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Teenagers: Your self-confidence is key!

teenage girl climbing a rock wallMonthly column from Minnesota 4-H director Dorothy McCargo Freeman

The teenage years are full of challenges.

Although my own teen years are decades passed, I'll never forget them. I grew and learned a great deal about myself, my family, my community and my values as a teenager in Virginia. I also struggled with peer pressure, making and keeping good friends and feeling power to change what I felt was wrong. I imagine you have some similar struggles.

Research indicates that young people with strong or growing self-confidence are better able to manage the difficulties of teenage life.

How do you build self-confidence?

Self-confidence doesn't come without effort. Even if you have a natural inclination to believe in yourself, you will encounter challenges that stir up doubt. If you want to build your own self-confidence, here are a few ideas:

Know what you're good at.

Whether it's caring for animals, creating music or constructing machines, you are knowledgeable and capable in some subject that gets you excited. Be clear about your strengths, continue building on them and proudly share them with others.

Set aside your worries and self-consciousness.

I lead over 150 professionals and 11,000 volunteers. The choices I make impact tens of thousands of young people. The success and influence I have aren't because I lack worries or fears. It's because I am brave enough to set my self-consciousness aside and try. You can do this too.

Pursue greater influence.

Two of our strongest desires as teenagers are to be independent and in control. Use those desires to make a difference! Do you have ideas for improving your 4-H club, project area, school or community? Look for leadership opportunities and get to work.

Express yourself.

Your voice and perspective are valuable and needed in our world. Yours may not be the only voice at the table, but that's okay. Share your feelings with people you trust. Share your ideas with fellow leaders. Speak. Write. Communicate. Be part of the conversation.

How can caring adults help?

Caring adults are important in growing the self-esteem of youth. Research shows it and we can see it's true in the relationships 4-H volunteers have with young people. If you want to encourage self-confidence in the youth around you, here are good ways:

Focus on inherent value.

Each young person is a unique human being whose very existence adds value to our community. It doesn't matter what they do, say or believe. What matters is that you know and show that all youth are of infinite worth.

Make compliments specific and sincere.

To really encourage the young people around you, ensure your words point out particular growth and successes you see in them. "You're a great quilter" is nice and will feel good for a minute. But if you want to really encourage self-esteem, you need do better. "Your quilting skills have really improved. This last project shows how hard you've worked to progress. Have you considered teaching other young people?"

Let youth lead and use their voice.

Teens are observant, passionate and want to make a difference. Are you making space for the teenagers in your life to take on greater levels of leadership? Are you inviting, truly listening to and taking action based on what young people are saying? Step back and watch what our young people can do.

It is my hope that each and every young person in 4-H will have a strong and growing sense of self. That through learning and leading, the youth in our midst will know and believe in their worth, value and power to make a difference. In 4-H, youth grow the skills, and the confidence, they need to lead.

Dorothy McCargo Freeman
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