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Unmasking and Self-Esteem

Updated: May 8, 2023

By: Kristine Habibi, MS, LPC-A. Supervised by Thomas O. Whitehead, MA, LPC-S.

While the COVID-19 Pandemic may seem like ancient history for many of us, the world has adapted in many ways and is still healing.

Before the pandemic, teenagers already had to worry about things such as acne, awkward haircuts, what clothes and shoes to wear, body shape and weight, fitting in, and so on. Teenagers are heavily influenced by their peers, but can we really blame them? The saying “the teenage years are the most difficult” is true for many. In adolescence, not only is the prefrontal cortex underdeveloped, but progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone heavily fluctuate, affecting their mood and emotions.

As a clinician who specializes in working with children and adolescents in the private

practice and school environments, I have noticed that the self-image of many youths has been affected by this pandemic. A notable percentage of my teenage clients have remarked feeling insecure in situations that force them to remove their masks. They feel insecure without their mask, which served in many ways as a security blanket for years. In addition, these teenagers feel insecure when their peers point out that most people have already removed their masks, and this person is now deemed the odd one out. With that being said, below are tips for self-image and building resiliency.

Tips for Pre-teenagers and Teenagers:

  1. Understand what specifically triggers feelings of anxiety associated with unmasking and explore possible solutions.

  2. Take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. It may seem as though no one around you understands your situation, but many people share the same or similar insecurity.

  3. Begin with taking off your mask at school lunch, around a small group of trusted friends or family, and so on, to build confidence. Then move on to unmasking for longer periods of time and around larger groups of people.

  4. Practice positive self-talk via positive affirmations and avoid negative self-talk, as negative thoughts can become accepted as your reality.


Tips for Parents of Pre-teenagers and Teenagers:

  1. Intentionally listen to the worries and concerns of your children and validate what they are feeling. Remember that what may seem unimportant to you may be very impactful for your child.

  2. Do not rush your child or force them to go cold turkey. Small steps toward unmasking will be more effective if your child is very stressed about unmasking.

  3. Avoid negative self-talk and negative talk about your child.

  4. Enable your child to develop internal validation and not rely on external validation from yourself or others.

On a more positive note, teenagers are resilient. Unfortunate parts of life, such as teasing, often build character and shape them into a strong person when coupled with a strong support system and healthy self-image.


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