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Teens Who Lack Confidence

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Possibly 95% of teens feel inferior. The teen years are a time to try out various adult type behaviors to discover who they are and how they want to present themselves to others as an adult. When teens are successful with healthy behaviors they develop a healthy self-esteem. Unfortunately, most teens leave these years with a strong sense of inadequacy. Maxwell Maltz estimated that 95% of all people in our society feel inferior. Those who don’t realize a healthy identity in the teens years will continue the struggle in adulthood.

Research says feelings of inferiority are factors in anxiety disorder, poor social adjustment, compulsive overeating, poor academic performance, depression, cheating in school, drug abuse, and unwed pregnancy. Les and Leslie Parrot say, “the ideal self is built on aspirations that are either realistic, or too low, or for the teenager struggling with inferiority, too high. Ideal selves that are realistic lead to self-acceptance. Those that are too low impede accomplishment. Those which are too high lead to frustration, self-depreciation, and inferiority.”

Indications a Teen Feels Inferior

  1. They typically ascribe successes to external causes; “the test was easier than usual,” “I got lucky,” etc. And they ascribe their failures to internal causes, “I’m just stupid,” I can’t get anything right.”

  2. They typically lack the confidence to believe they can really make a difference in their lives. So they withdraw from various social and academic situations choosing instead to hang out with their friends and avoid homework.

  3. They take on personality characteristics that they believe will protect them from being hurt. So they become sarcastic, or hostile, or critical of others, or suspicious, or very passive.

What Parents Can do

  1. Don’t create expectations of your teen that are too high. It will cause them to believe they can never do enough.

  2. If you feel inferior don’t say negative or self-defeating things about yourself to your teen. They will take on your beliefs.


  1. Encourage your teens (start at childhood) to take responsibility for the things in life they are able to be responsible for. Doing for them will add to their inferiority feelings.

  2. Be consistent infamily rules and expectations. If something is okay one day and not the next they become confused and easily begin to believe that they don’t know what to do – inferior feelings.

  3. Be genuine. Learn the difference between praise and encouragement. Encourage more - praise less. If you praise your teen for getting an “A” it also implies you will not be as proud if they get a “C”, and they can’t always control whether they get an “A” or not. Instead comment on what they do have control over: “You put a lot of effort in preparing for that test and it paid off. Good job!”

  4. Set reasonable standards for your teen. Be aware that their internal standards are probably too high, so help them to rethink their goals and expectations so that they are accomplishable.

Want to learn more? Give us a call or make an appointment with one of our qualified therapists today!

Larry McElvain, Founder, Discovery Counseling Center

November 3, 2020


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