talking to a teen

“The way we speak to our children becomes their inner voice.” Peggy O’Mara, editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine.

Having a positive self-regard is especially important when speaking about preventing substance abuse; a person who thinks of him or herself favorably is better able to withstand negative peer pressure and to do what he or she knows is the correct thing. Furthermore, someone with a poor self-image is usually in despair and, therefore, more vulnerable to seeking out escape with the use of mind-numbing, dangerous substances.

According to Yossi Sirote, LCSW, Director of the Project SAFE School Program, a person’s view of him or herself develops over the course of many years. He said, “Our image of ourselves is often influenced by the perspective of others, on how our parents, teachers, siblings, and friends perceive us. The more significant that person is to us, the more impactful their opinion is.”

As an important person in someone’s life, you can either diminish or help boost a loved one’s self-image.

However, holding back our negative feelings and controlling criticism, is not an easy thing to do. We all know what it feels like to want to tell a loved to polish their appearance or behavior. Even though we are most often well-meaning, our good intentions, if not handled delicately, can harm a person’s self-image.

So, the next time you find the need to make a comment or a correction, view these tips so that your influence is productive, rather than destructive:

  • Think about why the person is choosing to hold onto undesirable behaviors. There are reasons people hold onto certain actions and patterns. Best to understand the “why” before you proceed.
  • Make sure your reasons for speaking out are in order to help, not to merely put the other person down or make yourself feel important.
  • Determine if your goals for the person can be achieved in another way. Get creative. Words are not the only answer. Sometimes just getting your child involved in sports, for example, can get him or her off the couch and into better physical shape.
  • Determine if the comments are best coming from you or another party.
  • Plan to address one issue at a time, otherwise, it may seem like you have a laundry list of complaints. You can always tackle other concerns another day.
  • Select the most appropriate words possible and be careful, kind, and constructive. Sprinkling in compliments and phrases of appreciation will allow the person to relax and feel strong enough to hear your other comments.
  • Create an opportune time and place to approach the person. It is probably best to speak in private. You should also wait till the person is in an approachable state: not tired, hungry, distracted, or nervous.
  • Encourage the person’s self-critique and problem-solving. Once you’ve introduced the subject, try saying, “You’re smart. What ideas do you have to fix this issue?”

Most importantly, keep in mind that your words should help and heal, rather than hurt. Remember, with good, healthy self-love, people can climb mountains!