Teenage empowerment is the No. 1 way to raise confident teens who can resist the pressure to engage in unsafe behavior like underage drinking — but what does it take? Here are six ways to empower youth to succeed.
Many parents believe their children must always earn trust in order to receive it, but if you show your teen that you trust them to make age-appropriate decisions and allow them more freedom, it can go a long way. Let them know that you trust them to follow their own best judgment in handling certain situations, like choosing not to drink alcohol, and watch their confidence grow.
Start with a foundation of trust and allow your teen to build from there. One example for teens with a driver license might be allowing them to borrow the car to drop off a friend after school with the understanding that they return it by dinnertime. If they can do this without incident, let them borrow it for one night out and return it safely by curfew. If they mess up, remove the greater privilege, and have them work to earn it back.
Be consistent, firm, and reasonable. Your teen will be more likely to thrive if they are able to trust that your reactions and consequences will match their behaviors. Meanwhile, you’ll be growing your own trust in their ability to make good choices.
Learn From Mistakes
Learning by experience is something all humans must do. Whenever it’s safe to do so, let the consequences of your teen’s decisions naturally play themselves out. Of course, there are obviously some situations where it can be inappropriate to allow your teen to experience the consequences of their actions. For example, allowing your teen to habitually stay up until 3 a.m. every night spells trouble for their mental and physical health, not to mention their academic performance.
Teens will make mistakes. If they decide that math homework is “optional” and they do poorly on a test, don’t blame the teacher. Your teen will (hopefully) learn that completing homework and studying will help them get back on track for the next test.
Whatever mistakes they make, remind them that they can try again, and you can help guide them. When it comes to underage drinking, you can take steps like developing an X-Plan with your child that enables them to text you with an “X” or another simple signal to notify you that they’re in a situation where they need your immediate help. However, also make sure your teen knows you can’t always rescue or shelter them from accountability, especially when it comes to some of the dangerous and illegal behavior that goes along with underage drinking. Empower youth instead by reminding them that there are no failures in life, only lessons. This growth mindset will help them to build and rebuild confidence within themselves.
Let Them Shine — And Build Confidence
Your teenager will excel at some activities more than others, and confident teens know their strengths. Some have great hand-eye coordination, which can give them an edge in sports. Others may have an ear for music or be a natural on the stage. Teenage empowerment happens when teens get the chance to explore and show off their talents.
Pursuing interests like sports, music, and theater also helps teens develop positive social circles with like-minded peers. Many teens worry they’ll lose friends if they resist peer pressure to drink alcohol, but if your teen can develop solid friendships by joining teams, clubs, troupes, or bands, they may feel more confident abstaining from drinking without fear of feeling left out and lonely. Remind them that true friendships empower youth to make healthy decisions, and positive peer pressure can be even more powerful than negative influences.
Value Their Mental Health
Mental health is more vital than ever for teenage empowerment. While public consciousness of mental health issues has grown in recent years, statistics still show that disorders like depression and anxiety are increasing among teens.
Teach and model healthy ways to cope with stress or other negative emotions. Self-care, plenty of sleep, and exercise are great ways for anyone to boost their mental health. Encourage your teen to limit screen time and social media and instead spend more face-to-face time with friends to build real social connections. Also, remind them that drinking alcohol is a poor way of handling stress and anxiety. If your family needs additional support for mental health, alcohol, or drug issues there are many local and national resources available to help.
Connect With Them Every Day
No matter how busy life gets, try to connect with your teenager in some way every day. Teens who regularly eat dinner with family are 33% less likely to misuse alcohol. Ask your teen how their day was over dinner, check in with them before they settle down to do homework, or have a quiet chat before they go to bed. Getting your child talking about topics that interest them and allowing them to share their views will naturally boost their self-confidence. It will also help them trust that they can have respectful, adult conversations with you about alcohol.
Encourage Leadership Opportunities
Teenage empowerment is inevitable when teens have opportunities to lead. There are many opportunities for teens to develop leadership skills through part-time jobs, sports, school clubs, and volunteering.
Encourage them to seek to become captain of their sports team, organize a social event, or cook a meal for the family. Small wins like this can empower youth to lead in other ways, such as positively influencing friends who may feel pressured to drink alcohol.
Start and Continue the Conversation
Building youth empowerment is important because it helps teens take control of their own lives. It also gives them the tools to resist peer pressure, especially if they’re faced with an unhealthy situation like underage drinking.
Many of the same parenting tools you can use to develop confident teens will also help when talking to them about the dangers of underage drinking. Download our free resources designed to help you Start the Conversation and connect with your child. They’ll know that you put their well-being and safety first and trust them to do the right thing when it counts. And you will know they have all the tools they need to do just that.