Kelsey's mom called me, frantic.

Her 15-year-old daughter had been caught living a double life. The details were heartbreaking and involved a troubled boy, sexual sin and lots of secrets.

It was the kind of discovery that parents hope they never make.

As I worked with Kelsey's mom to peel back the layers of that situation, one thing became crystal clear: Kelsey's choices were rooted in her need to feel loved and accepted.

Kelsey didn't want to sin sexually, at least not at first, but she did want the feeling that someone was head-over-heels, madly in love with her. She didn't want to lie to her parents, but she was willing to do so to be with a boy who made her feel like the center of his world.

We all want to raise confident kids, and with good reason. A child who understands that he or she is deeply loved and highly valued will, in some ways, be prepared for temptations to compromise.

Despite her parent's efforts to shore up her self-worth, Kelsey still ended up looking for love in all the wrong places. Somehow she had missed the message that she mattered.

So how can we help our kids develop a healthy, biblically based sense of self-worth? First we should look at the wrong approach to building self-esteem.

Jesus' Answer to Swagger

We are a culture obsessed with elevating the self-esteem of our children. But would Jesus hand out participation ribbons? Would He want us to make parenting decisions based primarily on what builds our child's confidence in themselves? Check out the story from Luke 18 about a man with very high self-esteem:

"Two men went up to the temple complex to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee took his stand and was praying like this: ‘God, I thank You that I'm not like other people-greedy, unrighteous, adulterers . . . I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get" (Luke 18:9-12).

This Pharisee had swagger. He was confident in his righteousness. If the contest was religion, he nominated himself for MVP. No low self esteem here. But Jesus was not impressed.

Jesus said, "everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 18:14).

Jesus clearly rejects the idea that we should base our sense of worth on our own abilities. Jesus' ideas about self-worth don't exactly mesh with our culture's conventional wisdom.

Jesus' Formula for Developing Self-Worth

Jesus' teachings weren't wrapped in warm fuzzies. The idea of building yourself were never mentioned in any of His sermons. Instead, He focused on the opposite.

In Matthew 16:24, He said, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me."

Jesus doesn't advocate the pumping up of our self-esteem. Radically, He pushes for death to self instead. If Jesus were to give a one-two punch to the idea of self-esteem, here is His second swing:

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these" (Mark 12:30-31).

The most important lesson for your kids to learn is to love God with everything they have. That kind of vertical focus has a way of taking our eyes off of ourselves.

Jesus says that we should love ourselves. However, that love should extend to the way we treat others. In fact, He insists that loving others is the second most important extension of our faith.

Die to self. Focus on God. Love others. This is Jesus' formula for how we develop our self-worth. It's a topsy-turvy truth, but the best way to help our kids feel good about themselves is to urge them to think of God and others more often.

Final Thoughts

Kelsey is not unique in her wanting to be loved. We all want to be loved. We all feel the desperate craving for significance. What Kelsey missed was that God is the only One who can permanently fill that hole in her heart.

Tell your kids that you love them often. Encourage them. Point out their strengths. But ultimately, you should remind them of their value to Jesus.

Our worth is determined by whatever price someone is willing to pay. Whenever we feel worthless, used up or less-than, we all need the reminder that God paid the highest price for each of us:

"For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

Article courtesy of Parenting Teens magazine.

Erin Davis is a popular speaker, author and blogger passionately committed to sharing God's Truth with others. She is the author of several books including Connected, Beyond Bath Time and the My Name Is Erin series.