This is the first in short series of articles about self-development. It focuses specifically on young people but the strategies we’ll discuss in the coming articles are appropriate for anybody experiencing anxiety or low self-esteem.
We will look at some of the problems that confront young people in western countries and concentrate more precisely on answers and strategies for young Muslims.
In this day and age, young people need to build a set of skills that will help them overcome the many obstacles life throws onto their path. Two of the concepts we hear mentioned regularly are self-esteem and self-confidence.
However when you are feeling anxious or unhappy, feeling and acting with confidence seems like a difficult thing to contemplate, let alone achieve. Even the terms are confusing. “Do I even have self-esteem?” Many wonder. And what about self-confidence? Am I confident in my own abilities?”
What Exactly Do These Terms Mean?
Self-confidence means to trust in your ability to engage successfully, or at least satisfactorily, in the world around you. On the other hand, self-esteem is our intellectual and emotional appraisal of our own worth. Psychology today tells us that self-confidence and self-esteem do not always synchronize.
It is possible to be very self-confident but at the same time have very low self-esteem. Self-esteem is how you feel about yourself, and develops over time due to your experiences, while self-confidence is how you feel about your abilities, and can vary from one situation to the next.
People with self-esteem do not need to external crutches or trappings to lean on such as income, status, or notoriety. They do not need to mask their feelings about themselves with alcohol, drugs, or sex.
On the contrary, they treat themselves with respect. An easy statement to make, however, not an easy path to follow because being a young person in the 21st century can be difficult and problematic.
According to the American Psychological Association, teens today have higher levels of stress than their adult counterparts.
However, it is really tougher now than it was for previous generations. The transition period between childhood and adulthood was not recognized as a developmental stage in human development until the 1950s.
Transition stages have always involved some sort of stress or disruption. However scientists have now discovered that the human mind undergoes massive restructuring between the 12th and 25th years. The frontal cortex thickens just before puberty and then slowly shrinks back to normal size.
While this reconstruction is taking place, we have young people battling internal strife. They are trying to steer a course to adulthood, but are plagued with self-doubt and anxiety, impulsiveness, an unexplainable desire to take risks, and uncontrollable mood swings brought about by hormonal fluctuations.
This is an age old phenomenon and part of learning about the self and the world in which they will exist. Most young people want to make the world a different place. They want things to be better and not surprisingly when things don’t go according to plan they blame the previous generations.
Problems and Pitfalls
The twenty first century presents unparalleled problems and pitfalls. As well as carving a place for themselves in the world young people also face a changing global status quo. Their problems now include economic uncertainty, climate change, and the mass movement of populations, high tech warfare, and unprecedented government surveillance.
Therefore, and undoubtedly the biggest difference to the world of young people today is technology, and particularly the fact that everything happens ‘now’.
For young people today technology means life. Their existence is informed and shaped by technology. This is how they learn, this is how they socialize and it is the instrument they will use to steer themselves towards adulthood.
As much as adults would like to rescue them from social media and its drawbacks we cannot turn back time, technology is here to stay and adults must learn how to navigate their way through it, in order to help their teenage children to venture unharmed into adulthood.
Young people face the pitfalls of a life led in the glare of social media every single day. While there are tremendous advantages to having instant access to knowledge, our young people confront things such as cyber-bullying, soft and hard-core pornography, internet trolls and offensive websites often on a daily basis.
They face these treats to self-esteem and self-confidence with the added pressure of trying to carve a position for themselves between two worlds. Therefore it is essential that the parents and caregivers of young Muslims arm their young chargers with the tools they need to overcome things that affect them negatively.
Young Muslims probably hear the phrase ‘that Islam was revealed for all places and all times’ way too often. And more than likely they go to a lot of trouble to counteract this claim.
They always have trouble believing that someone else has experienced the same feeling of disconnection that they currently feel.
However Islam does speak to the needs of everybody, of all ages and everywhere. It does so simply because we have one thing in common. We’re all members of the human race.
We all seek happiness and try to avoid suffering. And we all want shelter and security. We need love and acceptance, and crave to feel part of something bigger than ourselves. And we laugh, we cry, we feel fear and joy and shame.
“We tell stories, we dream, we imagine things about ourselves and others and we spend a great deal of time thinking about the future and analyzing the past.”
So we’re all human and have distinctly human traits. God created us all, and promised that He would not leave us alone but would send Messengers and books to light our way.
Muslim Youth Today
Young Muslims today face a barrage of media telling them that they are different. So while struggling with body image, bullying, pressure to succeed and other uniquely youth centered problems, they are also struggling to fit into a society that tells them they do not belong.
In the twenty first century, young Muslims have been caught in the fallout of global politics. The actions and opinions of a relatively small number of people claiming to represent Islam have obscured the true teaching of Islam – tolerance and the acceptance of diversity – with violence and derisive rhetoric.
In this volatile, ever changing world young Muslims must look to the teachings of the Quran and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad, and apply the wisdom found there to life in the space and time they occupy.
Surprisingly, the more one delves into Islamic traditions and advice, the more one will find concepts and ideas that have been proven to help people of all ages feel better about themselves and thus raise both their self-esteem and their self-confidence.
 Teen stress rivals that of adults. Sophie Bethune, Monitor on Psychology. Vol 45, N.o4 p.20 Accessed at https://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/04/teen-stress.aspx
 The word “teenager” was used for the first time by Bill Haley and the Comets during a UK tour in February 1957.
 National Institute for Mental Health. ‘The Teen Brain: Still under construction.’ Accessed at https://infocenter.nimh.nih.gov/pubstatic/NIH%2011-4929/NIH%2011-4929.pdf
 ‘The traits that make human beings unique’. Melissa Hogenboom (2015) Accessed at http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150706-the-small-list-of-things-that-make-humans-unique
(From Discovering Islam archives)