Help! My Teen Struggles with Self-Image

This article is part of the Help! series.

Do We Really “Got This”?

We who are parents now grew up when the self-esteem movement was rooting itself in our cultural conscience. We grew up singing songs and chanting slogans that convinced us that we are enough, we can do whatever we put our minds to, and if we can conceive it we can achieve it. In the secular squares of our childhood, salvation was found within.

Here’s what we didn’t know back then: because self-esteem is self-dependent, it is fragile. Though it sounds nice—You are good enough! You are smart enough! You’ve got this!—it is easily shaken. From this paradigm, our worth is dependent on what we can deliver. Our value, our purpose, is all on us.

From its beginning, the self-esteem movement has been crushing. And the movement hasn’t dissipated over the last generation or two, it has only intensified. It is more demanding than ever with the omnipresence of social media. Kids today are not only taught to believe in themselves, as we were, but now the fruits or failures of their efforts are on display for all the world to see. Their value is now also derived from how they look, how they image themselves online.

Partially (perhaps largely) due to the combination of self-esteem and social media, we are seeing an alarming increase in anxiety, depression, and suicide across the board, but especially in teen girls. In the last two decades suicide amongst 10-14 year old girls has tripled. I’m the mother of four daughters, so this gravely concerns me. And it’s not just them. I’m as prone as they are to place my value in myself and in the image I create for others to see.

With God’s help and grace we are having lots of conversations these days around the kitchen table, in the car, and at bedtime. My daughters and I want to renew our minds and remember it’s not self-image, but rather God’s image in us, that really matters.

Enough about Me

Jen Oshman

This book calls women to look away from new self-improvement strategies in order to find the abundant life and joy God offers them in Jesus.

Here are six gospel truths I am rehearsing to my teenage girls (and to myself!) in the midst of this toxic age:

1. Our worth is endowed to us by the God who made us.

Every human being has immovable and immeasurable worth because they are fearfully and wonderfully made by our God in heaven (Psalm 139:13, 14). Our maker is inherently good and beautiful and true and he made us in his image. The value of each life, as well as God’s love for each life, does not rise or fall with what that life produces or contributes to society. God’s creation is very good and his love is unconditional.

2. Perfectionism is a worthless goal and harsh task masker.

To seek perfection is to believe (even subconsciously) that your worth is found in your performance. Not only is that untrue, but perfection cannot be attained in this life and therefore the effort is futile.

3. We who are in Christ are eternally secure in his free gift of salvation.

We who are saved by grace through faith have had our biggest problem solved, namely that we have been delivered from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of the beloved Son (Col. 1:13). Jesus took our sin upon himself and traded it for his own righteousness, which the Father sees when he looks at us. That beautiful truth is the best news ever and it cannot be changed nor thwarted by our performance or failures.

4. We must run the unique race that God has set out for each of us.

Comparison is a meaningless exercise because God has equipped and called each person differently. God is the one who gives life and breath and everything (Acts 17:25). And he is the one who determined where and when we would live (Acts 17:26). Because we were created by him and for him (Col. 1:16) our lives are not our own (1 Cor. 6:19, 20). We must steward all things—our nationality, our socio-economic status, our health, our homes, our education, our hardships, our trials, our joys, everything—for God’s glory. They are from his hand and he calls us to use them for his name’s sake. Don’t worry about the race that others are running. Their stewardship is between them and God. Run the race marked for you.

Jesus is worthy and beautiful and majestic. He alone satisfies our souls. So let’s behold him and not ourselves.

5. Abide in Jesus.

Jesus says, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). We need him for everything, every day, no exceptions. We are called to good works, created by God in advance for us to walk in (Eph. 2:10). We must toil for sure, but with all Christ’s energy in us (Co. 1:29). As we abide in Jesus and toil with his energy, we will feel his pleasure. He will grant us the path of life, the fullness of joy, pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). As we go, as we abide, we can experience the joy he offers, and give him the glory. What a relief for our burdens!

6. Fix your eyes on Jesus, not on yourself.

As the saying goes, you become what you behold. Jesus is worthy and beautiful and majestic. He alone satisfies our souls. So let’s behold him and not ourselves, let’s treasure him and not ourselves, and let’s pursue him and not ourselves. Let’s set the Lord always before us and we will not be shaken (Psalm 16:8).

Saturated in the self-esteem movement, the world says look within, decide who you are and then conjure up the effort and energy to get there. This is a fragile and toxic way to live. But God’s love is certain and immovable for all humans. And for Christians, our lives are hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3).

Self-image is only as good as we are—and we are fallen, finite beings. But God’s image in us is good, beautiful, and true because of who he is. Let’s fix our eyes on him, not on ourselves, and enjoy the freedom and pleasures found there and forevermore. May we trade in the frailty of self-image, for the eternal and glorious image of God in us.

Jen Oshman is the author of Enough about Me: Finding Lasting Joy in the Age of Self.

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