The teenage years are well known as a time of self-doubt and low confidence. This can happen for a number of reasons, but you’ll be pleased to know that there are lots of things you can do to help your step teenager counteract such feelings.
During their teenage years, young people are trying to work out who they really are. They’re establishing their true values and beliefs, building up the life skills they will need for adulthood, and moulding an identity for themselves.
They are going through both mental and physical changes and may be dealing with issues of body image and bullying, as well as pressure from peer groups and parents. Not to mention the added stress of the modern digital age and an increase in social media use, which can make them feel that they must be on display at all times. It’s little wonder, then, that research shows that a high percentage of children have low self-esteem by the age of 14.
And teenagers of stepfamilies may feel the added pressure in dealing with the expectations of two sets of parents.
As a caring stepparent, you’re eager to help guide your step teenager into a confident and happy young adulthood, but it is a staged process with key steps along the way.
So, what practical things can you do to really make a difference?
Be patient and persevere
Helping your stepchild to become a confident young person will not happen overnight. Patience and perseverance are key to your success. Let them set the pace and they will start to develop it when they’re ready. Give little nudges often. And remember, that not all of the tips below will necessarily be appropriate for your stepchild. Try them out and focus on the ones, which work best.
Find the right approach
Think about how you currently engage with your step teenager; does it work or are there challenges? Is there a better style you could adopt, one that will support and encourage your stepchild rather than telling them to ‘Do what I say’? Start thinking of your step teenager as a young adult, and help them to reflect on situations where they feel they lack confidence and what could they do differently to improve it e.g. if they are going on a trip, suggest they get to know some of the people going in advance rather than waiting until they are there.
Build on their strengths
Confidence develops from a recognition of – and pride in – your strengths. So focus on the things your step teenager is already good at – whether it be gaming, baking or sports – to help them build up their self-esteem. Point out the attributes needed to be good at those things. For example, if your step teenager excels in computer games, talk to them about the skills they use and they may realise that they’re good at planning and strategy.
Ask them questions about what they like about themselves, what they’re great at, and what their friends like about them. Highlight positive comments from school reports, family, friends and awards, and discuss the process they went through to get there e.g. there will have been a time when they found it difficult during the learning stage. You could even encourage your step teenager to write them down in a little notebook, to be re-read when they are not feeling very confident.
Help your teenager to recognise that sometimes we all make bad choices and mistakes happen, but this is how we learn.
Allow them to make mistakes
Teenagers will make mistakes as they learn to navigate through life, and things will go wrong from time to time. It is crucial that you focus on what they could have done differently rather than berating them for the mistake itself.
In the same vein, if your step teenager is being criticised by someone, encourage them to deal with it in a positive way, perhaps by asking the critic what they should do differently next time or how would they do it.
Confident people make firm decisions. It may turn out those decisions were bad ones, but people with high self-esteem will deal with the consequences and remember why they made those decisions in the first place.
Your step teenager will be confident in their decisions if you teach them how to make considered and informed choices. Encourage them to explore all the options. It may be useful for them to consider, and even write down, the consequences of both making a particular decision or not.
Stop burdening them with unrealistic expectations
Your step teenager is trying to discover what makes them happy. Don’t add the burden of expecting them to make everyone else happy too. Of course, they need to learn that it’s rewarding to please others – but sometimes this can put unnecessary pressure on teenagers. Challenge yourself from being unrealistic in the standards you expect from them.
Confidence comes from a sense of belonging, from feeling a valued part of a community. Encourage your step teenager to nurture and develop a close-knit network of friends and family.
Angela Whitlock is a stepparent to four children and an experienced teenage and stepfamily coach. She is also the author of The Accidental Parent series of advice books for stepfamilies. For more advice on building your step teenager’s confidence download her ebook 21 Ways to Build Your Step Teenager’s Confidence. For more information on Angela’s work visit www.angelawhitlock.com.