How To Build Confidence in Teens

How To Build Confidence in Teens

How To Build Confidence in Teens 1000 1000 Larry Liu

how to build confidence in teens

Everything we do at Spike Lab revolves around one core mission – to develop lifelong, purpose-driven innovators. This means that students who work with us not only build a unique Spike, they also develop superpowers that they use in future projects. Of all these superpowers, confidence is one of the most important. I’m referring to the good, healthy confidence that is built through experience. And as much as we love to talk about growing purpose, igniting passion, and getting into great colleges, we also believe that launching a Spike is also one of the best confidence-building activities for teens.

What is confidence?

Confidence is what we feel when we believe in ourselves. The term confidence is actually a broad catch-all for self-efficacy, self-confidence, and self-esteem. In the interest of simplicity, let’s say that people feel confident when they have faith in their abilities and possess an underlying sense of self-worth. This feeling can be task-specific or general.

Confidence is desirable because it brings out the best in people. We want to see confidence in our leaders and experts, but we also want to see it in our friends and family. When people close to us exude confidence, it’s a signal that they are motivated and fulfilled.

But like any superpower, confidence can be productive or counterproductive.

Odyssean confidence and Icarian confidence

As a former teacher and current coach at Spike Lab, I’ve worked with many different kinds of students. Consider the following two anecdotes as illustrations of different kinds of confidence.

One freshman I worked with started off unsure of himself. He said exactly five words during our first coaching session. Over the next several months, he planned and launched a successful Spike thanks to his rational decision-making and grit. Through each small win, I watched this young man transform into a more outwardly confident person. Eventually, he taught a series of introductory biochemistry workshops to kids whose schools lacked laboratory opportunities. His initiative shocked everyone he knew, including his own parents.

Another student was a junior when I started working with her. She launched into our first meeting certain that she would achieve her goal to change the landscape of mental health for teenagers (and that she’d do it in just two months). Her idea never made it past brainstorming.

When it comes to building good confidence in teens, it’s harder if you start with bad confidence than with no confidence at all. Students with Icarian confidence must undergo a tough reality check to actually grow. These moments tend to come when the student goes out into the world for feedback—for example, when they interview potential users or customers of their Spike project. These moments are uncomfortable. But they are positive and necessary for growth. Facing reality is the first step for anyone who wants to build good confidence.

Compare and contrast

The two core traits that separate good confidence and bad confidence are realism and durability.

Good Confidence – OdysseusBad Confidence – Icarus


  • Makes decisions based on data and rational thinking
  • Sees and accepts limitations
  • Has beliefs that map onto the real world


  • Overly-optimistic, only sees the upside
  • Rooted in fantasy, not reality
  • Emotional, is confident because it feels good


  • Gritty, overcomes challenges and sees them as opportunities
  • Growth-oriented, knows that our skills and knowledge evolve over time


  • Easily broken after repeated challenges
  • Fixed, the person has a set idea of who they are and what they can do

I named the two kinds of confidence after two characters from Greek literature. Odysseus had a confidence that was rooted in a clear understanding of the world. As a result, he made it back home to Ithaca. Icarus, on the other hand, famously overestimated his situation, didn’t listen to advice and flew too close to the sun.

As a coach, my job is to bring out the qualities on the left side of the table.

It’s not always one or the other. The same student can alternate between good confidence and bad confidence. In some cases, earned confidence for one task can create unrealistic confidence for another. If the varsity soccer captain, whose confidence stems from athletic success, decides to build an app, she will have to start by taking an honest, realistic look at their coding skills.

Odyssean confidence is always built through experience. Icarian confidence is often dreamt up in one’s head.

Building confidence in teens by building a Spike

If the ingredients of Odyssean confidence are understanding reality, knowing oneself, and growing through experience, the Spike Lab’s program is tailor-made to bring out the Odysseus in every student. Here are some of the facets of our program make it one of the greatest confidence-building activities for teens.


Building self-awareness is the first of many confidence-building activities for teens. Before we can really believe in ourselves, we have to know ourselves. This means that we have to know what interests us, what we value, and what larger purpose fuels our fire. Self-discovery along this dimension is a process I think of as “growing roots.”

Students spend the first stage of a Spike working with a coach to grow roots. They do this by first identifying their unique interest, whether it’s drone technology, sports medicine, or environmental sustainability. Then, with that interest in mind, students articulate their purpose. Finally, they confidently propose a Spike that aligns with their interest and purpose.

Building self-knowledge during the teenage years is crucial because adolescence is when we’re just starting to figure out who we are. Helping young people do the work to grow roots early on helps build the durability side of Odyssean confidence. The stronger the roots, the more resilient a young adult is in any endeavor—whether it’s a Spike, college applications, or a career.


Being realistic means knowing our own abilities and limitations. In the investing world, this is sometimes referred to as the circle of competence. The only way to truly know our abilities—and the only way to learn—is through feedback. Great feedback has two essential ingredients—it must be accurate and specific. This type of feedback is essential for building confidence in teens.


  • Good confidence isn’t built from creating a protective bubble of praise. Feedback needs to reflect reality so students can accurately gauge the quality of what they’ve done.
  • Critical feedback is actually just as valuable for building confidence as positive feedback. Feedback should reflect reality.


  • It’s easy to toss out a “great job” when someone does something good, but that doesn’t actually build good confidence. They don’t know what was actually great about the job that they just performed, so they’re not sure about how to repeat the outcome.
  • Vague feedback is what leads to confidence that is only emotional and focused on feeling good about oneself.

Having a problem-solving toolkit

During a Spike, as during any journey, students run into problems that need solving. Therefore, students who launch a Spike inevitably become problem solvers. Problems might be big events—a faulty prototype or a logistical blocker that requires a quick workaround. Or, problems might come in the form of a bad attitude or habit.

In every case, we coach our students to think of the problem as something that can be understood and managed. Instead of seeing a problem and starting to panic, we coach students to understand the problem, decide how to best approach it, and take action. The how in that previous sentence is crucial. Our coaches look at a student’s problem and ask “Okay, you’re blocked – how do we get you unblocked?”

Muscle memory and external validation

When we follow through on a project—large or small—we build muscle memory. Building a business exercises our muscles for complex problem solving, while making art exercises our creative muscles. In both cases, we also develop habits and attitudes necessary for getting things done. We realize over and over that we can turn our ideas into reality. The more of these projects we do to completion early in life, the more we can do later on.

Our Spike Coaching program is modeled after this concept. To build a significant, impactful Spike project, students must succeed at testing a series of prototypes first. Call it a series of confidence-building activities for teens if you will.

Another positive effect of early wins is the public validation we get when a project goes well. Validation from the right people is rocket fuel. These days, many young people see social media as the primary channel for validation. As we know, this can lead to skewed incentives and troubling, long-term consequences. However, teaching kids to publicly share and celebrate the fruits of their hard work is a great way to build confidence.

How can parents help in building confidence in teens?

Use these tips to start building Odyssean confidence in your teen. Some of these are confidence-building activities.

Do self-esteem worksheets with your kids.

Here are some great starter worksheets to help your teen reflect meaningfully on their sense of self.

Give meaningful feedback.

Even though teenage students might not listen as much as parents would like, at least some of the feedback gets through to them. Parents should be as accurate and specific with their feedback as possible.

Expect slow progress at first.

If your child is trying to come out of their shell, the going might be slow at the beginning. Building social skills is just like building problem solving skills.

Create room for practice.

In order to develop Odyssean confidence, students need constant practice on specific skills. Pick something that is intrinsically motivating to them. Whether it’s practicing piano or getting better at a video game, help your teen find time for deliberate practice.

Create confidence-boosting wins

Students build confidence through activities and projects in which they succeed. Help your student set achievable goals in activities that they like. Then, slowly ramp up the difficulty of projects over time, just like a bodybuilder would slowly ramp up a workout routine.

Once a student has some wins under their belt, they’re ready to take it to the next level. Though Odyssean confidence is rooted in reality, students should still dream big. This is where the Spike Lab comes in. Having a Spike coach as a mentor helps expand a student’s network and dramatically increases their confidence and odds for success. Our coaches are here to supercharge confidence and ambition.

Do you want your teen to engage in the ultimate confidence-building activities? Have them launch a Spike project. To learn more, book a private consultation today.