Confidence in teenagers: what is it?

Confidence is the belief that you’ll be successful or make the right choice in a particular situation.

Your confidence is related to your self-esteem, which is feeling good about yourself and feeling that you’re a worthwhile person. But having high self-esteem doesn’t mean you always feel confident.

Confidence and resilience are related too. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from difficult experiences and cope in hard or stressful situations. If your child has resilience and learns that she can cope when life is difficult, it will leave her feeling more confident to tackle difficult situations. It’s a positive cycle.

Why building confidence is important for teenagers

Confidence helps teenagers make safe, informed decisions. Confident teenagers can avoid people and situations that aren’t necessarily right for them, and find those that are.

If your child is confident, he’s also more likely to be assertive, positive, engaged, enthusiastic and persistent.

For example, a confident teenage girl whose boyfriend breaks up with her might be upset for a little while. But then she might realise that she can bounce back from the sadness she’s feeling now and focus more on the positive aspects of her life, like other friends and family. On the other hand, a girl who feels less confident in her relationship skills might be more upset, or even feel that the break-up was her fault. This could also affect her self-esteem, and leave her feeling that she isn’t worth dating.

Teenagers with low confidence are less likely to join in activities, more likely to hold back in class, and might be more willing to give in to peer influence. When a child lacks confidence, he might expect to fail at things he tries, or he might not try as hard when things get tricky.

How to build confidence and resilience in your child

Here are some tips for building confidence and resilience in your child.

Be practical
Look for the practical and positive things your child can do to build skills and increase her chances of success. Giving your child a clear strategy to improve her likelihood of success is a great way to help her understand exactly what she can do to achieve goals. For example, ‘Ada, if you want to be picked for the basketball team, you need to make sure you’re listening to the coach and practising between sessions’.

Give your child opportunities to try new things
When your child tries lots of different things, he’ll get to know what he’s good at and what he enjoys. He’ll also learn that most people do well at some things and not so well at others – and that’s fine. After all, we can’t all be Olympic athletes, gaming champions or musical geniuses.

Encourage your child to keep trying
If your child fails at something, help her understand that everyone makes mistakes. It’s OK if you can’t do something the first time you try. You could share some examples of times that you’ve failed, or have needed to keep trying at something.

Model confidence in your own ability
You can be a role model when it comes to confidence. For example, you could talk to your child about what you’re going to do to try to succeed at a task. If it doesn’t work out, you can model resilience by talking about what you’re going to try next time. You can also discuss things you’ve done that might have been scary or tough for you to do, showing your child that you’ve also been through times when you’ve needed confidence.

Encourage your child to act confident
Acting confident is the first step to feeling confident. So you could suggest to your child that he makes eye contact with others, is bold, does what he loves, tries not to focus on what he can’t do, and walks away from situations he knows aren’t good.

Practise social skills
If your child feels anxious in social situations, she might need some guidance from you. For example, body posture, smiling, connecting with others, showing interest in others’ activities and joining in conversations can help build confidence.

Praise your child’s efforts
If an exam, interview or game doesn’t work out the way your child hoped, try to praise your child for the effort he put into the activity, rather than the outcome. You could also suggest some ideas about what he could do differently next time.

Your teenager still needs a strong relationship with you to feel confident as she meets the challenges of adolescence. You can build this strong relationship by working on open communication and staying connected.

Risks to teenage confidence

Your child’s confidence might be at risk if you, he or other people he respects focus on his outcomes rather than his efforts. If the outcome is a ‘failure’ – for example, a poor exam result, a grand final loss – it can seem like the end of the world. But if your child knows that his effort is what you value most, this can lessen the blow of a ‘failure’.

During adolescence, physical changes can also affect teenagers’ confidence. If teenagers feel self-conscious about their bodies, it can affect their confidence overall and how they feel about themselves.

Bullying, or peer pressure to be the same as others, can also affect teenagers’ confidence.

Getting help for teenage confidence

If your child’s confidence changes suddenly, or if low confidence is stopping her from trying new things, a good first step is to talk with your child. This will help you find out what’s happening for her.

If it isn’t something you can help your child with yourself, it might be a good idea to get help from a teacher, school counsellor or psychologist.