Teens Who Self-Sabotage

Do you know a teen that has so much potential but just seems to fall short?

Sometimes we develop negative behaviors or thoughts that hinder our success or prevent us from achieving our goals without even realizing we are sabotaging ourselves. Teens can easily fall prey to self-sabotage because they are under a lot of pressure and/or experience a lack of self-confidence. Teens feel pressured by peers, parents, teachers, coaches, and cultural norms. They feel the need to act, dress, or achieve in specific ways to gain acceptance, at a time in life when they lack experience and strong identity. Teens who self-sabotage are often unaware of their behavior. Examples of self-sabotage include eating junk food after vowing to eat healthier, waiting until the last minute to work on an important project despite a goal to earn an A, or not trying at all because of a fear of failure.

Self-sabotaging behaviors could include:

Procrastination. Some teens will delay projects, put off chores, avoid decision-making, or find excuses for why they can’t complete tasks.

Giving Up. Some teens will quit something before they ever gave it a real shot or at the first sign of an obstacle. They might announce they don’t know how to do the task. Adults should remind teens that we never know how to do things when we start – we have to practice and learn as we go.

Substance Use. Some teens will use alcohol, marijuana, vaping, taking pills or other substance abuse to escape their responsibilities and stresses.

Ending Relationships. Romantic relationships are both exciting and scary for teens. Despite liking the other person, some teens choose to end the relationship before they are emotionally committed or think the other person will discover how awful or unworthy they are and leave them. Others will actually try to get their partner to break up with them by betraying them, withdrawing, or pushing their buttons.

Avoiding Emotions. Many teens don’t know how to cope with emotions in a healthy way. They will avoid awkward social situations, overuse video games to “hide,” or take other actions to escape their overwhelming feelings.

Negative Self-Talk. Some teens have a bully as an inner critic. They might call themselves a loser or an idiot or fat. They will tear themselves down at the slightest failure or mistake. We must combat this bully by identifying our strengths and talking to ourselves with the same compassion we would extend to our best friend.

How to Help Teens Stop Self-Sabotage

To decrease self-sabotaging behaviors, we have to combat a teen’s negative self-image, insecurity, and fears of failure – no easy task. Here are a few tips to help:

  • Help your teen develop healthy ways to handle stress, such as journaling, creative projects, or mind-body coping strategies like exercise, deep breathing, mindfulness, or meditation.
  • Remember that your teen is unique and don’t compare them to other teens or siblings.
  • Let your teen know that failure is part of life and that is how change and growth occur. Share your own experiences of failure and what you learned from your past mistakes.
  • Teach goal-setting. Discuss with your teen what they want to be or achieve and help them create a detailed plan.
  • Create a routine that generates the structure necessary to build healthy habits.
  • Praise your teen’s hard work any time they take initiative, don’t give up or complete a task on time.
  • Focus on the positive and notice your teen’s strengths.
  • Teach teens to visualize their success. They should imagine what true success would look like to them, the challenges they might encounter along the way, and ways they can overcome those challenges.

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