By Brooke Westphalen (she/her/hers), development and communications coordinator
Editor’s note: Gender-specific language is used in some instances as a reflection of statistics shared and the women-centered focus of the Fearless publication. When possible, “youth” is used to be more inclusive. The author recognizes that not all people who menstruate identify as girls or women.
In my role as a development and communications professional at the Young Women’s Resource Center (YWRC), I have the unique opportunity to work alongside and learn from program staff who have years of experience teaching youths about confidence, self-esteem and resilience. Their knowledge and facilitation make a tremendous difference in the lives of youths throughout the community, and I believe sharing their expertise will lead to an even greater difference.
First, it is important to understand why working to cultivate confidence in youths is necessary. Girls and boys report nearly the same levels in confidence until the time when most girls hit puberty – then their self-confidence starts to drastically decline compared to their boy peers. Studies show that girls between the ages of 8 and 14 report a 30% drop in confidence. More alarming is the fact that 80% of girls report feeling negative about their body image by the time they are 17.
Consequently, youths with lower confidence and self-esteem are more likely to engage in risky behavior and are less likely to pursue their goals.
The YWRC works to address this concerning pattern in the Greater Des Moines community by providing programming to girls centered around building confidence, self-esteem and body image. But we know this trend cannot be reversed without the action of many. I am calling on you today to recognize your potential to further develop confidence in the youths who are in your life.
A first step to begin with is changing the way we talk to and teach youths about puberty, menstruation and reproductive health so they are confident and aware of their bodies at a young age. We do this at the YWRC by hosting interactive period parties to empower youths with the knowledge to understand, take care of and celebrate their bodies. At period parties, youths learn about puberty and reproductive health through games, activities, a Q&A box, and red-themed snacks, decorations, and outfits.
This environment reduces fear and stigma often associated with menstruation and leads to a deeper level of understanding about their bodies. Youths feel more comfortable asking questions and engaging in conversations they would otherwise avoid.
While period parties are a highlight for many YWRC participants, hosting a party is not required for you to create a similar environment to talk with the youths in your life about these topics (although it would be awesome if you did!). You can create a supportive and approachable environment for youths by initiating conversations about puberty at a young age, inviting them to ask you questions, talking openly about menstruation, and encouraging them to respect and celebrate their bodies.
Helping the youths in your life understand their bodies is one of many ways you can empower confidence and positive body image. I spoke with a member of the YWRC empowerment program team who is a certified sexual health educator and has a teen outreach certification, to garner more insight about specific actions you can take.
Here are five ways you can help strengthen confidence in youths:
- Validate their feelings. Youths are going through major physical, emotional and mental changes, and these emotional swings will come and go quickly.
- Talk through WHY they feel certain emotions. Low confidence and self-esteem often stem from much bigger societal issues that include social media, racism, classism, sexism, etc. Helping them understand what is causing these feelings not only increases trust between adults and youths, but it also encourages problem-solving, self-reflection and a better understanding of the world.
- Research issues and self-reflect on your own actions and choice of words used with youths so you can provide positive modeling. Youths often mirror what they see and hear in their daily lives.
- Always speak affirmations (supportive and positive comments) to youths. Encourage them to identify what they like about themselves and verbalize their own affirmations. Hearing and speaking affirmations help youths overcome negative thoughts and can decrease stress.
- Simply be aware of and celebrate the small victories youths have throughout the day and week. This validation reinforces positive decision-making and builds self-esteem.
We know youths with higher levels of confidence and self-esteem are more likely to develop resilience and the coping skills necessary to overcome challenges and obstacles in the future. We hope that you will see the power you have to develop youths’ confidence and join us in making an immediate and long-term impact in our community.
The YWRC’s mission is to empower its participants to be strong, self-confident and resilient. The organization serves individuals ages 10-24 who have been socialized and/or identify as female. This includes cisgender girls, cisgender women, transgender persons and nonbinary individuals. To learn more about the YWRC and its programs, visit www.ywrc.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 515-244-4901.