Self-esteem affects all areas of life; how we feel, our behaviour, enjoyment of life, goals, aspirations and relationships. As we slowly emerge from the pandemic, it is vital for us to facilitate the growth of self-esteem in young people in any way that we can—in the home, school and local community.
The pandemic has significantly impacted the general well-being of young people within the UK. For instance, levels of happiness and confidence in16-25 year olds has hit its lowest point during the last thirteen years, according to The Prince’s Trust NatWest Youth Index
Isolation, lack of interaction, stress, anxiety and loneliness have been experienced by many. How do young people view the impact of the pandemic on their general well-being?
• 67% of young people surveyed by the organisation, Young Minds, reported that the pandemic will have a long-term negative effect on their mental health
• 46% of those surveyed by The Prince’s Trust, have experienced feelings of self-loathing
• Almost a quarter of young people (23%) in the UK agree that they will never recover from the emotional impact of the pandemic
The teenage years are a crucial developmental stage. Teenagers become increasingly attached to their friends and peers; “adolescence is also a time of heightened peer influence on young people’s opinions, behaviours and perceptions of their self-worth,” according to Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore (2018).
However, this interaction has been stunted hugely by the pandemic, and recurring lockdowns.
To try and combat a lack of interaction with others, young people have had to rely almost solely on social media to connect with their peers. Whilst technology has allowed for self-expression and for peer friendships to continue, albeit online, social media can lead to intense feelings of comparison, anxiety, and in some cases, result in trolling. These negative outcomes have been exacerbated by the increased amount of time teenagers and young people have spent online due to the pandemic.
For example, a new study has revealed that the reduction in self-esteem that girls experience in their teen years, can be partially explained by social media. “We find a significant relationship between heavy social media use at age 14 and worse self-esteem and higher psychological distress at age 17”, the report explains. This suggests that the potential negative impact of social media on teenage girls’ self-esteem, may have a more long-lasting impact than one might think.
Along with social factors, the pressure to achieve and get good grades weighs on our young people, now more than ever. Heavy work load, exams and bullying, may all contribute to the deterioration of young people’s mental health (Cortina & Linehan, 2021). With many schools, parents and other sources pushing the idea of going to University, achievement and academic excellence, some of our young people are facing burn out-like symptoms whilst still at school.
This pressure intensifies in exam years. A study from 2020 investigated the mental wellbeing of over 6000 students from years 8, 9 and 11 in Northern England. They found that Year 11s were at greater risk of mental health difficulties than the younger years, and suggested that this was due to academic pressure, exams and looming questions about their future.
In a world that asks so much of our young people, it’s crucial that we encourage them to do their best – their best without cost to their mental health.
At such an important stage of development in which there is a huge reliance on building and maintaining friendships, some young people have concerns about their ability to socially interact and experience ‘belonging’ within their peer groups.
Now that social restrictions from the pandemic have eased, there is a great opportunity to encourage activities that get young people socialising, and in turn, developing flourishing relationships. Friends are a huge source of encouragement, support and fun – exactly what young people need right now!
These friendships don’t have to be with others of the same age. Bonding with other people in the community, older or younger, in a setting they feel comfortable with is hugely beneficial. But why and how?
• By getting to know the elderly, young people learn from their experiences, wisdom and are encouraged to help those in need in their community.
• By meeting those younger, through babysitting, mentoring schemes, or through family friends, they learn responsibility, mentorship, and leadership skills.
• Meeting a mix of people from different backgrounds through community projects is a brilliant way to learn about different upbringings, perspectives, and develop compassion towards others.
Whether at school, home, in youth groups or social friendships, fostering a safe and supportive environment is crucial to build confidence and self-esteem in young people. When young people know they have been heard, understood and supported, it empowers them, which typically leads to heightened levels of self-esteem.
To support their growth and confidence, we need to actively listen to pupils about their concerns, achievements and goals. By ensuring we acknowledge their successes, they are allowed the space to truly hear and appreciate their own ability and skills. This also builds trust between the teacher and pupil, which assists the young person to communicate their struggles, concerns and any stress that they may be experiencing.
Addressing concerns, and any mental health struggles that young people may be experiencing, is more important than ever. While the narrative surrounding mental health in society has significantly progressed in recent times, it is still relatively common for individuals experiencing mental health problems to face various levels of judgement and negativity. Therefore, it’s crucial that we make pupils feel safe, supported and heard, so that that they are equipped to deal with any negativity surrounding mental health.
By openly discussing mental health issues in schools, we help to combat societal stigma and shame, and in turn, help young people to understand, and also, be accepting of others. Recent research suggests that young people are keen to learn more about mental health: when surveyed, 93% of 3,298 young people aged between 11 and 19 years, agreed with the current move towards teaching about mental health in schools.
According to the Prince’s Trust, 28% of young people believe they are going to fail in life. Many young people find themselves struggling to get a job when they first come out of school, as employers believe they don’t have the skills for employment. In turn, this has a massive knock-on effect regarding their self-esteem. There are many school-based programmes that seek to increase confidence and self-esteem in young people.
The Youth Trust offers an online fully resourced leadership and character education programme (Key stage 1-4) designed to be delivered by teaching staff within the classroom—the Young Leaders Award (YLA). The Award helps children and young people to develop confidence and a range of other related positive attributes, such as, resilience, social skills, aspirational thinking, and emotional intelligence. As part of the Award, young people are empowered to ‘be the change they want to see’, by designing and executing a social action project within their community.
Based on the quality and provision of excellent character and leadership education for young people through the YLA, the Youth Trust recently became one of the first charities in the UK to be awarded the Charity of Character Kitemark by the Association of Character Education, the nation’s leading character education body.
Our KS4/Post 16 Award equips pupils with many of the skills that employers are looking for, and it’s an excellent attribute to have on a CV for school leavers. The Award develops Spiritual Moral, Social and Cultural development and promotes pupils’ Personal Development. The activities within the Award are designed to encourage leadership skills such as confidence, self-awareness, mentoring skills and cooperation.
Our KS3 Young Leaders Award focuses on teaching students to become confident and resilient leaders, who develop a growth mindset, become independent thinkers and good communicators, and who have compassion and care for their communities. Through focusing on leadership, courage, character and initiative, these qualities help our young people to deal with life's challenges, but also enhance their own self confidence in a number of scenarios.
Ultimately, the way to boost teenagers’ self-esteem is through developing their courage, character, leadership, and confidence. The Young Leaders Award tackles and promotes these qualities head on.
You can find out more about our Young Leaders Award, and how it might work for your students here: www.abyyt.com/yla