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The Masked Generation: Five Ways to Build Confidence

I recently watched a debate panel, made up of college students. Two sides were debating a controversial issue and one student, in particular, was dominating the argument. He was articulate, intelligent and, most of all, confident.

After it was over, I approached this young sophomore. It was then I was stunned by his actual demeanor. The student was not only quiet, but quite insecure—even fearful—and absolutely lacking self-confidence. I couldn’t figure out how he could morph from the self-assured debate team member on stage to a completely opposite demeanor in just minutes.

That’s when I learned a lesson in masks.

Today’s student has been raised in an environment of masks. For more than a decade, they’ve been able to hide behind the mask of social media; behind the mask of curating the best “selfie,” behind the mask of stickers and emojis, and behind the masks of disappearing platforms like Snapchat or Whispr. Like all generations, students hide behind what they’re comfortable doing, but today’s hiding may be a disguise—preventing others from seeing their genuine fears. According to the Central New York Business Journal, Generation Z is a confident generation that does not want to miss anything. With short attention spans, these “digital natives” prefer closed social media platforms such as Snapchat and are considered to be more private than Millennials.

Yet, are they authentically confident?

In many of the national and global surveys on Generation Z, the students self-report that they are confident people. When I dig deeper, however, into many of these reports, I find something fishy. The confidence is in regard to technology—often the use of video games, social media and cyber-information. Once they step outside of those areas, they frequently wear a mask and hide.

Generation Z Without the Mask

In our 2016 focus groups, held in four states across the U.S., we found students confiding in us that they felt very scared, very anxious and a lack of confidence. Their chief fears were not about using social media or technology, in general. Again, that’s where the masks showed up. Instead, they were frightened about:

  • Their future
  • Making good grades
  • The impact of terrorism
  • Getting a job they like
  • Getting into college
  • The future of the world

Other than that, they’re fine.

There is actually a term today called, “selfie-esteem.” Posting a good selfie can bolster the personal esteem teens hold for themselves. But there’s a downside. Overall, social media makes teens feel more self-conscious about their appearance. Social media makes teens feel as though they always need to be “camera ready.” There’s an angst that accompanies this constant “camera ready” posture.

Five Ways We Can Cultivate Confidence in Students

There are five fundamentals we can teach students that consistently raise their level of confidence. Let me remind you of these steps below:

1. Equip them in public speaking skills.

Communication and public speaking continue to loom as the largest fears Americans have in life. The contrary is true as well. When we build good public speaking skills, we tend to become more confident. Why not enroll them in a course?

2. Enable them to identify personal strengths.

My own self-confidence grew, as a middle school and high school student, when I found out I had a talent in art. My confidence rose as I cultivated this gift, eventually designing our school mascot. Teens need milestone accomplishments like this.

3. Teach them social etiquette.

The students I know who learn social graces and protocol tend to be more confident and self-assured. From learning manners and courtesy to knowing social codes in public places gives them an advantage they can actually feel.

4. Help them to focus and achieve in one category.

One big reason students lack confidence today is they feel overwhelmed. I’ve found if I can help a student narrow their focus, simplify their goals and achieve in one significant area, it tends to increase their confidence levels.

5. Empower them to serve.

It’s an irony of life. We become less assured when we are focused on ourselves. We become more self-assured as we learn to focus on serving others. Self-consciousness decreases self-confidence. Finding places to serve actually serves the server.

Here’s to taking off the mask and putting on a genuine confident demeanor.


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