How can a mom teach her child to be confident?

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Answered by: Sara, An Expert in the Parenting Teenagers Category
My newly fourteen year old is in for a rude awakening – Mom doesn’t have all the answers. As most teenagers do - my son is going through a transition period from looking at life through rose colored glasses that Mommy painted for him to crystal clear lenses that show just how tough the world can be to navigate.

Tonight was a special occasion. Gabe and I were going to a movie, but not just any movie, but a movie that he invited me to. This was a son-initiated event and no matter what I had to do to make it happen I would be there. Pizza was on the first part of our agenda. Over dinner Gabe decided (after I poked) to open up to me about his friendships and his fears in starting high school. It all seemed perfectly normal until he asked me for my advice.

Normally, a mother jumps at this opportunity to dole out her wise words. However, this seemed like a trap. If I gave advice about how one makes good, new relationships and this doesn’t work – it would become my fault. If I chose to go the road less traveled and allowed Gabe to find things out for himself by declining to give advice, I was the evil one forcing him to make his own decisions (something that he often asks to be able to do anyway.) I began with the former.

“Friendships come from putting yourself into new situations. Pushing your limits and being open to accepting new relationships.” It seemed simple enough. But, in reality I know all to well how difficult this can be to accomplish. At 36, I am still trying to work my way through being open and accepting to new people and circumstances. This actually takes a lifetime to accomplish. It was unfair of me to expect him to understand this. I tried a different tactic.

I had recently read in Steven Covey's book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, that teenagers dislike probing and do like when adults listen without judgment. They appreciate turning questions around on them, allowing them to make their own inferences. “How would you like it to happen?”

Gabe didn’t seem to want to answer this question and accept responsibility for the possibility that he may make mistakes along the road less traveled. He continued to hound me for the Great Answer that would lead to the road map to Great Friendships That Last a Lifetime.

It became abundantly clear that I would be unable to fulfill this ultimate advice request with the proper parental advice. I was becoming more and more frustrated and he was becoming more and more disappointed in my motherly abilities. This left both of us sad and unfulfilled.

We attempted to agree to disagree and leave the friendship quest alone and enjoy our very mind-provoking, headache inducing movie. During the movie my mind wandered to the eternal question – What is it that makes someone popular, approachable and why can’t my son have it if he wants it?

Here is the answer I came up with – popular or approachable people take risks. They don't allow their self-doubt or anxiety (the veritable 'what ifs') to hold them back. These popular or approachable people have the IT factor - Confidence.

So, obvious next question – how to acquire teen confidence? Well, this is not an easy question to answer. So, for this I have done some research. In order to gain confidence we must start with the basics.

Liking ourselves – really think about what you like about yourself. Make a list if you have to and examine without judgment what is special about you. It doesn’t need to be unique or the only one on earth to possess these qualities, it just means that you like these things about you and are ready to accept them as great parts of who you are. Keep adding to this list always.

Once you have established that you’re a likable human being we need to go one step further. Find a motivating mantra – you can use anything – “I’m awesome”, “You can do it”, “You’re worth it”. Look yourself in the mirror and practice it until you believe it. Then make other people believe it too!

Ok, you have your likable factor, your mantra, now what steps in your way? One word – Fear. This guy fear is a real jerk. He stands in front of you and shakes his head no. He reminds you that you may fail. He put his hand up and stops you from taking risks – risks you need to take to become an approachable person. So, overcome your fear and kick that kid to the curb. Tell yourself your mantra, over and over until Mr. Fear becomes so tiny that he can’t stand a chance. Then flick him away and move on.

Now that you have your toolbox filled with like-ability, your awesomeness mantra and you have flicked away fear you just need to know one more thing before you are on the road to confidence – sometimes you will fail. It’s okay though because every time you are rejected, turned down or told no, you will tell yourself you can start over on this cycle. You can try again, you are still kicking and you can re-motivate yourself. Failure is a part of life – it’s not life itself. It’s just a story to tell your kids about (and boy, will the roll their eyes when you tell them. I know from experience!) – but it’s not the end of the story. You get to include the happy ending, the time when it all went right and worked out despite all the road blocks and broken hearts laying on the side of the road.

So, this is it – the instruction guide that my son, Gabe requested. I hope that throughout his life he can retool, refinish and perfect this guide so that we can all benefit from the knowledge and research gained but more importantly he can benefit from the relationships gained. Mom doesn’t have all the answers, this whole “guide” may even turn into a farce but you’ll never know until you test it...the challenge on how to acquire teen confidence has begun!

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