AS research suggest teenagers feel positive about themselves but still lack confidence, psychologist Professor Tanya Byron talks about adolescents’ thoughts and feelings, and how parents can help
The standard view of a teenager is often grumpy and unhappy with a low opinion of themselves and a lack of confidence.
But new research suggests that while the grumpiness may be unavoidable, the majority of teens feel good about themselves.
A study of 1,000 11-17-year-olds found that 72 per cent feel positive about themselves, with seven out of 10 considering themselves healthy because they think they’re a healthy weight (71 per cent), eat a balanced diet (70 per cent) and don’t smoke (73 per cent).
In addition, British teenagers are proud of who they are as a person, valuing their friendliness (55 per cent), kindness and trustworthiness (49 per cent) and honesty (46 per cent).
Clinical psychologist Professor Tanya Byron, who has presented TV shows on parenting and behaviour, as well as leading an independent review into the effects of the internet and video games on children, says: “Despite the prevailing public perception that teenagers today are an unhappy generation, most teens manage to hold on to a positive view of themselves, despite the challenges of the adolescent years.”
However, the Boots study also showed the majority of teens want to have more confidence, and advice on how to get it - although girls are more likely to ask for advice than boys. Whereas nearly half of boys (49 per cent) say they don’t need advice about anything when it comes to being a teenager, girls want advice on building confidence (21 per cent), how to get in shape (17 per cent), and how to get healthy skin (17 per cent).
“We need to empower our teens to develop the critical thinking skills needed to develop confidence and self-belief built around values and ideologies, rather than external factors such as looks and body shape,” stresses Byron.
Indeed, the research found that 41 per cent of teenage girls worry about what their friends say about them behind their back, and only 19 per cent of teens would describe their social media profile as a true reflection of who they are and how they feel. “Despite showing a positive sense of self and high levels of self-awareness about health and wellbeing, unsurprisingly, when we look at threats to feeling good, issues relating to confidence and self-image come out very strongly,” says Byron.
She explains that the emotions and behaviour of teenagers are underpinned by significant physical, brain and social changes triggered by puberty.
Pointing out that new research shows the greatest changes to the parts of the brain responsible for functions such as self-control, judgement, emotions, and organisation, occur between puberty and adulthood - the teenage years - she says: “This explains some teenage behaviours that adults can find confusing and frustrating, such as poor decision-making, recklessness and mood swings.
“During this phase of ‘rewiring’, we see mood and behavioural shifts, but as development proceeds, we get better at balancing impulse, desire, goals, self-interest, rules, and ethics - which results in behaviour that is less complex and more rationally driven as we become adults.”
Byron says that while most teenagers say they feel good about themselves, many do need help with confidence issues, and one way parents can help build their confidence is by making sure they regularly see their friends face-to-face, as opposed to only communicating with them online.
“It’s important for all of us to encourage teens to spend time with their friends in the real world - to find a balance between the image they curate online and what they experience in the real world with their real friends.
“Confidence is about an internal set of values and ideologies linked to self-belief.”
It could also help to point out real, positive role models, as opposed to the airbrushed, skinny celebrities teenagers see on TV and in magazines.
“Positive role models that portray inner strength and values are important for our teens to see,” stresses Byron.
“For instance, Malala Yousafzai is someone often mentioned by young people to me as a great example of a confident woman that they genuinely admire - more so than women famed for body, skin or hair.”
She adds: “Although many see adolescence as a problematic time of life, the more we learn about what really makes this period unique, the more adolescence starts to seem like a highly functional, adaptive period.
“By understanding what our teens are experiencing at both a physical and psychological level and, most importantly, listening to them as they explain their thoughts and feelings, we can more effectively support our teenagers to be the best version of themselves in terms of their self-belief, health and wellbeing.”