It’s hard being a teenager. On top of dealing with the major physical and emotional changes that come with puberty, they must also grapple with being accepted in friendship groups and fulfill the roles expected of them in school and at home. Successes or setbacks in these areas can affect how they view themselves, which in turn can impact their self-confidence.
Confidence is defined as the belief that one will be successful in a particular situation or at a specific task. For teenagers, having a healthy dose of confidence is important because:
- They display more emotional resilience — even if they don’t have all the skills and knowledge required to overcome a particular problem, they are assured of their abilities and resourcefulness to acquire what they need.
- Confidence helps teenagers make safe, informed decisions. They can avoid people and situations that aren’t necessarily right for them, and find those that are.
- Lastly, teens who are confident are also more likely to be assertive, positive, engaged, enthusiastic, and persistent.
On the other hand, teenagers plagued by self-doubt will feel that they are incapable of accomplishing tasks. They may be afraid to recite in class or try new activities. But don’t panic if your child occasionally displays self-doubt. “Having a certain level of self-doubt is not necessarily a bad thing,” assures Joyce Pring-Triviño, actress, philanthropist, and host of the Adulting with Joyce Pring podcast (https://open.spotify.com/show/0GVJ57XsbtgwRW7TJxNI0c). “A person has healthy self-doubt when even though he or she feels that they are not good at something, they are challenged to do better instead of outrightly giving up.”
That said, parents should be on the lookout for signs of unhealthy and persistent self-doubt, because if left unidentified or unresolved, it can lead to problems such as:
- Negative moods like feeling sad, anxious, ashamed, or angry
- Relationship troubles
- Low motivation
- Poor body image
- Earlier sexual activity
- Drinking alcohol or taking drugs to feel better
There are a number of things that you can do to help teenagers develop their self-confidence:
- Don’t let them be defined by their failures or successes. Teenagers often see the world in black and white. If they get a low grade in a subject, they feel that they are not smart students. If they don’t win at sports events, they think that they are poor athletes. If a romantic relationship fails, they bemoan that they will never find love again. “But life should not be measured by one’s successes or failures,” Joyce advises. Assure your teen that he or she is not just a student, an athlete, or a boyfriend or girlfriend; they are also so many other things, including being sons, daughters, cousins, someone’s friend, a budding artist, etc.
- Prioritize self-improvement. “‘Life is an infinite game,’” Joyce says, quoting from the book “The Infinite Game” by motivational author Simon Sinek. “There is always the opportunity to become better. If you did not do well today, you can always do better tomorrow.”
- Praise effort instead of outcome. While your teen cannot control the outcome of an exam, he or she can control how much effort they put into studying for it. If they get a low grade as a result, don’t berate them; instead, refer to the tip above and tell them to pay attention to the mistakes made so that they can do better next time. And if they get a good grade, praise them for all the studying they did instead of getting the high marks (i.e. “Your efforts really paid off!”). By doing this, they will feel that they can always develop their abilities to become better or persist when the going gets tough.
- Teach your teen to speak up for himself or herself (in an appropriate manner). Assure them that it’s okay to ask for help when they don’t understand school work, rather than stay quiet, preserve their pride, but end up falling behind. Encourage them to speak up if they feel they are not being treated right by others — this will make them less likely to be treated poorly by peers. When they grow up, they will have the confidence to ask for what they need in a more direct manner, and protect themselves from untoward situations.
- Encourage your teen just try. This is especially true when your child needs to step out of his or her comfort zone, like performing onstage or participating in a sporting event. “The only thing that keeps us from being confident is taking that first step to try,” Joyce says. Don’t focus on whether or not the attempt ends in success, because as we mentioned in tip #1, one should not be defined by what he or she did or did not achieve. But the very act of trying new activities is already a win because your teen will end up discovering hidden talents, challenge himself or herself, or master a new skill — all of which can help grow his or her confidence.
- Promote body positivity. Basing self-worth on superficial things, external circumstances, or other people leads to a lack of confidence in the long run. For example, if your teenage daughter only feels good when she fits into a certain size of clothes, this can have an effect on her body image and self-esteem. If your son feels anxious because his latest social media post is not getting many “likes,” he is basing his worth on other people’s opinions. Help your teen build a healthy and stable foundation for self-worth. Emphasize your values and teach that true self-worth is about living according to those values. For example, help them see that it’s more important to be kind and caring rather than thin or attractive.
- Avoid being a helicopter parent. When you micromanage your teen’s life, you will only reinforce that he or she can’t be trusted to make good choices on their own. Guide them when they make decisions, but also allow them to make their own mistakes and learn from them. Over time, they’ll develop increased confidence in their ability to make healthy choices.
- Avoid comparison. “One of the reasons self-doubt is so prevalent is because we tend to look at other people and how good their life is, instead of looking at ourselves and how good our life is,” Joyce points out. “Start life with an attitude of gratitude instead of from a place of comparison and entitlement. The more we expect our lives to be as perfect as others’, the more unhappy and disappointed we will be.”
When you nurture your child through supportive words and actions, you nurture his or her self-esteem and give them the confidence needed to face any challenges that come their way. “The key to developing your teen’s self-confidence is to make sure that he or she is grounded in the more important things of life,” Joyce says. “One is the unconditional love of the people around them. Another is the acceptance that life is not perfect. As long as they are able to give their best at everything, then they are doing the right thing.”
–Written by Jaclyn Lutangco-Chua of MindNation