Young adolescents (13 – 15 years of age) often feel inadequate. They have new bodies and developing minds, and their relationships with peers and parents are in flux. They understand for the first time that they aren't good at everything. The changes in their lives may take place more rapidly than their ability to adjust to them.
Poor self-esteem often peaks in the early teenage years, and then improves during middle and late adolescence. At any age, however, a lack of confidence can be a serious problem, for example:
- Young adolescents with poor self-esteem can be lonely, awkward with others, and sensitive to criticism and with what they see as their shortcomings.
- Young adolescents with low confidence are less likely to join in activities and form friendships. This isolates them further and slows their ability to develop a better self-image.
- When they do make friends, they are more vulnerable to negative peer pressure.
- Some younger teenagers who lack confidence hold back in class.
- Others act out to gain attention.
- A lack of confidence is often linked with self-destructive behavior and habits (e.g., smoking or drug or alcohol use).
Females often experience deeper self-doubts than do males (although there are many exceptions). This can be for many reasons:
- Females mature physically about two years earlier than do males, and this requires them to deal with issues of how they look, popularity and sexuality before they are emotionally mature enough to do so.
- Females may receive confusing messages about the importance of achievement. Although females are told that achievement is important, some also fear that they won't be liked, especially by males, if they come across as too smart or too capable, especially in the areas of math, science and technology.
- Society sends females the message that it is important for them to get along with others and to be very, very thin and pretty. Life can be just as hard, however, for a male who thinks he has to meet society's expectations that males have to be good at sports and other physical activities.
Most psychologists now believe that self-esteem and self-confidence represent a range of feelings that a youngster has about himself in many different situations. Teenagers may think about a number of situations: competing on the track team, studying math, dating, taking care of younger brothers or sisters and so on. A teenager is likely to feel more confident doing some of these things than others. She may feel very good about her athletic ability and skill at math, but feel bad about her dating life. She may also have mixed feelings about how good a sister she is to her baby brother. How good this adolescent feels about herself ties to how important these areas are to her. If having a very active dating life is the most important area of her life, this young lade will feel bad about herself. If being a scholar-athlete is most important area, then she will feel very good about herself.
Tips on how to help your young teen develop confidence:
1. Create a calm environment in your home through your own behavior. If you are anxious, you need to explain to your youngster what you are feeling and why. Kids take emotional cues from those they love.
2. As grown-ups, most of us have confidence. This confidence comes about through years of experiencing success, but also through years of exploring strengths and weakness and choosing to stress different parts of our lives. Most of us would be unhappy if we had to do only those things that we are not good at. As grown-ups, we tend to find our areas of strength and - to the extent we can – pursue these areas more than others. For a young teen, however, it is difficult to downplay the areas in which they are less confident. For instance, it’s very hard for a teenage girl with academic skills to focus on school rather than on dating, when all of her friends are dating and telling her how important dating is. For a mother or father, this can be frustrating and a cause for concern, because you know that – whether or not that cute boy asked out your daughter – it will have little consequence on her life for the long run, but you also know that she can’t yet see this!
3. Help young adolescents feel safe and trust in themselves. The ability of teenagers to trust in themselves comes from receiving unconditional love that helps them to feel safe and to develop the ability to solve their own problems. Your youngster, like all others, will encounter situations that require her to lean on you. But always relying on you to bail her out of tough situations can stunt her emotional growth. Thus, parents must teach their youngsters how to cope with the things they encounter, instead of easing the path.
4. Help your youngster to separate fact from fiction. Discuss facts with your youngster and avoid guessing, exaggerating or overreacting.
5. Listen to what your youngster has to say. Assure him that grown-ups are working to make homes and schools safe.
6. Monitor your youngster's television, radio and Internet activity. Help her to avoid overexposure to violent images, which can heighten her anxiety.
7. Praise is meaningful to teenagers when it comes from those they love and count on most (i.e., parents). Praising your youngster will help her to gain confidence. However, the compliments that you give her must be genuine. She will recognize when they are not.
8. The best way to instill confidence in teens is to give them successful experiences. Set them up to succeed—give them experiences where they can see how powerful they are. Children can engineer those experiences. Part of being confident is having the ability to “figure out” what to do when you don't “know” what to do. Help your youngster to build confidence in his abilities by encouraging him to take an art class, act in a play, join a soccer or baseball team, participate in science fairs or computer clubs or play a musical instrument—whatever he likes to do that brings out the best in him. However, don't “push” a particular activity on your youngster. Most teenagers resist efforts to get them to do things that they don't enjoy. Pushing them to participate in activities they haven't chosen for themselves can lead to frustration. Try to balance your youngster's experiences between activities that he is already good at doing with new activities or with activities that he is not so good at doing.
9. Talk about anxieties that are related to school violence and to global terrorism. Many kids have seen terrifying images of death and destruction on television and on the Internet. You can help your youngster to understand that although the country has suffered awful acts of terror, we are strong people who can come together and support each other through difficult times. Use historical examples (e.g., Pearl Harbor, the Challenger space shuttle explosion, etc.) to explain to your youngster that bad things happen to innocent people, but that people go on with their lives and resolve even terrible situations.
10. You can also help your youngster to build confidence by assigning him family responsibilities at which he can succeed (e.g., unloading the dishwasher, mowing the lawn, etc.).
My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents