Wavering self confidence in teens
Much is written about the anger and boundary crossing of the teenage soul. Little however, is written about how to manage, maintain and help a teen struggling with self-confidence.
We all know bullying is wrong, so if a child’s confidence wanes due to a spat of playground torture we can raise it with teachers - we can be seen to ‘punish’ or devalue the negative bullying behaviour and therefore re-enforce to the victim that they are not the one to blame. But what do we do when our children bully themselves? how do we handle the child who looks in the mirror and calls herself ugly? How do we turn down the volume on our teen’s inner critic?
Psychology would tell us that in each passage of our life - infant, toddler, teen, adult, elder, etc - there is a task, a journey to complete, in my studio - we call these legends and as with any legend, there is a hero/heroine searching for an end goal. Whereas previously a child’s quest has been to learn to read, walk, talk etc the teen is on a quest to find their internal power - what Freud called ‘Ego’. This can be seen in the teens’ drive to be the first to have a boyfriend/girlfriend, to be the most powerful or the one to get the highest grade etc.
There is a common perception here that you can gain power through others seeing you as powerful. This is a dangerous game - what if no one reciprocates! What if all the other heroes and heroines are so lost in their own quest that they are unable to offer compliments which would show the hero they were perceived as powerful? Sadly this happens all too often, there are very few teens who gain the status of ‘most popular girl/guy’ and even then - what happens when the ‘most popular’ falls off the pedestal? They must of course relinquish their power to the next hero who will take the stand.
I believe that the moment at which a teen starts to lose confidence - is when they begin to fail their quest, if they are not seen by others to be powerful - they themselves believe they are not. The ‘others’ opinion becomes far more important than their own and they start to question themselves. Their sense of self (Freud’s ‘Ego’) begins to wobble and a lack of confidence filters into their being. Sadly, at this point, many well meaning folk will start to encourage teens to do more, go out more, have more social exchanges etc - adding pressure and further expectations to a teen who is already struggling to meet their own expectations of self.
So how do we help? The key is in attempting to meet your teens’ yearning for power yet get them to claim it within themselves. To try and gain power by an inner knowledge they are valuable rather than by others feeling they are worthy.
One idea is the ‘photo album’. Go and buy a beautiful album, one of those which is covered in sequins, or leather bound – anything that looks exquisite. This album will be representing your teen’s outer self and so it needs to mirror your feeling of your child BEAUTIFUL, STRONG, BRIGHT etc, I’m sure you catch my meaning. Then, once a week or more if your teen requests, place a single photo from your vast collection into this new album and talk about it together - this is who you were then, this is what you did, I remember when etc, tell stories about the child in the photo. What you are doing is building your teen’s inner self - their ‘ego’. Your teen may also have something to say about the photo “I can’t believe you dressed me in that!” allow that to be part of the story telling - in order to claim their own power they will need to reject some of you and moaning at your sense of dress is one good way of doing this.
You may find, certainly with girls - that they want to decorate the album or write in it, allow them to do this in a boundaried way. It is helpful that they write positive statements about themselves, or decorate the pictures in a lovely way, it is not helpful for them to slander themselves - in this way again you are teaching them to nurture and be kind to their inner self and slowly but surely you are turning down the volume on the inner critic.
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