“I wish that I could be like the cool kids, ‘Cause all the cool kids, they seem to fit in.”
Cool Kids, Talking Dreams, Echosmith, 2013
The teen years can be very tricky and even the most popular boy at school will experience self-doubt, at times. He may be simply better at concealing this from his peers.
Adolescence is an absolutely critical period during which a teenager confirms the way he or she feels about himself/herself, be this positive or negative. He/she will otherwise achieve a new recognition of self based on his/her experiences and opportunities. It is most definitely a time that pushes our teens beyond their comfort zone in practically all areas, enabling them to develop their public persona.
Whereas our teens will demand more privacy and greater freedom as they grow older, it is a time when they need us as their parents most of all. It is indeed imperative that, with discretion, we follow them carefully during this confusing process. We must stop anything or anyone from undermining our teenagers’ self-image and confidence. This is the time in their lives that determines the kind of persons they will become as adults.
Yet, how can we achieve this without harming their quest for independence? That is the essential question any parent of teenagers should ask.
In a previous contribution, I wrote about the importance of setting boundaries and learning to respect them. Such limits have negative connotations for teenagers. Yet, civil society functions within a set of norms, and we all learn how to conform, adapting our words and actions to each situation. Failure to do so could lead to negative and undesirable sanctions. Boundaries are conducive to reciprocal respect, a value that is the first step towards a healthy level of self-esteem.
Destructive criticism is a major stumbling block to the development of confidence. Although it may be difficult at times, it is imperative that we choose words that will encourage our son or daughter to persevere, empowering him/her to try harder the next time round. Mistakes are but learning experiences and to quote Alfred Pennyworth:
“Why do we fall, sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.”
(to Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins)
Whereas we are duty bound as parents to offer constructive feedback, we are equally bound to offer praise and encouragement all the more often. Giving words of praise should not be reserved for success at the finish line, but throughout the race and at every hurdle.
We may have more than one child and yet they are all unique, possessing different abilities. Identifying these talents, offering encouragement and the support necessary to enable our children to succeed, boosts their self-esteem. Equally important is to listen to our sons’ and daughters’ opinions. During their teens they become very opinionated, and certainly don’t require much urging to share their ideas. However, accepting some of their suggestions and recognising their valuable contribution to family life instils in them a sense of self-worth. Eventually, they will be able to proffer their opinions and stand their ground even with their peers.
For teenagers, the influence of their friends is certainly much stronger than that of their parents, and any negative comment about them can lead to an outrage. The solution in this case is to be open and willing to meet our children’s friends and get to know them better. It is good to have an open house policy where our teens are allowed to have friends over. This provides us with a more complete picture and a greater understanding of the group dynamics within our children’s circles. Having friends over in their own environment also gives teens increased confidence, just like playing a home game does in football.
In the end, it all boils down to the importance of having a healthy, open relationship with our teens. It is us as parents who have to adapt to their needs and not expect the opposite. We must keep all channels of communication open, and make time for our teens by listening attentively to what they are trying to tell us.
They are living in a reality where they have to reconcile their need to please and be accepted by both parents and friends alike. This is a conflicting and complicated task. Whilst remaining vigilant, let us keep our minds and hearts open, understanding their need to belong. This balance will enrich our teens with the self-esteem they need to thrive and become the successful and confident adults of tomorrow.