The Real Self-Esteem Booster: Competence
Boosting Your Childs Self-Esteem
One perk of aging is that occasionally I can get away with asserting something to be true based on longitudinal history and experience. After 30 years of working with children and teenagers, raising five of them, and observing human behavior, both in and out of the therapeutic and school environments, I am confident that competence, or a mastery of a certain skill set, develops and builds self-esteem. Years ago, I was on an RV trip with my three young sons when our sewage pipe malfunctioned. Diagnosing and then fixing the problem was dirty, unglamorous work. I kept trying to get a new pipe into an old fitting, with no plumbing experience, and only a battered manual as a guide. After many failed attempts, the job was finally complete and I was elated. There was no one around to celebrate with other than my three boys, who frankly enjoyed using the woods as their toilet, but I relished the feeling of accomplishment and mastery. I say all this because in a world of instant fixes, GPS navigation systems, Google searches, and set up requirements that simply ask you to hit the “next” button, we have fewer opportunities to just figure stuff out. Our teenagers need to struggle, fail, practice, and succeed in order to develop confidence and mastery.
Here are some ways to encourage a sense of competence in an automated world:
1. When your teenager receives something new, from a phone to a bed frame, have them set it up and speak to customer service if difficulties arise.
2. Make sure your teen driver knows how to change a tire, when to get the oil changed, and other routine automobile basics. They should also know how to not only call their parents, but roadside assistance and the insurance agent if something goes awry. If your teenager is particularly mechanical, they can learn even more about how to assure a vehicle is running smoothly.
3. Today’s teenagers are busier than ever, but paid employment is a wonderful way for teens to grasp a variety of different skills from cash register operation to reliability. An added perk is the chance for them to learn about responsibility and hard work from an adult other than you.
4. Give your teenagers a chance to practice basic life skills often. Laundry, cooking, budget-minded food shopping, and driving will all benefit from practice and experience.
5. Public transportation is an excellent way for teenagers to have some independence. Give your teens an opportunity to visit a friend, relative, or college, travelling by bus, train or subway, and perhaps all three.
Keep in mind that failures and flops are part of any thorough learning experience. In fact, your teen can learn a variety of life skills, gaining confidence and competence in the process, from getting lost, blowing a tire, and salvaging a meal after burning the entree. Furthermore, allow them to plan and execute a college visit, do the grocery shopping, and work a 40-hour week during the summer. The more opportunities you give your teenager to practice and master the art of adulthood, the more prepared, confident, and competent they will ultimately feel.
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