The MuchSmarter Blog

How to Help Your Teenager Gain Confidence in the Classroom

Steve Schecter
July 18, 2014

Confidence is perhaps the number one factor in your teenager’s present and future success. It determines what they are willing to try, how well they perform, and their ability to persevere, and ultimately enables them to become self-reliant.

These personal qualities are more important than ever in a world that is becoming more competitive by the year, a world that is changing so fast that we can no longer settle for an education in which we merely accumulate knowledge.

We need master learning skills that enable us to learn new subjects and skills, so we can adapt quickly as old careers die and new ones come into being.

Your child needs the confidence that they can learn anything they want!

Unfortunately, much of what each young person experiences in school serves to dampen their confidence.  They learn that they are “no good at math” or “no good at writing.” They compare themselves needlessly with other students who seem to get great grades effortlessly. By the time the child reaches ninth or tenth grade, they already have some fixed ideas about how smart they are, and about what they can or cannot do.

Again, unfortunately, most err on the side of under-estimating their intelligence and capability. And in today’s world, the tendency of students to under-value their capability has potentially terrible consequences. A kid who under-estimates their own capability is going to limit their own achievement and success! They face a more limited future than otherwise.

So how do we make sure that our kids are confident enough to bring out the best in themselves right now, and get them prepared to succeed and excel in the real world when their time comes?

The good news is this: confidence is a learned skill. Which means you can develop it, the same as any other skill. 

Which brings me to one of the most important things you can do to help your teenager build confidence in the classroom and beyond:

Give them time.

Everyone develops differently. Each person takes a different path to realize their potential. Each person develops at a different pace.

Think about developing confidence, skills, and abilities in the way that you would think about growing a garden. If you were to grow a garden, you would buy seeds, plant the seeds in the right soil, and provide the appropriate food and water to enable the seeds to grow. Then you would give those seeds time to emerge from the ground. Based on the particular plants you were cultivating, you would expect to wait weeks or months to see them emerge.

Here’s what you would not do: you would not go to the garden the very next day after planting the seeds, and wonder why your plants had not yet grown. You would not look at the garden every single day after that and worry that you don’t see your plants emerging. You would not, after a week or so, declare the garden a failure because you can’t see the plants.

Yet, even though this behavior might seem silly, so many of us parents act this way when it comes to our teenage children.

All too often, a parent looks at their teenage child at a moment of time and engages in all sorts of worry.

When the parent looks at their teenage child, they may see relatively low confidence. They may see the teenager struggling with learning challenges. They may see the teenager achieving less than the parent would hope.

The heart of the worry is that the young person will remain in this underachieving state.

Too often, the worry is unnecessary, and may even be destructive. The worry can be destructive because your teenager will sense your worry. Your worry may confirm for them their own fears about their abilities. If your teenager needs more confidence in the classroom and beyond, your worry (and theirs) will not help.

If your teenager is engaged and making an effort, if they are in the process of developing themselves, then give them your confidence, not your worry.

Think about when your teenager was a baby, learning to walk. They made many unsuccessful attempts. They stumbled frequently. Most likely, you did not worry. You did not criticize their failures. You did not fret about whether they were learning to walk more slowly or quickly than their peers. Most likely, you encouraged them at every point in their progress. And, if their physical state permitted, they learned to walk!

This is the mindset that you want to recapture as you observe your teenager developing today. Encourage their efforts, just as if they were learning to walk. Encourage them through the inevitable stumbles and setbacks that come with development.

If they keep trying, they will continue developing, and their abilities will emerge!

Until next time!

- Steve

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