Young teens often feel inadequate. They have new bodies and developing minds and their relationships with friends and family members 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 early adolescence, then improves during the middle and late teen years as identities gain strength and focus. At any age, however, a lack of confidence can be a serious problem. Young teens with poor self-esteem can be lonely, awkward with others and sensitive to criticism, with what they see as their shortcomings. Young teens with low confidence are less likely to join in activities and form friends. 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 young adolescents who lack confidence hold back in class. Others act out to gain attention. At its worst, a lack of confidence is often linked with self-destructive behaviour and habits – smoking or drug or alcohol use, for example. Girls often experience deeper self-doubts than boys (although there are many exceptions). This can be for many reasons:
- Society sends girls 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 boy who thinks he must meet society’s expectations that boys have to be good at sports and other physical activities.
- Girls mature physically about two years earlier than boys do, which requires girls to deal with issues of looks, popularity and sexuality before they are emotionally mature enough to do so.
- Girls may receive confusing messages about the importance of achievement. Although girls are told that achievement is important, some also fear that they won’t be liked, especially by boys, if they come across as too smart or too capable.
The ways that I found beneficial to develop confidence, include the following:
- Provided opportunities for my children to succeed: Helped my daughters to build confidence in their abilities by encouraging them to take an art class, dance class, participate in science fairs or computer classes or play a musical instrument – whatever they liked to do that broughtout the best in them. I didn’t push a particular activity on my kids and tried to balance my children’s experiences between activities that they were already good at doing, with new activities that they were not so good at doing.
- Helped my young teens feel safe and trust in themselves: The ability of adolescents 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. My children, like all children, encountered situations that required them to lean on me and others. But I also kept in mind that, always relying on me to bail them out of tough situations could stunt their emotional growth.
- Praise and encouragement: Praise is meaningful to adolescents when it comes from those they love and count on most – their parents and other important adults in their lives. Praising my children helped them gain confidence. However, the compliments that I gave them were always genuine and I suggest that every parent do the same because children can easily spot falseness.