Parenting adolescents is frequently a delicate balancing act – don’t be too strict, nor too lenient; be involved, but not overinvolved; encourage your teen to participate in activities, but don’t over-schedule them; monitor their activities, but don’t snoop. We have basically learned from research that there can be too much of a good thing! This is true with our praise, as well. Experts say we should build our children’s self-esteem, but research shows that we can go overboard if we praise them too much.
Problems with Overpraise
Creating doubt. We may think our kids are awesome, but when we overpraise, our teens actually start to doubt us. Teens are quite observant and they quickly notice if their parents are the only ones who think they are remarkable. When mom and dad are praising them, but no one else is, or when your praise feels insincere, teens start to doubt the objectivity of their parents, which creates a trust problem in the relationship. Teens become insecure because they don’t believe your positive words, and they find it difficult to tell the difference between when they have really done something great or not.
Creating avoidance. When we rave too easily and disregard poor behavior, teens eventually learn to cheat, exaggerate, or lie to get praise. Perhaps more importantly, they blame others and make excuses to avoid difficulties. Overpraising creates teens that are not resilient enough to handle challenges or rejection.
Creating superiority. Studies show that parents who believe their children are special and deserve special treatment create teens who are demanding and believe they are superior to others.
Creating fear of risk. Research has also shown that when parents shower children with compliments to try to boost their self-esteem, it actually sends the message that the child must continue to meet very high standards. Teens can feel pressure to always be amazing, and this perception actually discourages them from trying new things or taking risks. They become afraid to fail.
What to Praise
The true purpose of praise is to encourage our children to continue positive behaviors that produce good outcomes. As a result, experts suggest we praise our teens for areas which they have control, and avoid praising their traits or abilities.
- What parents should praise their teens for:
- trying hard or making a strong effort,
- setting and obtaining a goal,
- persistence when facing a challenge,
- having a good attitude,
- respectful behavior,
- trying something new or taking a risk,
- learning from a mistake,
- following through on a commitment or promise,
- not giving up when it looks like they might fail,
- showing focus or discipline,
- demonstrating compassion, generosity, kindness, or love,
- taking responsibility, and
- solving a problem or making a difficult decision.
- What parents should NOT praise their teens for:
- physical attractiveness, and
- innate talents, such as athletic or artistic gifts.
How to Build Self-Esteem
A child with a healthy self-esteem values himself as a person, trusts his feelings and abilities, believes he is capable of doing things well, and is able to work toward his goals. This is what we want our praise to do in our children. Here are some tips when you are dishing out your praise:
Praise the process. When we praise our children for their effort, we are helping them to build confidence. When we praise our teens for every minor thing they do, or focus on things not under their control, we actually strip them of confidence. So don’t focus on the result; instead point out how impressed you are with HOW they accomplished the outcome.
Be specific. When we are specific, our praise sounds sincere and also helps teens understand what behaviors they should repeat. “Good job” gives them no feedback on what they should do in the future to get the same outcome and also communicates that you’re more impressed with the result than in how they achieved it.
Ask a related question. “How did you figure out how to do that?” When you ask your teen an open-ended question, you give them an opportunity to realize what they have accomplished on their own. We need to raise children who can feel satisfaction with their own selves because not everyone is going to shower them with praise for everything they do.
Recall previous success. When you see your child struggling with something, remind them of past successes they have had. “I know you’re feeling frustrated with your English project now, but I remember last year you felt the same way about your Science project and you got an A. I feel confident that you can do this well.” This type of comment not only praises them for a past success, but also expresses belief in their abilities.
Teens develop self-esteem and confidence by overcoming challenges and experiencing success. So, first, we must give our teens the opportunity to be successful (which means that we cannot rescue our kids every time they face a difficulty), and then we must help them see how they contributed to their own success (identify the skills and hard work they used to accomplish the result). Experts say that the quality of our praise is way more important than the quantity. Make sure your praise is genuine, sincere, focused on their effort, and encourages positive behavior.