Problems with Parents and Savvy Solutions from Think Confident, Be Confident for Teens
Often the seeds of self-doubt take root and grow first in family relationships. The verbal and non-verbal messages we get from our family shape and impact our self-view. At home we can be ourselves, taking off our armor for the day, and family members see us for who we are. Our parents and siblings know how to push our buttons, making us vulnerable to self-doubt. Knowing your Achilles’ heel can help you stay clear of those feelings. Learn to pay attention to all the positive verbal and nonverbal messages your family uses to boost your self-confidence: they might be your greatest allies. Authors of Think Confident, Be Confident for Teens Drs. Leslie Sokol and Marci Fox offer common parent problems and savvy solutions to turn from self-doubt to confidence.
Problem #1: My parents are demanding too much.
Scenario: My parents push me into academically rigorous schedules and extracurricular interests to boost my resume. My older brother sets a high bar. I feel the pressure to excel. My parents are setting me up for failure by encouraging me to do things beyond my ability. I feel like I’ll always fall short of their too-high expectations. Why do they want me to take on work they know I can’t handle?
Advice: When doubt discourages you, pressure to perform can be intimidating. But regardless of pressure from parents, the greatest stress often comes from internal uncertainties. Doubt convinces you that you will fall short. Calling yourself names and forecasting a negative future makes you see failure ahead and can encourage you to quit without trying. Be very careful not to jump to conclusions. Ask yourself if your parents are demanding or simply encouraging you to perform. They probably have more confidence in your abilities than you do because they see what you can do. Collect the facts and consider the data that show you can and do handle difficult work. Instead of depending on your emotions as a guide for your actions, let the facts guide you. Feeling like you can’t tackle your schoolwork doesn’t mean you can’t. Instead of concerning yourself with your parents’ expectations, ask yourself what you want for yourself. Make sure doubt doesn’t interfere with reaching for what you want. Look at your parents’ expectations as encouragement instead of demands. When they push, consider them your personal cheerleaders. Success is in the doing, not the outcome.
Problem #2: My parents don’t like my friends.
Scenario: My parents don’t like the crowd I hang out with. Recently some of these kids have been getting into trouble at school and with the law. My so-called friends have started to leave me hanging out to dry while I have their backs. Now I’m starting to question my own judgment and doubt my friendships. I feel like I must have been brainless to think these were my friends. I won’t fit in with any crowd. If I accept that my parents are right it means I can’t make good decisions.
Advice: Be aware when you’re using extreme thinking and thinking the worst: that you’ll never fit in. Instead of looking at it from different angles and seeing the truth in your parents’ view, you may be tempted to dig in your heels, defending your position and your friends when collecting the facts would make it clear that you need a new plan to expand your friendships. Listening to your parents doesn’t mean you’re not in control. Instead of ignoring this information from another source (your parents), use it as one piece of data to help you formulate a broader perspective. Your parents have objective data: they notice which friends show up on time, keep a commitment, make eye contact with others, and are polite and pleasant to be around. They’re also aware when your friends antagonize others, destroy property even if only in fun, disregard house rules, are sloppy and inconsiderate of you and your things, or show up at inappropriate times. Listening to your parents’ feedback is a sign of a confident outlook. It means you accept you’re still the one in control but that you’re making your choices wisely, basing them on facts not on insecurity. Instead of using the ineffective behavior of defending your friends at all costs, put energy into healthy and reciprocal friendships.
Problem #3: It’s not fair.
Scenario: My older sister is a talented artist and my twin brother is always on the soccer field and has a car at his disposal. Just because I’m not a creative genius or an athlete and lied about hanging out at the mall, my mom has me babysitting my younger brother 24/7. I feel like I’m always yelled at and blamed for everything. I feel like my parents think I’m no good and have nothing going for me. I feel like they hate me and have no respect for me.
Advice: Insecurity may tell you that your parents think you’re no good. You might jump to the conclusion that your parents won’t give you the freedom to do what you want. Choosing to manipulate the situation by lying and sneaking around to gain freedom rather than asserting yourself and asking for privileges is not an effective way to get what you want. Instead of trying to manipulate the situation by unassertively stomping off to your room, slamming doors or sneaking around, try this: Collect the facts and consider all the possibilities. Your parents tell you they love you. It’s possible that all of their restrictions are coming from their own anxiety that you’ll put yourself in harm’s way. You know you’re a good kid and have enough self-respect not to make bad decisions, but you haven’t communicated this to them. Stop being unassertive. Getting more freedom won’t happen if you continue to sneak around and lie. Freedom comes from being direct and using effective, assertive communication with your parents to negotiate a plan that works for them as well as you. Have the confidence that you can talk to them and make a compelling case instead of assuming your situation is hopeless.
Problem #4: My Sister is the favorite.
Scenario: My older sister is the favorite. She is better than me at everything—she has better grades and she’s a star in the pool. My parents always put her in charge and give her more freedom. I’m always in her shadow and never feel good enough. I feel like my parents favor her over me. I can’t compete, so why try?
Advice: Walking in the shadow of a successful sibling is tough. Your doubt distortions cause you to make comparisons and question your abilities to measure up. You may ignore the facts and depend only on your emotions, convincing yourself that your parents favor your sister. Consider all the possibilities and you’ll see that your parents treat each of you differently because you are different people, not because one is better. Their praise for your sister is not an insult to you. Collect the facts and remind yourself of all the praise and recognition you’ve gotten too. Stop making comparisons and focus on your own strengths. Instead of jumping to the conclusion that you will never be able to compete with your sister, recognize that it’s not a competition. Consider another possibility; That your sister and parents are rooting for you. See them as allies rather than adversaries. Think of how much better you’ll feel when you stop comparing and start navigating your own path in life. Similarities and differences make each of us unique and special. Self-confidence comes from seeing your family as a cheering section rather than your opponent.
Problem #5: I don’t want to mess up my relationship like my parents did.
Scenario: I thought my parents would be together forever. I knew they didn’t always get along and there was tension between them, but I never thought they would split up. Now they’re getting divorced and it’s turned my life upside down. I feel like this will mess me up for future relationships. I might do something wrong and end up like them. Maybe it’s not possible for two people to make it forever. Maybe it’s my fault they’re getting divorced.
Advice: Worrying is ineffective action that allows your fear to nag you. Your parents breakup is one unique situation, not a verdict on marriage. Just because your parents weren’t able to make their marriage work doesn’t mean you’ve inherited some sort of divorce gene. You may be able to learn what undermines a relationship by objectively reviewing your parents’ situation. Note the problems, then use the information to guide you in your own relationships. Have confidence that you’ll make better decisions with this insight. Look at it from different angles, and remember they had lots of problems unrelated to you. Collect the facts and consider the more realistic view that you were not to blame. Appreciate the wisdom you’ve gained from your parents’ mistakes. Use it to bring confidence to your future relationships.
Problem #6: Will I end up as crazy as my mom?
Scenario: For as long as I can remember, my mom has been unable to participate in ordinary life. She often spends days on end in bed leaving household chores undone. She leaves me on my own to fend for myself. I’d like to invite friends over or encourage my parents to attend things like school functions, but instead I go out of my way to keep my home life a secret. I carry my mom’s illness inside me as a dark secret and fear people will find out. I feel like I can’t let anyone know how bizarre my mom is because people will think less of me if they see. I’m afraid I’m going to be just like her one day.
Advice: You may feel convinced that others will judge you negatively based on your mom’s illness, and that you may end up like your mom. Collect the facts and think about what draws you to other people. Typically, your attraction to someone else is not based on what the rest of their family is like. If you were to critically examine any of your friends’ parents, you might find plenty of unlikable, impaired or odd people. Would that keep you from liking your friends? Your friends like you for who you are, not who your mom is or isn’t. Your friends base their opinions of you on all the assets you bring to the friendship. Qualities like intelligence, humor, personality, friendliness, kindness, compassion, and listening skills attract people to you. Have the self confidence to show that regardless of who your mom is, your friends will like you. Recognize that you are not your mom. Consider past experiences and think of all the ways you’re different. Know that just because she’s unable to handle life doesn’t mean you’re destined to walk the same path. Stop the ineffective actions of avoiding and worrying and take a different course of action. Stop hiding and be open about her, and you’ll likely be rewarded with support from your friends and increased self-confidence. Don’t forecast the future. Accept that your mom’s disabled, but don’t believe it suggests something about you or your future, because it doesn’t.
More about the Authors of Think Confident, Be Confident for Teens
Leslie Sokol, PhD, is director of education at the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research. A highly acclaimed lecturer, Sokol is a licensed psychologist and cognitive therapy expert who maintains a private practice in the Philadelphia suburbs. Sokol has appeared in Redbook, Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, Shape, The New York Times, and The Boston Globe, and has appeared on The Montel Williams Show.
Marci G. Fox, PhD, is a senior faculty member for the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research’s training program. She is a licensed psychologist and expert in cognitive therapy.