As the Confidence Coach and Sky Academy1 Ambassador for children and teenagers, I deal on a daily basis with young people who struggle with body confidence, self-belief and bullying issues. There is a real danger that without the proper skills and strategies to cope with the pressures of growing up, children will carry this unhappiness through their school years, getting even less confident as they grow older.
A recent study by Sky Academy revealed that one in three young people in Britain is not confident.2 Concerning? Yes. Surprising? Unfortunately not.
The biggest factor affecting girls’ confidence as they grow up is their appearance, and the clothes they wear. Sixty-six per cent of girls said their confidence is influenced by how attractive they feel, compared to just forty-six per cent of boys. This rings true from my professional experience, as a large number of the girls I coach choose the clothes they think they should wear, rather than the clothes they want to wear (even though the clothes sometimes cause them pain). This is due to a fear of being judged badly if they dress differently.
Peer pressure is nothing new, of course, but, as we know, social media has exacerbated the issue. Young people feel increasing pressure to look good on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter – to such an extent that Pippa Hugo, a leading child and adolescent psychiatrist, quoted in The Telegraph, believes that nine out of ten children ‘doctor’ their own photos before publishing them online.3 Airbrushing in glossy magazines has long been highlighted as a contributing factor to girls’ body issues, but now anybody can airbrush their own photos on a smartphone or computer, which provokes additional, and maybe even more acute, appearance anxiety among peers.
It was also found2 that two in five young people claim to be more confident on social media than in person, but this feeling of confidence is misplaced. Social media provides a false sense of security for young people. The screen is a shield that hides their frailties, and, while it allows them to be more open on social media, they can’t replicate the confidence offline.
Too much importance placed on socialising online can therefore result in what I refer to as the Triple-A effect: Attention, Approval and Acceptance. Gaining likes, followers and comments (attention) can deliver a momentary boost for young people (approval), but this only provides a false sense of endorsement (acceptance) that feeds the ego for just a moment before the next wave of approval must be gained, creating a perpetual spiral of emotions. As a result, people resort to sharing more daring and often untrue information, to gain the acceptance on social media that they’re not able to receive in the real world.
I’m not saying that social media is the root of all evil, but without knowing how to cope, it can be very easy for a young person to lose their self-esteem. I coach a Social Media Survival Plan, which involves setting clear times to go on social media and switching off by a set time, learning not to let others control how you feel, and thinking about possible outcomes of your posts.
Finding my purpose at a young age
Looking back, I can see that the beginning of my journey to help young people started during my years of being bullied at school – not knowing what to do, not wanting to be a trouble to anyone, yet all the while suffering inside. Probably many of us resonate with the sheer unhappiness that bullying brings and the echoing mental torture. My life lesson from school: never let a bully enter your head. I know how much easier that is said than done. Being bullied created an ongoing mental torment for me that affected much of my young adult life. From low self-worth to desperately wanting to be accepted by others, I found life really tough.
With the constant drive to prove myself, my corporate life was spent in the telecommunications industry, becoming a team manager of a busy call centre at just twenty. But still the mental torment of the bullies echoed in my head, limiting my self-belief.
Only a major life change when I was made redundant caused me to seek another path – one in the health, wellness and self-development industry. Since then, I’ve been studying and practising different ways to overcome personal barriers and limiting beliefs, to align thoughts, feelings and emotions. I’ve spent years studying NLP and undertaken communication and peak performance training to understand how the power of the mind can help or hinder the development of children’s confidence and ultimate success.
For this reason, my CHAMPS Academy uses the proven ‘CHAMPS Applied Confidence five-step Method’, which is a formulated and effective confidence and achievement coaching system for young people that gets rapid results. Coaching includes Skype, face-to-face workshops, schools programmes, and products, including a handy Kids Confidence app. The five-step method includes body confidence, such as physiology, communication (for example turning negative self-talk into empowering self-motivation), resilience to help bounce back after disappointment (or after rejection, which is common in children or teens who have social anxiety or feel socially awkward) and much more. Some examples of two important physiology skills are in the panel.
Any skills that aim to help young people overcome worries, anxieties and the usual rollercoaster of emotions that come with growing up should be quick to learn, easy to remember and, most importantly, applied when needed.
An eleven-year-old boy experienced a few issues at school, being teased and tricked about homework, which produced a panic pattern and developed in him certain behaviours, such as obsessively doing homework for around ten hours on a Sunday. This controlled his life and limited what the family could do at weekends. After a short time, the negative habits started being changed to positive outcomes and he reduced his homework time by five hours. He gave his mum the best Mother’s Day gift by going out for lunch that day, which hadn’t happened for over a year. Regular sessions continue to provide positive reinforcement and empower him forward through other challenges.
A twelve-year-old girl who was having friend troubles and who felt too scared to take the school bus, due to a bullying incident, improved so much within a short time that she started to get the bus again. That was a few months ago and recent feedback from her mum says she is doing really well and excelling in all classes.
There will always be a need for deeper and more concentrated professional help from therapists, in order for young people to manage emotions and deal with life-changing situations. But, thankfully, there are also a lot of proactive and preventative solutions that help young people develop unwavering self-belief and confidence, and achieve all they can in life. I find it a privilege and an honour to make such a positive contribution to the lives of the next generation.
Annette Du Bois is a well-known children’s and teens’ confidence development expert, author and CHAMPS Academy founder with over fifteen years’ experience of helping children overcome mental blocks and psychological barriers. She is an expert contributor, who regularly appears on radio and TV; a keynote speaker at TEDx; and the Sky Academy Ambassador for child confidence.
For more information, visit www.champs-academy.co.uk
1 Sky Academy is a set of initiatives using the power of TV, creativity and sport to unlock potential in young people. See www.skyacademy.com
2 [Online.] https://corporate.sky.com/media-centre/news-page/2015/new-study-warns-of-confidence-crisis-amongst-british-teenagers (accessed 6 January 2016).
3 Bingham J. Nine out of 10 teenage girls digitally enhance their own Facebook pictures. The Telegraph 2015; 19 September: iPad edition.