with the family, then give them plenty of praise, support and attention. If they share an interest with you or someone else in your family, encourage working on projects collaboratively, too.
Being an adolescent certainly isn't easy for anyone, and for teenagers who are in the foster system, their past circumstances and things like having to change homes and schools make them even more vulnerable when it comes to low self-esteem. By trying to incorporate activities like those discussed here into their lives during their time in your family, you can make a big difference that can help stand them in good stead for a bright future.
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