Instilling Self Confidence in Boys
Despite advances in gender differences, boys are still very much taught that they need to be strong, not show emotions, never be vulnerable, and a host of other behaviors that can make them feel isolated from others. When boys feel they have no outlets and ways to express themselves, they can lose confidence in themselves and have lower self-esteem. This can have detrimental outcomes, as boys seek ways to feel better about themselves. This could be getting involved with others who are not the positive influences desired, or acting out in negative ways that lead to them getting in trouble in school or elsewhere. As boys age, their self-confidence tends to improve; however, if they are involved in activities and detrimental behaviors at a young age, this may well carry into the teen years, when the outcomes can be much more serious. What can you do, as a parent or influence, to foster a healthy self-confidence in young boys?
First, be sure that you are available. If boys know they have someone to talk to who will not laugh at them for expressing their feelings and fears, they will be more likely to take advantage of this. Young boys may have friends who they can talk to, but these boys have also been taught or shown that expressing emotions is unmanly, and that fears are something to be laughed at. This can result in devastating feelings of rejection and loss of self worth among peers. Therefore, be sure to provide a safe place and ways for boys to express themselves.
Also show boys that it is okay to express emotions. This does not mean that the men in their lives need to be overly sensitive or constantly crying, but displaying a healthy amount of emotion is a positive thing, both for the adult and for the boys who witness it. Displays of appropriate emotion are important to a boy's sense of self-worth. For example, boys who witness men being stoic and showing little or no emotion during times of high emotional stress may become very confused. A death in the family is one such example. The boy will understandably be feeling sadness, emptiness, and a host of other emotions. However, if he witnesses the adult men in the family appearing unaffected, this can create a lot of confusion. This can also make a young boy doubt his own emotions, which are perfectly natural and normal in such a situation. Yet, from what he witnesses, he may conclude that he is abnormal, which can lead to a loss of self-esteem and confidence.
Help boys find what they're good at and encourage it. Not all boys are going to be fabulous at sports or other traditionally "male" activities, and this is okay. If he is good at sports, that's great. But also encourage boys to try a variety of activities and interests to see which ones fit and which do not. If a boy loves reading, for example, do not chastise him for this. If he is made to feel unworthy for pursuing interests, he can translate this into feeling that he as a person is not important, and this is definitely not something you want to have happen. Particularly for boys, activities and external pursuits are often seen as a direct reflection of who they are as people. Encourage boys to feel good about who they are, not just what they do.
As boys learn healthy ways to express themselves, follow their interests, and have a strong support system, they will be much better able to build a strong foundation for a lifetime of confidence. Making it through the teenage years will be easier (not easy, but easier), as will the transition to adulthood. Start early to help young boys to develop a strong sense of self to help them become positive role models for the next generation.