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How can I help my son who struggles with low self-esteem, depression and anger?


​My 15 year-old son is depressed, angry and has low self-esteem. He has a complex because he is overweight and is very down on himself. He acts out by being very disrespectful to me and my husband. He refuses to listen. We argue every day because he takes everything we say and turns it into a big issue. He perceives everything said as an attack on him.


sad teen guy

We are glad you have discovered our website and are reaching out. We can appreciate the concern and frustration you conveyed in your email regarding your son and his behavior. Reaching out is the brave and wise thing to do, yet we understand it is not always easy to do.

You mentioned that your son is disrespectful and escalates everything into an argument. As adults, when we face difficult issues, we can get overwhelmed and stressed. Consequently, even the littlest thing can feel overwhelming and cause an intense reaction. When we escalate quickly, there is no time to logically think through what is going on and the best way to respond. For teens, this is even harder to do as logic is not their strongest suit. The part of the brain that uses logic is not fully developed until their early twenties. So, in essence, we are dealing with a very emotional young man who is having difficulty in dealing with what is going on with himself. 

When teens escalate and are disrespectful, it can be hard for adults to remain calm and logical as well. It is difficult for us to understand what makes it so hard for them and why they must be so difficult. Parents are human, too, and our hot buttons can get pushed easily sometimes. 

Look for reasons why your son may be acting out. How is he doing in school, and socially?  Do you know if he is being bullied for his weight issue? Bullying can be extremely difficult for teens to deal with, especially if they are down on themselves to begin with. It intensifies the negative feelings they have about themselves.

It can be helpful if we as parents make sure we are using the right parenting approach and change or adjust if needed. The old adage of “If we keep thinking and doing the same things, things stay the same" applies with parenting as well. Here are some things to keep in mind when parenting your child and his behaviors:

  • Work on staying calm. There is no advantage to arguing with teens; they are simply drawing us into their drama when we do. 
  • Stay supportive and let them know you will discuss things when they calm down.
  • Take a break if you start to escalate. 
  • Be clear on expectations, consequences and rewards. 
  • Remember to praise often. Sometimes when we are faced with misbehavior, it can be easy to be defensive and ignore or not even see the good things.  
  • Try to think in terms of connection with him, not just control. Sometimes kids just need to know it is OK and normal to feel the way they do.

Boys Town's parenting website ( is an excellent resource with articles for assisting and supporting parents. The link “Boys Town Parenting Principles" can be very helpful in establishing some adjustments with your parenting approach. Also, the Boys Town National Hotline® at 1-800-448-3000 is available 24/7 with Crisis Counselors who can offer assistance and support.

It is great you are reaching out for support. It shows how much you care about your son, and what you can do to help him, as well as reduce your parenting stress.