Teen Confidence, Self-esteem, and Resilience

“In order to have confidence and compassion for ourselves and others, we must develop the resilience and courage to deal effectively with the ordinary difficulties of life.” (Pyschology Today, Dr. Polly Young-Eisendrath, September 16, 2011).

Confidence is the belief that you are competent in your abilities in a particular situation or a specific task. Confidence is an acknowledgement of one’s strengths. Less confident peers may judge a confident teenager as conceited. Teens benefit from parental encouragement that asserting confidence is not the same as arrogance. Confidence demonstrates leadership and serves as an invitation for peers to acknowledge their own talents. Your teen can remain confident whether or not friends choose to acknowledge their strengths. That is their choice as much as it is your daughter’s choice to refrain from accepting a judgment that she is “stuck up.”

Self-esteem is feeling worthwhile and loved regardless of the circumstances. While a teen may have high self-esteem that doesn’t always equate to self-confidence in specific situations. Often, people confuse a lack of self-confidence as poor self-esteem. For some teens, this lie is easy to buy into believing, from which confusion results. Educating your teen on the difference between self-confidence versus self-esteem is beneficial. Acceptance that one can feel worthwhile even when feeling uncomfortable with self-doubt in a particular situation is a boost to self-confidence in itself.

Resilience represents the ability to stand up after being knocked down; it is the ability to bounce back after a setback and cope with the difficult challenges. If your teen has resilience, she naturally gains self-confidence because she has learned that she can handle difficult situations. However, resilience does not naturally lead to self-esteem or self-worth. On the contrary, there are many teens who survive through difficulties from sheer will. Many of these teens desire greater confidence and more importantly, self-worth. The sense of knowing that not only are they okay in the storms of life, but they are loved in spite of the storms. Most notably, the storms they created to grab parental attention to their need to feel loved and worthwhile.

According to Dr. Carl E. Pickhardt (Psychology Today, February, 2013):

The two most common self-confidence drops I see during adolescence are at the beginning, in Early Adolescence (9-13) when separating from childhood, and at the end, in Trial Independence (18-23) when leaving home to operate more on one’s own terms. 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.”

These transitions into high school and college are vulnerable because young people feel less experienced moving into unchartered territory. Therefore, a confident middle-schooler may not be a confident high-schooler, and similarly, a confident high-schooler does not always transfer to a self-confident college student.

The price of self-confidence deficit—diffidence—is HUGE! When teens lack overall self-confidence, they are more prone to gain a sense of belonging from their peers, and thus, they are easily influenced by their peers. Of course, this isn’t necessarily a problem unless their peers engage in less than desirable behaviors, such as substance abuse or “cutting school.” A lack of confidence also restricts growth opportunities, temporarily, because teens with low self-confidence tend to withdraw from engaging in new experiences in fear of being judged, ridiculed, or “failing.” Thus, the acquisition of new skills or knowledge is limited and self-development isn’t as expansive as it could be.

Low confidence weakens a person’s motivation to strive toward her goals. Teens may lose vision of their goals and simply feel like giving up. Without the sense of socially fitting into their new environments and withdrawing from engagement in unfamiliar experiences, self-doubt may ensue. Poor confidence thus spirals into lowered self-esteem and teens now question their personal worth.

For all the aforementioned reasons, the development of self-confidence, especially in times of transition, is a big deal to succeeding at school and in life!

Parents can foster confidence in their teens with the messages they send to them. For example, critical messages, such as “you didn’t try hard enough” or “You won’t make the team because there are a lot of outstanding athletes in competition with you” are often internalized and the teen learns to become highly critical of herself, which not only impedes self-confidence, it significantly erodes self-esteem over time. If, instead, a teen’s parents give them affirmative messages, it changes their ability to deal with the obstacles and motivates them to do their best. They may remind themselves of these affirmative messages from their parents as a tonic to deal with lingering self-doubts and to combat any misgivings they may have as they deal with challenges in their endeavors.

Belief in one’s capacities is by far the one core essential element, which underlies success in almost any venture one wishes to explore. Thus, paying close attention to how you communicate with your teens, and how your teen perceives those messages, is a major influence in either building your teen up or tearing him down on the confidence and self-esteem scales.

Another factor to consider with respect to self-confidence is validation from external sources. This is tricky because we can’t predict the outcome despite our efforts; it isn’t always a linear process. For instance, if your teen puts forth X amount of effort, a predictable result is not always guaranteed because their completed work is reviewed by others with their own biases or subjective points of view. Teens with lower self-confidence are vulnerable to personalizing others’ evaluations as significant measures of their self-worth, which now becomes a self-esteem issue. Acknowledgment that others’ biases seldom have anything to do with a person’s capacities and that one can also learn from another person’s perspective, without judgment of oneself, is a perspective that maintains one’s self-esteem in spite of the outcome. So, while a teen may not feel confident in a particular micro-environment, if self-esteem is intact, they will have resilience to conquer any challenge.

Self-confidence is the ignition key; it’s a belief in one’s capacities. It stems from taking risks and exploring. Self-esteem is a knowing that your value and contribution to this world are irrespective of others’ opinions of you. One way to learn how to ignore others’ criticism of your performance in any endeavor is to learn how to give your best in anything you take on.  Resilience takes into account self-confidence and self-esteem, AND flexibility.

Yes, flexibility!

Resilience is expressed when your teen didn’t make the cut for the athletic team, or Honor Roll, or acceptance into the college of choice. Your teen may feel disappointed at first. Here there are several choices: she may give up trying altogether and judge herself as incompetent; she may choose to put forth more effort and aim at the goal the next time; or she may continue to believe in her capacities and abilities, keep her vision, and consider other means of achieving her goal.

Another possibility is for your teen to process her defeat at not having achieved the result she desired and to go after something else she desires more to achieve. By not focusing too long on the missed goal, other than looking for the learned lesson based upon others’ assessment of her strengths, she can focus on the other goals she wishes to achieve. By not giving up, learning the gift of the process, and having flexibility to “dust your boots off” and ride again towards another goal are components of resilience. Resilience requires confidence in acknowledging one’s capacities regardless of the outcome and making a different choice to achieve your goals.  The choices are endless and parents can help their teens expand by discussing different possibilities while acknowledging their teen’s capacities and abilities. It is important for the teen AND parent to not stay stuck or fixated on the one goal that wasn’t achieved.

I think my daughter summed it well in her Valedictorian speech at her high school graduation:

“Don’t let anyone set your limitations.” This includes parents, teachers, peers, colleagues, and employers, and even, yourself.”