Latter-day Saint Life

3 things a mother and seminary teacher has learned about instilling confidence in teenagers

Courtesy of Kathryn Davis

It’s only been a few short days since my mom passed away unexpectedly and my mind is whirling with memories of lessons learned and taught, reflections on a life well lived, love freely given and a deep sense of gratitude for all I have had. Grief is the price I willingly pay for having been loved and taught by such an exquisite and deeply faithful woman. She taught me about all the beautiful things this world has to offer—music, art, literature, good food, the art of gathering and tradition, and most importantly, she instilled in me self-confidence and spiritual reliance.

In a world where the adversary wants the youth distracted, discouraged, and discontent it is more crucial than ever for our youth to understand their divine identity and their purpose in Heavenly Father’s plan. We are raising a generation of spiritual warriors, enlisted in the Lord’s battalion, who often lack the confidence the Lord so desperately needs them to have. In fact, President Nelson has stated that “it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.” So, what does it mean to arm our youth with what they need to survive? Above everything it means helping youth trust in their ability to live in partnership with God and letting Him prevail in their lives. If the adversary’s desire is to discourage us to the point where we live below our capacity as children of God, then the antidote is self-confidence. Can I share a few things I’m learning about helping my teenagers develop self-confidence?

1. Help Them Understand Their Worth

We often hear the phrase “competence begets confidence.” Think on that for a moment. If our youth truly had confidence in the undeniable fact that they are of great worth and have a divine purpose and potential as children of Heavenly Parents, imagine the level of increased competence in all aspects of their lives. They would see that their worth is not dependent on their choices or performance. If God needed to teach Moses multiple times that Moses was in fact His son, how many times must we teach our youth this fact? But we must not only teach it, we must help them truly believe it.

We must be more focused on understanding who God created them to be, rather than on who we want them to be. So often we see children’s behavior as a mirror – as a reflection of our success or failure as a parent. This is not how our Heavenly Parents see us. Think of it this way-our behavior or performance has nothing to do with the efforts made by our Heavenly Parents; our value never increases or decreases, and neither does theirs. And just like our relationship with our Heavenly Parents, our relationship with our children is the same. Their behavior does not increase or decrease their value. Sometimes, I believe that we need to help them understand that more.

My dad’s best friend once gave me a compliment that was extremely meaningful and needed at a time in my life when my self-worth was at an all-time low. It had nothing to do with what I was wearing or anything I did – it was something about my very nature. I’ve held on to that for years and once asked him about that compliment before I had my first child. He replied, “Kathryn, I never give compliments based on performance. I always try and compliment someone on the gifts and talents I see inside of them—on who they simply are.” I have tried to follow that same counsel with my children and all the youth I come in contact with. I challenge you to try doing that for a day or a week, and notice what starts to change in their self-confidence.

2. Cultivate Spiritual Self-Reliance

We must also help our youth become spiritually self-reliant and help them trust in their own ability to feel the Spirit and receive personal revelation. Do you have faith in the Prophet’s challenge that we must learn to Hear Him, and that our youth have the ability to receive guidance and direction? We must give them opportunities to help them trust the Spirit and recognize the voice that so often sounds like their own. My 15-year-old once came to me about a major life decision he was struggling to make. I asked him if he had prayed about it and his response was simply, “Mom, I don’t do that. I don’t get answers like that.” I told him “Well, now is the time to start trying.” I then challenged him to take it to Heavenly Father and I assured him that I would support whatever decision he made. But here’s the hard part: what if his decision wasn’t what I wanted, or thought was best? Could I have enough faith that Heavenly Father could speak to my 15-year-old son? Guess what happened. My son made a decision he felt strongly about, but made me nervous. I chose to trust his answer, and tiny miracles have happened because of his choice.

In their journey to trust that they can and will receive guidance and direction from the Spirit, our children will inevitably make mistakes. That is a crucial part of Gods plan. He knew we would make mistakes. As parents we must accept God’s grace and allow for mistakes and failures, help them trust in their own capabilities at the same time knowing they can handle it if their efforts aren’t successful.

3. Celebrate Failure

Do not get upset at mistakes. I cannot emphasize this enough—do not get upset when they make mistakes.

Heavenly Father is never angry or disappointed in us, so why should we be with His children? When (not if) they make mistakes and fail, have full confidence in their ability to course correct and help support them as they do. Celebrate the effort, not the success. Celebrate when they fail because they’ve tried. Helping children know and feel God’s love and enabling power of the Atonement are critical for embracing imperfection and learning from mistakes.

One of my children loves any sport with a ball and he has always been extremely hard on himself. He would get so upset with himself whenever he made a mistake. We wanted him to learn it was okay to fail; in fact, he would never get better if he didn’t. So, to help him learn to navigate failure, we tried to think of what we could do to help him learn that mistakes are part of life and that failure makes us stronger. We also hoped to help him learn to extend grace towards himself as well as others. We decided to begin began golfing for fun as a family. We were all terrible, and to be honest, I still am. However, it taught my son patience, and that just because you made a bad shot or had a bad hole did not mean the whole day was ruined. We began to celebrate failure because we were trying something new. I have a quote from Elder Uchtdorf hanging in my home: “Because of Jesus Christ, our failures do not have to define us. They can refine us.” Understanding the doctrine of grace will fortify our youth against attacks on their self-confidence. A powerful truth about grace that is stressed almost daily by many seminary teachers I work with is that life is not a test, it’s a classroom. We are here to learn, not to earn. Jesus Christ provides the safety and peace we each need so that we can learn from our sins without being condemned by them!

Instilling confidence in youth begins with an understanding of our divine worth, which is fixed and never changes. President Kimball counseled, “All of you need to drink in deeply the gospel truths about the eternal nature of your individual identity and the uniqueness of your personality. You need, more and more, to feel the perfect love which our Father in Heaven has for you and to sense the value he places upon you as an individual.” Let’s help our youth “drink it in” and understand that their value is fixed, that we have confidence in their ability to receive revelation, and that we trust in their capabilities to handle situations when they are not successful.

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