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Parental guidance: Teens and self-esteem

Harborfields High School junior #13 Ben Resner drives

Harborfields High School junior #13 Ben Resner drives to the basket during the fifth annual Tom Robinson Memorial varsity boys' basketball tournament featuring Roslyn vs. Harborfields at Oyster Bay High School. Roslyn won the game 61-60. (Dec 6, 2007) Credit: James A. Escher

I try to give my son, a 16-year-old high school junior, positive messages all the time, telling him he's cute and smart. But it doesn't seem to instill self-esteem -- he responds that he's not as smart as one of his other friends, or that he has a big nose. What should I do?

"Stop," says Wendy Mogel, author of "The Blessing of a B minus: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Resilient Teenagers" (Scribner, $15). "To a junior in high school, your opinion at this point means just about nothing."

Mogel responded to this question from a mom in the audience at Mogel's recent talk on raising teens at Temple Sinai in Roslyn Heights, attended by close to 800 people. Mogel says that when parents repeatedly reassure their teens about their attributes, it can even backfire. Teens may interpret the fact that their parents are focusing on certain aspects of their persona and physical appearance so heavily to mean that Mom and Dad are actually worried about their strengths in those areas.

Instead, focus on something that interests your child. What does he love? Mogel asked the mom. "Basketball," she replied. "What do you know about basketball?" Mogel asked. "Not much," the mom answered.

"I would like you to take all that effort and learn about basketball," Mogel said. Then you can talk to your son about his passion, which in turn boosts self-esteem, she said. "That can be the gift you give to him," Mogel said.

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