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How TEEN LEADERSHIP SKILLS Can Aid in Mental Illness Prevention

Updated: Jul 12, 2020

When I initially thought about the topic of leadership as it pertains to teens, I thought about qualities like taking charge, striving for the highest positions of power and influence or simply being kind so others will follow. Then, my natural instinct kicked in and I did a quick google search for the common definition.

Here is what I found:

"Leadership is defined as “a process by which a person influences others to accomplish an objective and directs the organization in a way that makes it more coherent and cohesive.” A good leader is one who is always three steps ahead of the others. He looks out for the people before himself."

Makes a lot of sense to me.

Having someone with strong organization skills, selflessness and prioritizing the group they lead sounds accurate… But then I took this definition and looked at it from a different context… “being a leader in our teenage years”.

Does this definition still fit?

I'm not so sure it does.

When we're in our teenage years, generally we aren't CEOs of a corporate company, running our own non-profit or in full charge of a large group of people. Maybe a very small percentage of people are, but the majority of us are pretty average. And even putting the pressure on ourselves to be one of those select few can potentially have an adverse effect on our mental health.

Instead, what leadership in high school looks like might be; creating social initiatives within our school, working on making new friends, showing kindness above being cool, working with a group on an assignment, or making plans for the upcoming weekend.

Although some may argue that the above definition may still apply, there are also missing gaps within it’s relatability.

Yes, maybe if we become the student body president we would need to ensure the organization and priority of our peers. However, can this mentality reflect every student in the entire school? Absolutely not!

Our teenage years are about exploring who we are and who we wish to be in the future.

If we are only thinking about others, when do we get time to focus on ourselves?

If that’s the case, then let's break down and define some common leadership skills that can be more relatable and beneficial during our teenage years:

  1. Confidence

  2. Hard working

  3. Supportive

What's amazing about leadership skills is they differ based on individual experiences. What might be important skills in my mind, might be different in others. But let's learn a bit more about the ones that I feel are of primary importance. And with that being said, what is the benefit of developing and practicing these skills?

Let's start with confidence.

This can be a pretty touchy subject for some, I know it is for me. Confidence can take up a lot of mental, emotional and psychological space in our brain.

Doubt, second guessing, procrastination are a few behaviors that our confidence can impact - for some reason the teen years tend to love these kinds of struggles.

“If you don't believe in yourself, then how can you expect others to believe in you”

Have you ever heard of this saying before? It feels so accurate to me.

We are our own biggest critics, yet we often expect others to show faith and trust in us… why don't we have that same expectation for ourselves? It's important to practice being our own cheerleader and calm the concerns of our own inner critic.

Being able to look at ourselves in the mirror with a sense of pride and confidence can change our entire persona. Confidence isn't just something that impacts our own life, it causes ripple effects on those around us.

For example, the ability to forge and maintain strong friendships, arguably one of the most important aspects of our teenage years, is hugely dependent on our self-confidence. Allowing our own confidence to shine through can positively impact our social life and social circle. In turn, it can create a place of growth, experience and support.

As a teenager, pushing ourselves into experiences that are unfamiliar territory can build on these skill sets, setting a strong foundation for adulthood. Making new friends, stepping outside our comfort zones and discovering new hobbies can help build internal strength. By doing so we are increasing our own mental capacity and inner strength.

A nurturing environment doesn't just come from our family, it stems from our social circle as well. Having a nurturing environment and a strong support system, can be a reflection of our own self worth.

Do you look at yourself in the mirror and say “I deserve this”?

Hard working.

How do we quantify hard work? By how many hours we studied for? How many kilometres we ran? Or does it simply mean our diligence and effort in whatever we do, like being a good friend?

Working hard isn't just about these things - It's about building good habits surrounding those efforts that might translate into all different areas of our life.

So the questions we should be asking ourselves are:

  • What specific amounts of effort can I put in to be there for my friends?

  • What specific amounts of effort do I need to put into school work, to achieve my personal best?

  • In what ways can I push myself beyond my comfort zone so that I don’t become complacent?

It's easy for us to put pressure on ourselves to be the best we can be. It's also easy for other people, intentional or not, to place additional pressures in our lives. This is where the importance of setting boundaries comes into play.

The idea of setting boundaries does not necessarily mean putting up internal walls. It can mean setting ourselves up for success through listening to our needs and wants. Through experiences, we can gain a better understanding of what this means. In turn, implement that mentality in every aspect of our lives.

Gaining the skills to maintain consistency in the different aspects of our lives, can help build healthy habits. Habits that benefit us as individuals, friends, siblings and every other role we take on.

Implementing these skill sets can help those around us to know what they can expect from us, what they can’t expect and also helps to build routine, which we know helps us thrive (if we can keep it balanced and flexible).

This goes hand in hand with our final skill set; supportive.

Oftentimes this can go completely unnoticed.

The majority of us, if not all, have felt a sense of support in our lives, or have been a support to others. This can be as minor as pressing the elevator button for someone, smiling at a stranger that passes by or giving someone a pencil at school and as big as giving regular charity or leading huge programs. (It’s not the size that counts. These are all important).

Practicing supportive characteristics can increase prosocial behavior over time.

Looking at these skill sets independently of the others can give us a good idea of why they each are important. Together they are almost interchangeable.

For most of us:

  • We won’t work hard unless we believe in why we're working hard or have confidence in our ability to be successful.

  • We won’t be supportive unless we are confident that our support is valued.

  • We won’t have confidence in ourselves if we undervalue our ability to support or be supported.

There are many ways these can mix and match.

Developing and practicing leadership skills does not only benefit our present selves, it sets a foundation for our future.

As life continues to grow hurdles, as it always does, we will have these skill sets to help us overcome what comes our way. Not to say that it will be easy, because what in life is?

The beauty lies within having these tools as a reminder to ourselves that we can, and we will.

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