6 Self-Esteem Tips to Help Your Children Unplug This Summer

Written by Margot Denomme

How does growing up in a culture obsessed with outward beauty impact the way children feel about themselves? This was the question I asked myself 10 years ago while raising two daughters.

One of the most jarring aspects of my 23-year-long career as a criminal lawyer has been witnessing firsthand the link between the devastating effects of low self-esteem and poor life choices.  As a mother of young daughters whose peers were being engulfed by a social media onslaught, I was compelled to do something to head off the devastating consequences of low self-esteem, so I wrote a picture book to spark conversations and ultimately empower young kids and teach them that true beauty comes from within. 

The messages contained in my picture books for young children, Mommy, Am I Pretty? and Awesome Inside & Out!, have carried over from bookstores into classrooms and communities, promoting a “movement”, one that sees young children looking inward when thinking about themselves and others. The Celebrate You! Tour  takes this important message on the road and promotes the power of developing confidence by being kind, strong, inclusive, and unique from within – who we are on the inside, not how we look compared to others. I have personally seen the shift in children when they come to learn that their power comes from within. This is why I believe that it is our responsibility to help our children gain a keen sense of self prior to EVER placing a piece of technology into their hands.

Children are constantly bombarded with messaging that suggests that what they see when they look in the mirror is not good enough or does not meet arbitrary beauty standards. Once they are online it is inescapable. Social media platforms including Tik Tok, Snapchat, and Instagram, especially, expose children to thousands of images daily. The unrealistic and often distorted images promoted by celebrities, fashion models, fitness models, and “influencers” are imprinting damaging and irreversible ideals on our children. 

A recent study by Gary Goldfield, Senior Scientist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute and author of over 150 scientific papers, revealed that “Youth are spending, on average, between six to eight hours per day on screens, much of it on social media…and adolescence is a vulnerable period for the development of body image issues, eating disorders, and mental illness.”(1) Goldfield conducted a brief four-week intervention using screen time trackers which showed that, “Reducing social media use is a feasible method of producing a short-term positive effect on body image among a vulnerable population of users and should be evaluated as a potential component in the treatment of body-image-related disturbances.” 

The U.S. Surgeon General Advisory Committee recently released a report on Social Media and Youth Mental Health. “There are ample indicators that social media can also have a profound risk of harm to adolescent mental health and urged families to set limits and governments to use tougher standards for use(2),” Dr. Vivek Murthy warned in the 19-page advisory. As parents, we are meant to guide our children to think the best of themselves and others and the alarming implications of these studies should be a call to action. Social media’s insidious influence demands that we urgently focus on guiding our children to look within early and often and help them to develop a strong sense of self.

The Government of Canada currently has no regulations or legislation in place to protect our children from social media giants. It is up to the parents. There is a movement originating in Austin, Texas called Wait Until 8th(3), which actively enlists parents to sign pledges agreeing to delay smartphone usage until at least 8th grade and social media until they are over 16-years-old. This empowering movement has been very effective in diffusing the social pressures of smartphones and I applaud their efforts. As studies show, adolescence is a critical time in children’s development, and delaying social media use would further assist parents in teaching them to look inwards by helping them to develop their own sense of who they are, before they are exposed to the damaging forces of social media.

I have learned through research and lived experience that we can help instil a solid foundation within our children’s psyches by teaching them six critical superpowers to help foster their self-esteem. Ideally, these lessons should be implemented early enough in life such that the child’s self-image can be secure before technology begins its inevitable assault. By starting conversations with our children early about who they are on the inside, the dialogue with them can continue once they are exposed to the dark side of the web. But, it’s never too late.

If your child currently has a smartphone, summer might be the perfect opportunity to help them unplug and focus on implementing the six superpowers.

1) Teach compassion and self-love:
Teach your children to be kind, while at the same time encourage them to treat themselves with kindness just as they would someone else. There’s a wonderful quote from professor and author Brené Brown,“Talk to yourself like you would someone you love.” A wonderful ritual while brushing our teeth together is to look in the mirror and repeat positive affirmations like "I am awesome, I am kind, I am beautiful, and I am smart." What a simple and empowering activity to implement and teach our children.

2) Help your children find their passion:
This could be in music, sports, art, horticulture, or in whatever activity interests them. Provide them with opportunities early-on to explore a variety of interests so that they can determine where they would like to place their energy and effort. Success and focus in one area can boost their self-esteem which may transfer to other areas of their life.

3) Practice positive self-talk:
One of the most important things we can teach our children is to identify the little voice inside our head that constantly gives us negative self-talk. Let them know that they have the power to change that little voice from an ‘I can’t’ to an ‘I can’. This is one of the most powerful lessons I learned as a child from my Dad. He would say “You can only have one thought in your mind at a time, choose a positive one.” Such a valuable lesson and one I continue to practice today.

4) Allow them to fail and make mistakes:
Teach your child that making mistakes is a part of life. It’s what helps us to both learn and grow. Help them to understand that there isn’t anyone in the world who hasn’t made a mistake or failed at something. Let them know that Walt Disney was fired from his first job at a newspaper; according to his editor he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

5) Encourage responsible risk-taking:
Every time your child moves through an obstacle or a setback they will build confidence that will help them overcome failure in the future. Confidence will give them an opportunity to grow and not be afraid to test their limits.

6) Praise effort:
Our children are not going to make every team or get a part in every school play but we need to make a special point of praising their efforts, rather than just their achievements. We can acknowledge and celebrate the hard work they put into things, even if the outcome isn't perfect. As parents, we need to cast aside our own expectations. This helps children see that there is value in effort and that they can achieve success through hard work.

I have been actively fighting this battle against the social media tsunami for many years. I watched our daughters’ progression and made sure that they always knew that they are more than enough. We delayed giving them smartphones until they were 12-years-old, with no access to any apps. If we were aware of recent research confirming the negative impact on children’s mental health, we would have waited until much later. My legal background ensured that there was a written contract attached to their first device that outlined the terms and conditions. I felt it was important that we started a dialogue at the outset about what expectations accompanied their new phone. I also regularly spoke with them about my concerns about the number of predators that are on the internet and the importance of knowing each person they communicate with online. Of course, there was push-back from my daughters, children will often test boundaries. However, as they got older we remained consistent with the established boundaries, strict with limited access to apps, and were always open to communication.

Today, there are growing bodies of research showing the correlation between social media use and its negative impact on youth mental health. We cannot continue to risk our children’s mental well-being by allowing them to be used for social media experiments. We need more conclusive research and regulations in place immediately so that we can counter this assault. I would urge all parents to delay giving smartphones to their children for as long as they can. Once that day arrives, establish boundaries, place limits on their use, and always keep the lines of communication open with your children.

My daughters are now 19 and 21 and I no longer have boundaries on their use of technology – however, those early lines of communication remain open. Communication in conjunction with the six fundamental superpowers outlined above were critical to my daughters’ development and helped them to combat the negative effects of social media by helping them establish a strong sense of self from the inside out, from discussions that we had early and often.


(1) Goldfield G (Feb 2023) Reducing Social Media use significantly improves body image in teens, young adults. The Globe & Mail  
(2) The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory (2023) Social Media and Youth Mental Health 
(3) Wait Until 8th


As a lawyer, author, and speaker, Margot Denomme saw the need to help children empower themselves from the inside out. Margot developed the Celebrate YOU! Tour in 2014 and has since been to over 150 schools throughout both Canada and the U.S. Margot will be joining other children’s book authors at the Muskoka Chautauqua on August 11 at 4 pm in Windermere, ON. Learn more about Margot’s Celebrate YOU! Tour by visiting CelebrateYOUinsideout.com or get a signed copy of Margot’s books Mommy, Am I Pretty? and Awesome Inside & Out! at The RevolutionHer Store online and in-person.



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