Build Your Teen's Back-to-School Confidence
Do you remember what it was like to be a teenager? Did you worry about whom you would sit with at lunch? Would you be invited to parties and friends’ houses? Would you ever go on a date? These thoughts are magnified with social media, where teens constantly compare themselves to others. The social stressors that teens could escape when they left school for the day are now 24/7. Your teen may feel judged, left out, or "just not good enough" all day long. What your teen is seeing and experiencing can eat away at their confidence if not balanced with positive social interactions.
Why Is Confidence Important?
Feeling accepted socially and having a sense of belonging are motivating factors for a teen’s decisions and behaviors. Without a strong sense of self, teens may more easily give in to peer pressure. Conversely, a high level of confidence makes them feel worthy of friendships and of being respected in romantic relationships.
Your teen may not feel as motivated because they think they can’t achieve higher goals, or they may simply "give up" when it comes to school. With confidence in themselves, they can try new things. They can take healthy risks.
On a larger scale, confidence creates a happier life. It allows teens to better adapt to the disappointments that are so common, like a bad grade or not being included in an activity. Feelings like loneliness, uncertainty, frustration, and "not understood" are common in teens. Confidence will help them to balance those thoughts.
But, if you find your child having those thoughts a majority of the time, pulling away from family and friends, feeling worthless, or speaking about self-harm, contact a mental health professional right away or call 998 (a new, easy-to-remember phone number from the National Suicide and Crisis Hotline).
What Can a Parent Do?
A parent’s role in building confidence in their teens has never been more important. Because of the pandemic, isolation was common for teens, so they didn’t have the opportunities to build friendships or the positive reinforcement of others to strengthen their confidence. Teens also missed out on the support and words of encouragement they usually would have received from teachers. Parents can close the gap. So how can you support your child?
Mental Health America has created a Back to School Toolkit for parents and teens as the school year is again underway. When it comes to building confidence in your teen, they recommend three actions parents can take:
Be their cheerleader
Young people need a lot of validation and reassurance as they learn to feel secure in themselves. Name their successes, be excited for them (even if they roll their eyes in the moment), and keep letting them know that they matter to you.
What causes the young person you care about to shut down or turn inwards? Is there a pattern or common factor you can identify when they struggle with insecurity? Finding the root of their feelings can guide you to a clearer starting point on how best to support them.
Guide Them in Establishing Goals and Strategies to Achieve Them
Feeling accomplished goes a long way in building self-confidence. Help them figure out what matters to them – what do they want to achieve? Support them in making an action plan and sticking to it.
Help Them Make Connections
Another meaningful action you can take is connecting them with other teens through shared activities. Friendships build confidence. Some friendships play a stronger role than others — like friends with similar interests or who really "get them." Does your teen have someone they can laugh with? And do they have someone they can go to in the tough times? Look for opportunities with:
- School clubs
- Community activities
- Library programs
- Your local Department of Recreation
- Religious communities
Along with building friendships, all of these activities offer opportunities for the "small victories", like scoring a goal, making someone smile, or creating a piece of art. Be careful not to push. Instead, present multiple options, or leave a brochure or a printed-out web page nearby. Text them a link to a website of the groups mentioned above with a friendly, "This sounds like something you’d like." Give them control, which is one of the best ways they can develop confidence. Making choices will build confidence in your teen.
Commit to trying one or more of these tips today or over the next week. But, if you think your child is struggling, take the Youth Mental Health Test at MHAscreening.org and please get in touch with us. We can meet with your child at any of our mental health centers in Annapolis, Arlington, Baltimore, Bethesda, Columbia, Gaithersburg, Leesburg, or Towson. Your child doesn’t have to be alone, and neither do you.