In this difficult time of uncertainty, it can be hard to know how best to support your teenager while they try to figure out their future career path. The landscape is very different for them than it was for you. Here are a few tips to help you feel more confident, supporting your teenager.
Our young adults are tech-savvy, greatly ambitious, in love with change, multi-taskers and globally connected – mainly due to being immersed in the digital world from a young age. The flip side is they are also subject to increased peer pressure, social comparison, and competition, causing self-doubt and lack of confidence.
Our youth have been consistently taught that as long as there is a will, the right mind-set and resources, everything is possible. At the same time, they are also experiencing a point in their life where they are able to do things they've never been able to do before, but lack the experience and competence to feel confident about doing those things well.
Faced with the current global crisis, the dangerous restriction to social and emotional systems and opportunities, and loss of rite of passage into adulthood celebrated in graduations and proms, our youth are stepping up and need us to do the same.
What can we as parents do to help our teenagers and young adults build confidence in a world that is shifting under their feet, now more than ever?
1. Understand the Confidence Curve
Early and late teens are often when we see the biggest dip in confidence. Not surprising, as this is the stage when they are:
a) Aged (9-13) Leaving early childhood
b) Aged (18-23) Leaving home and operating fully on their own
“In both cases, the young person must get used to functioning on a significantly expanded playing field of life experience than she or he encountered before,’ according to renowned psychologist and author Carl E. Pickhardt.
Understanding the curve is the first step to understanding what our youth are experiencing and how to support them.
The most effective way to understand the impact of that curve on your teenager is to listen to them. And listen with intent, actively. You may be surprised how much our youth share through their words and actions; as adults, we often miss the cues, and therefore the opportunities to support their journey, simply by not listening and always wanting to share our thoughts and opinions.
2. Know what they love doing and support their aspirations
Self-confidence - ‘a feeling of trust in one's abilities, qualities, and judgement’
- Oxford dictionary
Self-confidence means recognition of your abilities, self-interest, and awareness of your feelings, and is one of the most important factors in mental health.
Getting to know what your young adult loves doing and what they hate doing, how they enjoy spending their time and what makes them happy is one of the most important ways you can join them on their confidence journey.
3. Celebrate their successes
Self-confidence is largely based on our past experiences, and is gradually reinforced by our successes, whether social, emotional, intellectual, physical. Each attempt, each effort, each step forward is a massive win for your youth so celebrate it!
4. Be a family that doesn’t give up
Be the parents that are happy to try something new, and encourage your young adults to do the same. Sometimes it is fear of failure that holds us back from discovering something we love, and it takes courage to try.
The 3 rules of self-confidence:
Believe in yourself: “I can do it.”
Motivate yourself: “I want to make the effort.”
Commit yourself: “I will give it my best try.”
Then show them that if that experience is not what they want, or like, it’s okay to move on and try the next thing, by having the same mind-set yourself. They learn from what they see you doing. If it isn’t easy for you to demonstrate, encourage it in them and tell them you wish you could do it more yourself.
5. Make room for failure and model a Growth Mind-set
"I didn't fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps."
Thomas A. Edison
According to psychologist and author Carole Dweck, when a person has a fixed mind-set, they believe that their basic abilities, intelligence, and talents are fixed traits. In a growth mind-set, however, individuals believe their abilities and intelligence can be developed with effort, learning, and persistence.
When we react badly to their failure, whether it’s about grades, making the sports team, being picked for the performance, getting that university place or job interview, a relationship break-down, we are emphasising a fixed mind-set.
Take a deep breath, and open up the conversation with your teenager. Give them space to reflect, and learn the resilience that they will need to manage and shape their future.
6. Value the willingness to practice
Self-confidence is not arrogance, or the amazing feeling that may temporarily be induced by a compliment; it’s a belief that you are competent to cope with the basic challenges of life. Practice is an essential work habit. As repetition builds competence, confidence grows. Reward and celebrate persistence and effort, whatever the results.
7. Help Them be Safe, Seen, Heard, and Appreciated
Pickhardt’s survey showed, ‘The pursuit of self-discovery and facing constant unfamiliar territory at the height of teenage years causes a dip in confidence levels as young people become more worried about how they come across and express themselves in front of others (64%)’.
Providing a safe place to talk, bounce ideas and brainstorm is essential. This is when we need to step back and listen, and only offer advice when asked for it. Working out their own problems is part of their journey, learning to guide and let go is part of ours.
8. Focus on self-compassion
Studies indicate that college students in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States are becoming more perfectionistic over time, and unfortunately measuring themselves against unrealistic standards and expectations.
Helping our youth to cultivate self-compassion, treating themselves with the same kindness that they treat their friends, is such a great way to build emotional resilience in a world of 24/7 social comparison.
What is healthy is for them to develop a mind-set where their self-talk is positive and more open to learning. You want them to say things like, ‘It’s okay, I did my best.’ ‘Everybody makes mistakes, I’m not alone.’ And identify what they need and don’t need in their life, ‘That person was really toxic. I did the right thing to leave.’ ‘That friend makes me feel good, I want to spend more time with them.’
9. Model Goal Setting
Goal setting closes the loop on all of the above, helping us to be accountable, celebrate the small steps on the way, overcome challenges, and seek help when needed.
In uncertain times, goals are the glue that keep us focused and avoid panic and de-motivation. Talking about your own goals openly, and agreeing family goals, demonstrates to your son or daughter how to explore and create their own goals.
Remember, it needs to be their goals, not our goals, harnessing their strengths, their motivations, and their aspirations.