Back in April, I wrote a blog post on different approaches to youth work and parenting teens, with the intention of creating a short series of similar posts highlighting some less-common methods and strategies.
The specific theme of the first of these newsletters was specifically on the importance of maintaining connection through [effective and creative] communication: when it comes to both youth-work and parenting teens. The second edition was focused on the importance of incorporating a young person's cultural and creative identity when it comes to educating, empowering and raising teens.
Today, however, I want to revisit this short series of blogs, and discuss with you, dear reader, about the importance of honoring, respecting and fostering a teenagers' confidence and sense of control.
Let's dive right in.
What is Confidence?
According to kidshealth.com: Confidence means "feeling sure of yourself and your abilities — not in an arrogant way, but in a realistic, secure way. Confidence isn't about feeling superior to others. It's a quiet inner knowledge that you're capable."
The issue, however, is that - of course - there is so much going on for teens and adolescents when it comes to hormonal, social, and emotional changes that it can feel near impossible to be confident about any significant event, thought or process. And with the additional uncertainty of the past three years across the globe? Expecting teenagers to develop confidence and resiliency seems almost... humorous.
Before we get any further into discussing that, however, let's look at the other side of this coin: control.
What is control? What does it mean to feel "in control"?
Control is thought to be "the power to influence or direct people's behavior or the course of events." American social psychologist Daniel Wegner argues that “feeling in control” is essentially an emotion, and that “emotion regulation” assigns authorship to the thoughts and feelings we have and the actions we perform.
Over the past 15+ years I've worked with youth both in the educational- and developmental- sectors, I have come to the following conclusions when it comes to youth -work, - development, and -education: especially as it pertains to the concepts of confidence and control:
Young people need to feel confident about their physical, emotional and social environments in order to effectively grow, learn and develop into happy, healthy adults.
One of the most effective ways to develop this sense of confidence in our young people is to delegate control of their learning- and developmental- journey.
These points are both imperative to understand and implement in the way we work with youth in order to make effective and lasting positive change with the kids that we work with.
Let me explain in a little more depth exactly what I mean...
EXAMPLE ONE: Confidence in Reclaiming the Learning Environment and Taking More Control of Their Development
No two young people are built or raised the same. Every teenager is different to the next, thus: the way we make sure that we not only both treat each teenager differently, but recognize that it's in the differences that makes each teenager unique and powerful.
Let's paint a picture:
You're working with a young person whose family and/or upbringing has been tumultuous, to say the least. They've been involved in gang activity [772,500 countrywide], or one or both of their parents has been incarcerated [approximately 2.6million or 1 in 33 kids every day across the US]. Perhaps a parent struggles with alcohol [10.5% of the country - or 7.5million under the age of 18] or has even died [3.5% of the country, or 2.5million]...
OR you're the parent of a teenager whose fallen into the "wrong" group of friends. Perhaps your home life is filled with family, and positive support, yet your teenager is still struggling with depression and anxiety. Maybe your teenager has been experiencing immense stress leading to disrupted sleep: which can lead to a whole host of mental health issues...
Whatever the adversity is: the scope of trauma, depression and anxiety for teens across the United States is huge. As such, to expect any two teenagers to learn, and develop at the same rate and ability as each other is doing a huge disservice to all teens.
One effective way we can flip the script for teenagers in the classroom is to instill a sense of confidence in teens by guiding them towards seeing the struggles of their teen years as strengths. For example: gangs entice young people by giving them community, yes, but also a sense of leadership [aka control]. By giving a young person respect and responsibility in the classroom setting: you may find that the teenager begins to feel more empowered, prideful, and inspired to take responsibility for his learning, growth and development in a positive way. Similarly, by ensuring that your teen feels empowered and respected as part of the household: they're far more likely to show up.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best: "Treat a [teenager] as [they are], and [they] will remain as [they are]. Treat a [teenager] as [they] could be, and [they] will become what [they] should be"
EXAMPLE TWO: Confidence with Relationships Results in Teenager's Taking the Lead on their Journey through Education and Development
Relationships refer to any interactions between one or more people. In this specific example, I'm focusing on peers, family members, or mentor and mentee.
I never have "rules" when I'm working with my students or teenage clients. I have "guidelines", but that's simply because it's a firm belief in indigenous teaching practices that when a healthy relationship is established between mentor and mentee: then growth, learning and development happen from a much healthier foundation than if there's a power imbalance from the beginning.
This is especially important for young people who have had traumatic experiences, [and remember: trauma looks different on all of us. 2020 was traumatic for the entire world!] simply because oftentimes those adverse experiences are as a result of someone taking advantage of their position of power. That could be a teacher, an older sibling, or even the media... either way: it's only natural for your teenager to then be questionable about whether they can trust anyone - especially their mentor, let alone learn from them.
As such: it's important to guide your teenager to feel confident in their relationship with you, or their coach/teacher by allowing them to take a more leading role in how they interact, learn from, and grow with their mentor.
One key way to implement this is to guide teenagers through "student-driven" curiosity and "student-driven learning". In the specific case of parenting teens: this could look like giving your teenager control of whatever film you're watching that weekend, then using the movie as a learning tool to open discussion on the themes prevalent on screen.
Let your teenager lead their journey through learning, and support it through safe conversation, and open dialogue.
EXAMPLE THREE: Building a Foundation of Trust
This specific point relates directly to point two: the importance of building a strong relationship with your teen in order to foster their learning, growth, development and happiness.
The fact is: no relationship is healthy [especially when parenting teens] if there's no trust.
But why is it important?
A teenager's job is to test boundaries, as they grow into their adult selves: forming their own independence, experimenting with positive and negative behavior, and learning how to process their thoughts, and emotions healthily. Your job, as the parent to a teen, is to set boundaries, yes, but - again - give them a sense of control by trusting that they will be responsible, and not break rules.
Trust is key to ensuring your young person feels a sense of ownership, self esteem, and pride around their development. The alternative is to suffocate them with rules, which more often than not leads to rebellious behaviors, resentful feelings, and shutting down communication with you as the parent.
It's the same in the classroom: setting boundaries is important, but once they're implemented, it's appropriate to trust that a teen will be responsible, and tow the line. Mistakes will happen, but as long as you have established a healthy, safe, and trusting relationship between teachers, students and peers: mistakes can be corrected.
Okay, so you want to support your teenager to feel more confident when it comes to their learning and developing into the rockstar young adult you know they are. You've established an open, honest and trusting relationship with them. You've done all you can to foster their sense of ownership about who and what they want to be... but you're still struggling to understand some of your child's behavior, and work through some of the unexpected challenges that you weren't anticipating.
What can you do to really help them figure out their identity in a safe, supported and respectful environment that fosters their emotional, academic and mental health?
This is when stepping outside of the box comes in to play.
Because sometimes you can be doing everything right when it comes to parenting teens, but teens in 2022 are just... different. Yes: trauma is trauma, but during the age of social media, information technology and cancel culture [among other buzz terms]: fostering the well-being of adolescents can feel tricky.
Which is why I established Youth Empowerment through Songwriting.
With a huge emphasis on
positive mental health
fostering [healthy] independence
managing stress and anxiety
safe ways to navigate the influence of social media and peer pressure
and [bonus] stimulating the brain in a way that can significantly increase focus and academic performance...
YES Youth Coaching is all about helping your teenager find their voice, step into their power and strengthen their relationships with you, the family and their broader community.
I've been in the youth work field for over 10 years, specifically with teenagers, and I have found that helping them write their song of independence, respect and emotional expression does wonders.
If you're interested in learning more about how I work, and how this can benefit you, your family, and - more importantly - your teenager: click here to book a free discovery call with me.
I look forward to speaking with you soon.