black catholic homeschool mom and teen daughter

5 Strategies: Teens, Self-Esteem, and Homeschooling

Public school can be very rough on a kid’s self-esteem. There is a grueling emphasis on self-image and social status that emerges in the crucible of public education: cliquishness, social anxiety, focus on appearance, the gossip—and getting picked last for kickball! The whole hierarchical pecking order often found in institutional schools can be a brutal environment that leaves kids grappling with self-esteem issues.

But we homeschool, so we don’t have to worry about any of that stuff… right?

Self-esteem issues are not just a public school problem.

Homeschooled children, too, can struggle with self-esteem and a whole constellation of related issues: eating disorders, self-harm, negative self-talk, feelings of inadequacy, body dysmorphia, social anxiety, and worries about dress and appearance can all crop up within a homeschool environment.

When such problems do crop up, homeschooling parents can be taken by surprise. After all, one reason we homeschool is to shield our kids from the crippling social environment of public schools. (“This sort of thing wasn’t supposed to happen in our family!”) We may even feel a bit of guilt as if we somehow failed to keep them safe from worldly influences.

While the crucible of institutional education may exacerbate self-esteem problems and social anxiety, it is important to understand that these things can and do emerge entirely independent of the public schooling experience. Indeed, most teenagers are going to wrestle with self-esteem problems as part of the transformative process of maturing into adulthood. The cognitive, emotional, and physical changes a teenager undergoes are complex, and even kids with the most wholesome of upbringings will still struggle with feeling awkward.

In this article, we will review five basic practices for helping your teenage children work through problems with self-esteem.

1. Cultivate Awareness

Because homeschooling kids still struggle with self-esteem issues, we first need to cultivate awareness of what those issues can look like. This enables us to support our kids where they need and intervene early before a problem spirals out of control. For example, do you know how to recognize the early warning signs of an eating disorder? Do you know the tactics teens use to hide evidence of self-harm? Even if these things never become issues in your household, you should educate yourself on them nonetheless. This is basic health and wellness knowledge everyone should have, similar to recognizing signs of a stroke or “stop, drop, and roll.” If you cultivate an attitude of awareness, you won’t be blindsided by a problem that seems to emerge “out of nowhere.”

2. “It’s Normal”

A child struggling with self-esteem issues feels not only inadequate but uniquely inadequate. They feel like everyone else has it together except for them:

  • Their friends are all so pretty, but they are ugly.
  • Everyone else is so smart, but they are dumb.
  • Their other siblings have their act together, but they are a disappointment.

These feelings of inadequacy can become myopic; your teen can forget that these are problems all teenagers struggle with. It is good to remind your child that what they are feeling is normal. Most teenagers will not be happy with how their body looks from time to time. Most teenagers are going to feel unprepared as they begin to dip their toes in the vast waters of adult life. Talking to your child about how all teens go through this can help them break that myopia, reorienting their mindset from “I am uniquely bad” to “This is a normal part of growing up.”

3. Affirmation

One of life’s great tragedies is that we seldom tell the people we care for how we feel about them. There is usually nothing malicious about this. We assume the people we live with day in and day out know we love them. After all, we go to work for them, spend money on them, share meals with them, care for their needs, and recreate with them. They should know we love them, right?

A teen who is struggling with self-esteem may not view it that way. He may tend to view it more negatively (“My dad doesn’t say he’s proud of me, so, therefore, he isn’t,” or “My mom never compliments my appearance. Therefore, she thinks I am ugly”). This problem is compounded if your child is on the autism spectrum and already has difficulty with non-verbal cues.

Teens should have lots of verbal affirmation—Tell them you are proud of them. Tell your daughter how nice she looks in that outfit. Tell your son you love him. Tell them you are grateful for them. It doesn’t matter if they don’t say it back. I often tell my 17-year-old daughter, “I love you,” and if she’s in a certain mood, she responds with “Yup.” That’s fine. It’s not about me getting something back. It’s about making sure she knows I love her and that she hears me make the effort to communicate it.

You also want to affirm them with physical touch. Obviously, children are different. Some are snugglers, while others are less affectionate. The important thing is that you make an effort to show affection. I once had a student who mentioned that she could not even remember the last time her father hugged her, and I thought that was the saddest thing I’d ever heard.

4. Listen Without Being Dismissive

A wholesome relationship with children requires the ability to listen to them without being dismissive, condescending, or judgmental. This is pretty common sense, but it is something many parents struggle to do. Does every discussion with your teen seem to turn into an argument? Does your teen complain that she “can’t talk to you”? Even well-intentioned parents sometimes struggle with this issue. Sometimes we get in “ruts” of communication with our kids, where every conversation seems to unfold the same way.

If this is the case, make a commitment to listen to what your child is saying. Don’t comment on it; don’t try to offer advice; don’t tell them they shouldn’t be upset; don’t argue points of fact; don’t argue at all. Just listen. And only speak to ask for clarification or to check for understanding (e.g., “If I understand you correctly, what you’re saying is…”). The basis of any healthy relationship is good communication. If a child feels like they can’t communicate because your reactions are dismissive or combative, not only will the child eventually shut down communication, it will reinforce their negative self-talk. (“Mom doesn’t care what I think; my opinion isn’t important etc.”)

Maybe you think, “Yes, but my daughter is also responsible for the poor communication.” That may be true, but it doesn’t matter. You’re the parent; it’s far easier for you to course-correct that to try to fix her communication. And you may find that after you become a better listener, she becomes a better communicator.

5. Know When to Get Help

Finally, know when to get professional help. Sometimes we can feel a stigma about seeking professional guidance; it can seem like an admission that our family is “dysfunctional” and that we have “problems.” It can feel like a stamp of failure.

This is a profoundly backward way of viewing things. It is like saying that working out at the gym is a sign of being overweight. Seeking professional help is about seeking healthy, happy relationships with ourselves and others, just like going to the gym is about attaining physical fitness. So there is no admission of “failure” in seeking professional help. Sometimes, it is just the responsible thing to do.

Furthermore, sometimes you really need professional help. You may encounter problems that are out of your league to handle alone. Professional intervention can make a tremendous difference—whether it’s getting strategies for battling an eating disorder, working with depression, or boosting your child’s self-image, professional help is a wonderful tool.


These practices may not stave off self-esteem problems, but one thing is certain: they will leave you better situated to handle them successfully when and if they do crop up.

Lastly, make sure that you’re praying together as a family. Ask your children to pray for you and your spouse. And let them know that you are praying in a special way for them.

What is your experience? Do you have tips to share or questions to ask? I invite you to join us in our Catholic Homeschool Connections Community and start a conversation.

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