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Building Confidence in Teens: Four Winning Strategies

The teen years can be filled with self-doubt, self-consciousness, and awkwardness. The good news is that when it comes to building confidence in teens, parents can play an active role. First, it helps to understand this subtle distinction: Self-confidence is generally defined as how you feel about your abilities, whereas self-esteem is how you feel about yourself.

Encouragement For Teens: Help Build Self-Confidence

Self-confidence is what allows teenagers to face and overcome hardships, challenges, and disappointments, something we all want our teens to be able to do. Based on my work with teens and their families, here are four proven strategies parents can use to help build self-confidence in their teen.

Strategy #1:  Focus on Strengths

Highlight the positive behaviors you want to see more of.  This doesn’t necessarily mean praising the tangible, measurable outcome (such as an A on a test, or scoring the winning goal), but rather the process your teen engaged in to get the end result.

What this sounds like from you: “I know how much time and energy you put into that project. You really worked hard; good job!” You are reinforcing the effort of hard work, not just the result. This helps your teen want to put the effort in again.

Strategy #2: Ask Targeted Questions

Generic questions lead to generic responses. When you ask a teen, “How was your day?”  the typical response will be, “It was fine.” Instead, try using targeted questions to explore specific aspects of their day that relate to confidence. Here’s an example of how that might play out:

Parent: “How did science go today? Mr. Johnson talked about a new science project you are working on at open house.”

Teen: “It was okay.”

Parent: “Just okay? What was not great about it?”

Teen: “For starters, our group didn’t even understand the instructions. Mr. Johnson can be so confusing sometimes.”

Parent: “Sounds frustrating. How did you approach the problem?”

Teen: “Well, I was feeling annoyed because no one in the group cared that we didn’t know what to do. I wanted to start the project and not get behind.”

Parent: “So what did you do?”

Teen: “Since no one else was helping, I got Mr. Johnson’s attention and explained we were confused by the instructions and didn’t know where to start.”

Parent: “Sounds like you did a good job of communicating the needs of your group and taking initiative.”

In this seemingly minor exchange, the parent acknowledges the teen’s leadership, problem-solving and use of assertive communication, all of which relate to self-confidence.

Strategy #3: Encourage Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities create opportunities for your teen to acquire leadership skills, social skills, time management skills, and resilience, helping them to overcome challenging problems. For example, playing a sport not only promotes the value of physical health, but also reinforces teamwork, healthy competition, and mentorship, all of which contribute to building confidence.

Strategy #4: Lead by Example

Teens are very perceptive to the words and actions of their parents, even if they don’t show it. The way you respond (verbally and nonverbally) to uncertainty, stress, competition, and challenging situations shapes their future response. The key aspect to modeling behavior is consistency. When you remain confident in the face of adversity, time and again, it models for your teen how to deal with similar situations in their own life.

Ultimately, the most important action you can take as a parent is to stay curious and involved in your teen’s life. By taking intentional steps to identify, instill, and strengthen their confidence, you are showing your teen how much you care.

Megan Vossler is a licensed clinical social worker in California who provides therapy to teens and families dealing with depression, anxiety, self-esteem and self-confidence issues, among other issues.  

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