How Should we Support the Self-Esteem of Young Male Pupils?

Mental health difficulties in children and young people are becoming more widely identified. Teachers are being asked to support pupils with a broad spectrum of challenges with very little support from health services. It is a daunting task, but luckily charities such as Samaritans and Young Minds are offering online courses to teaching staff to help them better understand this evolving landscape.

What is it about Men’s Self-Esteem?

It’s an extremely sad statistic but, every year in the UK over 4,500 men kill themselves. Male suicide accounts for 78% of all suicides in England and Wales and suicide is now the single most significant cause of death for men aged 20-45. Undoubtedly, this is a bigger problem in young men than young women. To fully understand this phenomenon, male suicide prevention charity the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) commissioned wide-ranging research about men from independent specialists, Public Knowledge.

The research found men were most likely to say they didn’t speak to anyone about their depression because they prefer to deal with problems themselves (69%) or because they didn’t want to burden people/waste others time (56%). Sadly, this is very often reflected in the attitudes of male pupils too.

Unfortunately, these males are also more likely to have a speech, language or communication difficulty too.

Between 50-80% of young people with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties have undetected speech, language or communication needs (Bryan et al., 2007; Snow & Powell, 2008).

Speech and Language Therapy assessment of 40 students in five NBSS partner schools found that 95% of the students assessed presented with a speech and language difficulty. 92% presented with difficulty in at least one area of literacy (reading comprehension, phonological literacy or spelling).

Vocabulary understanding and use was an area of difficulty for 88% of the students. This clearly has an impact on how well a student can understand and talk about their emotional well-being.

Self-Esteem Programmes

There are lots of excellent programmes emerging to support self-esteem, emotional literacy and resilience. I have linked to charities that offer interventions at the bottom of this blog. Please feel free to add your own suggestions or products in the comments box below too.

Don’t Put it all Down to Hormones.

Many people put increased aggressiveness, mood changes and risk-taking behaviour in young men down to increased levels of testosterone during puberty. However, a recent systematic review of the literature Duke et al. 2014 concluded that there are insufficient longitudinal data of high methodological quality confirm that changing testosterone levels during puberty are significantly associated with mood and behaviour in adolescent males. In fact, to discount these findings is to risk apportioning blame inappropriately and missing other vital diagnoses in teenage males.

The study also found quite the reverse of what is assumed: there is some evidence in males that delayed puberty is associated with increased anxiety, decreased self-esteem, and lower social competency.

So, rather than dismissing changes to mood and behaviour as merely hormonal. It might be better to observe them within the context of mental health.

Praise Boys When They do Well.

The most important principle for building self-esteem is this: feeling good about the self, comes from doing something to feel good about. Positive self-esteem has to be based on doing real and worthwhile things. So look for the things your pupils have done well and given specific praise based on this. For example, if a pupil is helpful to a peer or member of staff; If they have been exceptionally creative or sensitive or if they demonstrate empathy and insight.

Try and avoid always praising physical attributes related to strength, height and showing high-risk behaviours.

Include more Varied Role Models.

Create opportunities for showcasing alternatives to rappers or athletes with male role models. Think about computer programmers, artists, teachers, chefs, jazz musicians. Shows boys there are different, legitimate ways they can follow their talents and still be valued. Ultimately, If you want to give boys confidence, then you give them the feeling that the skills they have are going to win them the respect of other men and boys.

Some of my favourite male role models: Elon Musk, Richard Ayoade, Tommy Banks, Vlogbrothers, Riz Ahmed, Takahiro Iwasaki

I have included a video from Vlogbrother John Green on social isolation people might feel on social media and how it is all a load of rubbish.

Incorporate Their Interests in Activities.

Make sure there is a balance in the focus of activities in class. For boys that are struggling with self-esteem, it is good for them to have a space to talk about their interests and for them to be able to discuss them without judgement. Bear in mind you may also find pupils with depression, anxiety and low self-esteem have a narrow focus of interests. Encourage them to attempt new activities in a safe space without being forced to participate.

Build Emotional Vocabulary.

Often boys with social-emotional and mental health (SEMH) difficulties also have difficulties with speech-language and communication. This can manifest in poor expressive language, poor understanding or inadequate understanding of social communication. Of course, this impacts on their ability to discuss emotions and have healthy conversations with peers about how they feel.

Being able to sense and understand the emotions of others is a big part of a pupil’s social development and social success. If children can read the emotional cues to get a sense of how other people are responding to his attempts to connect with them, he is more able to respond appropriately.

Refer to Speech and Language Therapy.

As I mentioned between 50-80% of young people with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, have undetected speech, language or communication needs which impact their ability to understand language and communicate with peers. It is also likely to impact on behaviour and how they access the curriculum. For more information on the link between behaviour and communication read Jess Carpenter‘s blog which sets out a very clear explanation of how this looks. Her follow up blog also has some fantastic strategies on how to support pupil’s struggling with behaviour. 

Look after your Mental Health

The first thing you need to do is make sure you are in a good place to support these young people with low self-esteem. Make sure you are looking after your own well being by checking in on your own anxiety levels and mental health. Make sure you have a good support network around you in school and at home for when you need it.  We have advice in some of our other blogs on great information on how you can check in with yourself and your team’s wellbeing. 

Know your Limits.

We all have the best intentions but don’t ignore the fact that supporting other people’s self-esteem can take a toll on your own mental health. Make sure there is a support system at work or within your friendship group that you can rely on. Know when to take a step back and when to ask for help.

Make yourself familiar with what constitutes criteria for referral to Child, Adolescent Mental Health Services. If you are worried about one of your pupils, escalate these concerns in accordance with your school policies. Do not try and deal with highly emotional situations on your own. There is a system of support available to you.

Ask for Training.

If supporting the self-esteem of pupils is forming a significant part of your teaching day or you feel as though you are not equipped to do what is being asked of you, you have a good case for asking your senior leadership team to send you on some training.

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Useful contacts

Childline: Free 24-hour helpline for children and young people in the UK.

The Mix: Online guide to life for 16-25-year-olds. Straight-talking emotional support is available 24 hours a day. Chat about any issue on our moderated discussion boards and live chat room.

Papyrus: Charity for the prevention of young suicide, offering confidential support and awareness training.

Samaritans: Emotional support for anyone feeling down, experiencing distress or struggling to cope.

Youth Access: Information on youth counselling.

Young Minds: A national charity committed to improving the mental health of all babies, children and young people. Provides information for both parents and young people.


Bryan K, Freer J, Furlong C. Language and communication difficulties in juvenile offenders. International Journal of language and communication difficulties, 2007; 42, 505-520.

Duke, S.A. Ben W.R. Balzer, B. Steinbeck, K. (2014) Testosterone and Its Effects on Human Male Adolescent Mood and Behavior: A Systematic Review

Snow P, Powell M. Developmental language disorders and adolescent risk. Current Issues in Criminal Justice 2004; 16:2.

If you have links to training programmes or would like to share resources with other teachers please feel free to leave a comment for our other readers. Alternatively, email me at

If you just want to know more about Mable, give me a call on 0800 024 8646 or email

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