Building Teen Self-Esteem

Why Self-Expression is so Important

In a world where everyone, but especially teenagers, are constantly bombarded with messages about who they should be, what they should look like, and how they should act, it's more important than ever to encourage them to find and use their own voices. This is where the power of self-expression, particularly through creative outlets like music and songwriting, becomes invaluable. Albert Einstein once said, “We cannot solve problems with the kind of thinking we employed when we came up with them.” This wisdom highlights the need for innovative approaches in addressing challenges, especially those related to self-esteem and mental health in teens.

Breaking Free from Conventional Thought Patterns

Teen years are often riddled with emotional turbulence and identity exploration. The clinch, however, is that traditional methods of communication and problem-solving may not always resonate with the unique challenges faced by young individuals in 2024. In typical settings where roleplaying or modelling with playdough may have been helpful for teens in the 80's and 90's; Gen Z is simply built different. So we need to support differently.

Music and songwriting offer an alternative path.

They provide a platform for teens to break free from habitual patterns of thought and express themselves in ways that words alone may fail to capture.

This is especially true when young people are given the tools and processes that songwriting offers, but also the guidance and support of a mentor or coach to help them reframe their negative feelings into lyrics that help them feel more in control.

I found this to be especially evident when working with several middle schoolers in 2022, as they tried to convey how they often felt as if their feelings and thoughts weren't being validated.

Instead of leaning into frustration, anger and feelings of worthlessness [conventional thought patterns], writing "My Feelings are Important" helped them to understand and embrace the validity of their feelings, and express that in a way that wasn't violent, negative, or resentful.

Please note: the students' faces are blurred to protect their identities, but their voices and lyrics are 100% real!

The Therapeutic Power of Musical Expression

Music is a language that transcends words. How many times, for example, have you listened to a song, and fallen in love with the rhythm, beat or melody? To take it one step further: when you realize the lyrics that are being sung: a song can take on a whole new and important level of depth and importance.

For many teens, articulating deep emotions and thoughts can be daunting. Music offers a safe haven for this expression, allowing them to explore and convey complex feelings without the constraints of conventional language. This form of expression is not just liberating; it's therapeutic, aiding in the processing of emotions and contributing to mental well-being.

Take, for example, some of the lyrics written in early 2023 by some of the summer-school students I workshopped with:

"I used to be content in my body

Now I'm body shamed all around me

Mentally healthy, then mentally ill

Sadness: you're looking at me

Get lost, I just want to be free

I just want to be free"

"I was nine years old when I met you

I've been with you my entire life

Sometimes I feel happy that I'm depressed

I'd be upset if I started to feel all right

I've become addicted to the sadness

Because then I can let it all out on my pillow

I know that I have people that I can talk to

But I still don't want to let you go"

.... I don't know about you, but when I read those lyrics, I am moved to the point of tears... these teens would never usually let themselves talk like this... but it's so important that they feel safe enough to express themselves if we are to ever support them to develop higher self esteem or self worth.

Fostering Authenticity and Self-Awareness

Engaging in creative activities like songwriting is a journey into self. It encourages introspection and self-reflection, essential components in building self-awareness, authenticity and - ultimately - self esteem. When teens are given the opportunity to explore and express their true selves, they develop a stronger sense of identity. This self-awareness is a critical building block of self-esteem.

Encouraging Cognitive Flexibility and Problem-Solving

Creativity in music isn’t just about self-expression; it also challenges the brain to think differently. This cognitive flexibility is a key skill in problem-solving and adapting to new situations – invaluable in the ever-changing landscape of teenage life, and you guessed it, assisting with boosting self esteem. By nurturing creative thinking, we equip teens with the tools to tackle life's challenges in innovative ways, especially with the support of a mentor or coach.

Building Resilience and Self Esteem Through Creative Achievement

The process of creating music, facing challenges like writer's block, and the vulnerability of sharing one's composition and truth, all build resilience. Each step in this creative journey reinforces a teen's confidence and self-belief. The sense of accomplishment that comes from creating and sharing music can be a significant boost to a young person's self-esteem.

I've seen this time and time again when working with teenagers.

Take 17year old Sydney Witt, who - when she came to see me in 2020 - was battling with low self esteem, anxiety and high levels of stress. We sat down over eight weeks, and spend eight sessions turning her self doubt into songs.

What happened was incredible.

Not only did each song she write become her own anthem of "feelings aren't facts", "I'm worthy and my voice is important", and "I can triumph my trauma", but for the first time in a while, her mother finally began to understand what was going on in her daughters head.

Check out her song "Intrusive Thoughts" as an example.

Feel Safe Enough to Express Yourself

In conclusion, fostering self-expression in teens, particularly through creative avenues like music and songwriting, is not just beneficial; it's necessary. It allows them to break away from conventional thinking patterns, provides a therapeutic outlet for emotional expression, builds self-awareness, encourages cognitive flexibility, and strengthens resilience.

As we guide our youth to find and use their voices, we empower them to build their self-esteem and navigate the complexities of life with confidence and authenticity. Let's encourage our teens to sing their own songs, write their own stories, and in doing so, discover their true selves.

When you're ready to help your teenager learn how to express themselves healthily, and safely again: I would love to hop on a call with you to discuss how I can support their journey through songwriting. Simply click here to book a call, and let's get your teen on the road to emotional stability, higher self esteem, and a better, more communicative relationship with you!

I look forward to speaking with you soon.

~ Emma G

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