Instilling confidence in your teenager is a challenging proposition. One of the primary places they develop confidence is through their relationship with their parents. When a parent does too much for the teen, it hurts their ability to believe in their own capability. Here’s an example of what I mean:
I have worked with several families where this has occurred: Mom or dad loves their son or daughter so deeply that they cannot stand to see the child get hurt. So, they help them with everything. They help them study for tests at school, help them in their sport by providing private lessons, give them a car when they turn 16, give them money to buy whatever clothes make up the latest trend, etc. While this is very kind, it actually hurts the teenager in the long-run.
Here’s what I see happen in my office all the time. I see a teenager who is very frustrated with a parent, or both parents. When we start to look into the reason why, the teen will tell me it’s because they aren’t allowed to do anything for themselves. They see their parents’ help as condescending and displaying a lack of confidence in them. One girl told me when her mom asked her if she studied for her math test, the girl took it to mean mom doesn’t trust her to get it done. When we talked to mom about it she said it was not because of a lack of trust, but instead caring about her daughter feeling upset if she forgets to study and then doesn’t do well. I told the mom to let her child figure these things out by herself because it shows that mom is confident in her daughter’s ability to organize her schoolwork. On the contrary, if mom reminds her daughter to do everything, it displays a lack of confidence in her daughter’s ability.
Parents, if you’re not giving your adolescent the room to be responsible commensurate with their age, you’re accidentally sending a message to your teenager that you don’t believe in him or her. This is almost certainly not what you’re intending. Most likely you’re intending to make things easier on your teenager and trying to help him or her avoid painful consequences. If you know your teen isn’t great at leaving herself enough time to write essays for English class, so you require her to sit down and work at it a little bit each day, you might be doing her a disservice (This depends on how old she is of course). It could be a lot better for her to start the essay at the last minute, and then feel the pain of getting a low grade. She will likely decide a better course of action next time. You can always offer to help her make a better plan next time. If you do though, leave it up to her to approach you for help once you’ve put it out there that you’re willing. You can tell her you know she desires to do better, and you believe in her that she will figure out how to make this happen; after that, leave it alone.
So, if you’d like to help your teenager know you believe in him or her, and to become more confident in his or her abilities, give them room to do things themselves. Don’t be afraid of their failures. A small metaphorical scrape of the knees today can save a broken leg in the future.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT