• Laura Wallis

To be able to thrive, young people need to believe in themselves

Updated: Jun 23, 2020

Founding Director, Laura Wallis shares her thoughts on why now, more than ever, we need to be setting our young people up for success.

There is no doubt, 2020 has been a difficult year so far.  Our worlds have got both smaller and larger at the same time: We have been forced indoors, yet clapped with neighbours we didn’t know before, left schools and workplaces yet maintained our day-to-day relationships in new ways and through new forums and; we have talked about only the lockdown, until our consciousness was bought back to huge global issues and the Black Lives Matter movement.  Through all of this, we have sought and offered kindness to our friends, families and communities, we have laughed, cried and shared our frustrations.  We have come together to learn, explore and find new solutions.  Yet we are also leaving people behind.

Young people, who worked hard during their school careers have had exams cancelled and their grades as predicted, rather than based on performance and hard work.  They have been isolated from friends and support networks while being offered vastly different education support packages and they have seen the historical wounds of years of racism traumatically exposed through the tragic death of George Floyd and the ensuing and renewed interest in the Black Lives Matter movement. 

We don’t have to look far to see stories, statistics and predictions for how all of this will affect young people’s academic attainment, job prospects and mental health.  In a country where difficulties accessing appropriate, effective mental health support are frequently featured in the headlines and are the daily reality for young people, this is concerning.  Young people are being denied the opportunity to fulfil their potential.  It’s not good enough.  We can do better.

As we move out of lockdown and young people head back to school and work it will be more important than ever to ensure they are prepared to succeed.  No-one knows what lies ahead, but young people are certainly going to need a number of tools to navigate life, however that looks, and to get the best out of it and themselves. 

Underpinning all of those tools,is confidence, because if young people believe they can, they will.  A young person’s confidence in themselves is often

boosted when those around them believe in them.  If we set expectations low, this is where they will achieve, but if we set them high and show young people we believe they can reach those expectations, they will succeed. We need to show them that success is possible, by giving them a chance to fail.  This may sound counter-intuitive, but failure is part of life and by giving young people the opportunity to test things out and fail, we help them to realise that failure isn’t so bad after all and, indeed, is often where our best learning or most creative ideas come.

Confidence can take a while to build and it is through positive life experience that it does that, but, if you want some quick tips to build confidence in the young people you work with, here are our top five!

1. Strengths

Have them write down three things they like about themselves or are good at, e.g. “I’m a good friend”, “I stand up for what I believe in”, “I’m a great footballer”.  Then ask them to put this list somewhere they will look at it every day, to remind them what they’re already good at.

2. Positivity

Ask them to keep a notebook in which they write three small things that they are grateful for each day.  Sometimes this can feel hard, but the things can be quite small (in fact, the smaller the better) and may include things like “my favourite song came on while I was out for a walk”, or “the sun came out after a rainy morning”. Once this becomes a habit, it will encourage an attitude of positivity, which is uplifting and will foster self-belief.

3. Challenge negative self-talk

Linked to point number two.  Encourage them to notice how they talk to themselves.  For many young people, this is negative-their internal vocabulary will often include phrases such as “I can’t do that”, “I’m no good at that” etc. Ask them to reflect on this and to think about whether they would talk to a friend like that.  Then ask them to think about what they would say to a friend who was speaking like that and get them to experiment with talking to themselves like that.

4. Smile

Smiling make us feel good.  When young people are in a situation that makes them feel uncomfortable, encourage them to smile, even if it feels forced.  When we smile, we send a signal to our brain that what we’re doing, or about to do is good, it relaxes us and helps us get on with the task in hand with a good feeling.

5. Super-hero poses

Bear with me on this one, it sounds a bit bizarre, but it works!  For a confidence boost, have the young people stand in a “superman pose” for about a minute.  Stand up tall, feet planted firmly on the ground, with hands on hips.  This pose has been proven to boost confidence and energy and is a great way to prepare for an interview, or first day in a new situation.

What are your tips for growing and building confidence? We’d love to hear them! Comment below.

Laura Wallis

Director of Debating Mental Health

14 views0 comments