From the time your teen was born, you’ve been building their self-confidence with unconditional love, support and validation. But to take that confidence to the next level, teens need challenges, too. The right kind of challenges help teens learn valuable life skills and get comfortable making decisions, speaking up for themselves and taking action. Here are four activities that are guaranteed to boost teens’ self-confidence:

“Young people do not usually develop a specific purpose and then go become an expert in that thing,” says Project Wayfinder founder Patrick Cook-Deegan. “Rather, they are exposed to something new that helps them develop their own sense of purpose.” According to Deegan, travel is one of the most powerful ways teens find purpose, a big component of confidence. 

Why does travel make such an impact? First, it takes teens out of their comfort zone and eliminates self-imposed limitations. Encounters with new people, places, and ideas expand their sense of what’s possible and often spark new passions. Travel also helps teens learn how to plan, problem-solve, and deal with unexpected challenges. Beyond the typical family vacation, travel gives teens the opportunity to take on a new level of self-responsibility. Each time teens successfully solve a problem or overcome a challenge, their confidence gets a big boost. Look for exchange programs, teen-focused tours, wilderness programs, and service-learning experiences to help your teen find the adventure that’s right for them.

A recent survey of more than 10,000 adolescent girls found that playing sports correlates with increased confidence, better body image and academic performance, and stronger interpersonal relationships. Teen girls experience an overall drop in self-confidence during middle school, but girls of all ages who play sports report consistently higher levels of self-confidence. “Girls who participate on a sports team are more likely to have learned healthy ways to handle stressful situations, have more effective and supportive friendships with other girls and have increased career and leadership aspirations,” said ROX founder Dr. Lisa Hinkelman. Don’t count sports out if your teen isn’t into the mainstream options offered at school; community clubs offer everything from skateboarding to quidditch to kickball.

Confidence comes from doing hard things, and one of the most challenging things for many people– including about a third of Americans– is public speaking. But research from North Carolina State University shows that teens who participate in some kind of public speaking program feel more courageous.

Public speaking helps teens face their fears and develop communication skills that boost their confidence in lots of situations. They learn how to advocate for themselves and causes they care about, listen to others, and stay steady when challenged. There are lots of ways for teens to practice public speaking, from debate and 4-H clubs to theater or improv classes. And many coaches and teachers now incorporate stress strategies for teens who are fearful of public speaking, so they can feel supported and take it at their own pace.

Worried that a job might distract your teen from all-important academic and extracurricular activities? A Harvard longitudinal study of 1,000 teens says those fears may be unfounded. In fact, teens who work part-time were shown to be more confident, responsible and successful than their peers without jobs. Work responsibilities push teens to test their abilities, learn new skills, problem-solve, prioritize and stick to a schedule.

 

Jobs are a great place to meet mentors and make new friends. And of course, earning their own money increases teens’ confidence, too. If your teen is interested in getting a job, talk to their school counselor about work-study options, aptitude tests and practice interviews. Look for internships or entry-level jobs that will help them cultivate career skills in industries they’re interested in learning more about. With a little luck, your teen may find a job that boosts their self-confidence and starts them off on a path toward a fulfilling future. 

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