How to Help Teens Who Are Too Hard on Themselves

While some teens don’t take school seriously enough, others take it a bit too seriously, sometimes leading to anxiety, self-harm, or suicide. Striving to get good grades, excel in sports, or get into college is great. But taking it to the extreme—to the point where the student’s mental and physical health are threatened—is concerning. If you suspect that your child is too hard on himself or herself, and may be at risk for self-harm or suicide, here’s how to help before it’s too late.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

You want to make sure your child knows he or she can ask you for help, and that you won’t be too busy or judgmental when that time comes. If your teen assumes you won’t be there to listen when you’re needed, or that you will say anything close to “I told you so,” he or she won’t come to you for help. Instead, your teen might go to someone else who doesn’t have their best interests at heart. Or worse, he or she might not reach out to anyone, and could end up trying to deal with the problem alone—which could be disastrous. So take the time to regularly ask your teen if he or she wants to talk, and if the answer is no at that time, just assure your child that you’re here to listen any time.

Provide a Stable Environment

Kids need structure, and this applies even as they get older and become teens. A stable home they can count on will provide the comfort they need when their emotions seem to be all over the place. They need to feel like they can count on their home being safe and consistent, not chaotic or always different. In fact, studies show that kids in unstable homes often overproduce cortisol, the stress hormone. Constantly being in a state of stress can lead to behavior issues, bad grades, alcohol abuse, drug use, anxiety, and frequent illnesses. So make sure your teen has a loving, stable home where he or she gets support, kind words, regular meals, and a consistent bedtime every night.

Focus on Positive Self-Talk

Self-talk is that inner voice everyone has. While it’s normal for that voice to occasionally be critical, constant negativity in your head can be harmful. In fact, it doesn’t just stay there, as most people voice at least some of their thoughts from time to time. If you find that most of your teen’s comments about himself or herself seem to be negative and overly critical, you can bet his or her self-talk is just as bad, if not worse. Think about how you talk to and about him or her. If you’re constantly criticizing your kids, they will likely internalize those comments over time and make them part of their regular self-talk. So focus on being positive around your teen as much as possible. This doesn’t mean you can never be critical, but try to point out your kids’ positive attributes and applaud their good decisions as much as possible so they have some positivity to add to their self-talk.

Help Your Children Reach Their Goals

High achievers often have several goals they’re working toward, and if they feel they’re not making any progress, they start to get stressed and feel helpless. If you can help them meet their goals, you may be able to prevent those thoughts and keep them feeling more positive and upbeat. So sit down with your teen to set some goals and work on ways he or she can start meeting them, such as with these goal-setting tips. Be sure to decide how to measure the goals so you can celebrate together every time your child meets them. This can increase your teen’s confidence and turn a negative outlook into a more positive, hopeful one.

Use the Resources Available to You

If your teen won’t talk to you and you’re worried, you might need to reach out to a professional for help. First, you can use the Child Mind Institute’s Symptom Checker to get an idea of the issues your child might be going through. Though it can’t give you a diagnosis, it can provide a list of conditions your child might have based on your input. You can then decide if you want to schedule an appointment with your child’s doctor to discuss your concerns. Additionally, you can give your teen the contact information for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if he or she wants to talk to someone and won’t open up to you.

If your teen is going through a hard time, it’s important not to ignore the issue. You don’t want him or her to feel helpless and alone. Make it clear you’re here for your child and are willing to help with meeting goals—including going back to school or getting a job, if that’s what your teen wants to do.