When did you realize you were officially an adult? For me it was this moment…
Teenager A: Sophia, why do you put on makeup every morning?
Teenager B, said quite obviously: Because she’s an adult!
What?! When did this happen??
I never really thought of myself as an adult. But when this pair of teenagers acknowledged how I don’t wear sweatpants in public I started to notice a couple things. First, I am no longer a giant geek and the young-folks in my life have started coming to me for support and guidance. Second, my friends with kids have started saying to me, “You know, you’re a good influence on Sally. I really appreciate that!”
As my young friends are graduating high school and college and facing their futures, I’m recognizing the tenderness of their self esteem. Between the ages of 14 and 21 there are so many changes and pressures young adults are facing that it’s not at all surprising they question their value in this world. What do I want to do with my life? How do I achieve it? What if I can’t get into a good school? What if I can’t get a job? What if I’m alone forever? The expectations are high, and the consequences for not meeting them seem absolutely life-shattering.
Bullying, anxiety, and depression are outrageously common among the young adults I meet. It is heart breaking, and having experienced all of these things myself, I’m sensitive to everything they’re feeling. As adults, there are a few things we can do to repair and improve their self confidence. One of my favourites for those on the cusp of adulthood is to remind them of how spectacular they are. Whether it’s by subtly dropping them compliments or creating time to celebrate their achievements, we can help the young adults in our lives recognize how amazing they are and believe it.
Take, for example, graduating high school! This is a huge milestone in your teen’s life, and a time when the future seems uncertain, exciting, and for many, absolutely terrifying. It’s important that she carefully considers her future and diligently works towards her goals. At the same time, confidence will go a long way to her success. By modelling self confidence, inspiring face-to-face time, and helping celebrate her achievements you can help your teen build the necessary confidence she needs to succeed in life.
Model Self Confidence
Whether your teen will admit it or not, she copies you. I find this is especially true with regard to your insecurities. After all, you’re the adult, and she is your daughter. If there is something wrong with you then there must be something wrong with her. Right? When you are critical of yourself your kid will absorb those judgements as a critique of herself.
You don’t have to be perfect, but being able to recognize what you love about yourself and share that with her will do a lot of good. You can also use unsolicited compliments to help transform your teen’s perception of herself. Simply telling her you like her shoes or her hair looks nice in the morning can start her day off on the right foot. Complimenting others requires confidence in oneself, and this kind of genuine observation of her great qualities will help her recognize them too.
This isn’t always easy. Even as adults we are prone to moments of self-conscious thoughts. If you struggle with your own insecurities a mother-daughter shoot with your 14 year old might be just perfect. As she is just transitioning into high school you have a unique opportunity for a little time together to celebrate your beauty. You two can get all dolled up, have a great laugh, recognize the beauty in each other, and remind yourselves of how spectacular you are.
Encourage Screen-Free, Face-to-Face Time
You’re familiar with the advantages the Internet affords us (hello, this blog…). But with all of the pros come some difficult cons. Cyber-bullying is an oft-cited byproduct, but social anxiety and body shame are more subtle and sometimes totally silent consequences of too much screen time.
Communicating largely by text doesn’t allow teens to pick up on their peers’ body language. This can cause a great deal of misunderstanding and uncertainty when socializing. Without practicing social queues it can be impossible for teens to anticipate how the people around them will respond to their behaviour making teens nervous to even approach a store clerk or make a seemingly simple phone call. On top of that, spending hours scrolling through Instagram photos of #bodygoals can leave teens with unreasonable expectations of their own bodies. When a girl’s body doesn’t look like the images she sees in her feed she can start feeling like she isn’t worth positive attention.
Encouraging your teen to spend time face-to-face with her family and friends will provide more opportunity for healthy communication. Invite your teen’s best friends to a photoshoot just for them! They’re all going through the same things in life, and their friends are one of their greatest sources of support. This is a perfect opportunity for a little fun face-to-face time to celebrate their youth.
Create Opportunities To Recognize Achievements
Outstanding grades, sports awards, volunteer efforts, and graduating are amazing achievements which deserve recognition. But we don’t always acknowledge them well. Take, for example, graduation portraits.
The traditional graduation portrait is not exactly flattering. Actually, it’s more a memento for the parent than the person graduating. If I’m being totally honest, I hated my graduation portrait. It didn’t say anything about how I saw myself. And frankly, I barely looked like myself that day because I tried (and failed) to make myself look pretty. Rather than forcing your child through the hoopla of wrangling himself into a communal gown and posing in the exact same way as all of his classmates, you can create a portrait of who he really is with a grad session.
I believe my graduation portrait features a backdrop of expensive-looking books, none of which I’d likely be interested in reading. I can’t be sure, though, as no one knows where that portrait is. Choosing the right activity is an easy way to highlight your graduate’s personality. For example, she might strum her guitar, or he might play fetch with the family dog. By ditching the stool and backdrop you and your teen will be left with a true picture of her at this exciting time in her life.
Wearing the right clothes will help your teen feel confident in his portrait. She can wear her favourite pair of dark-wash jeans with a cute blazer. He can wear his Converse and a fedora. Practically anything is more flattering than the shapeless gown you and I wore in our grad photos, and the creative choices will allow your grad to highlight his unique style.
Have her hair and makeup done professionally. This is a once in a lifetime event totally deserving of a little pampering. Hair and makeup is not meant to make your teen look better, but to make her look like her best self. A good hair stylist and makeup artist will highlight your teen’s favourite features and ensure that in 20 year she’s proud to show it off to her own kids.
While her classmates photos will say, “This was what I looked like when I graduated,” her grad photo will say, “This is who I was when I graduated. I was amazing!”
Parenting Isn’t Easy
You’re a parent, which means you have years of experience under your belt. You know how awkward and uncomfortable it can be to be a teenager. On top of that, the pressures of leaving home and being out on your own can cause anxiety and uncertainty.
I hope these easy, low-pressure ideas help you inspire confidence in your teen. By modelling self confidence, getting her off her phone, and acknowledging everything she’s achieved in life already, your young adult is sure to enter the real world with a handle on who she is and how she should be valued. You can use photography to create an image of how spectacular your teen is. Be it a mother-daughter beauty session, a sweet 16 shoot with her besties, or grad photos she actually likes, your teen will actually see how strong and beautiful she is. And you can use the right backdrop, a little pampering with hair and makeup, and a her favourite outfit to help her feel powerful and like herself.