By Lisa Nagle, Executive Director, PacificLink (PLIES Inc.)


Recently I joined a social media group made up of college students at a prestigious U.S. university. I was immediately impressed with the posts and discussions of several of the students. I offered to meet with one of the students in person to begin a mentoring/coaching relationship. When I met the student face-to-face I was immediately surprised at the lack of self-confidence and lack of communication skills. It was like this person in front of me was totally different from the person who communicated so confidently online on the social media platform.

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 creating the best “selfie,” behind the mask of emojis. 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 and personalities and character.

I read a lot of articles and surveys about Generation Z. Generation Z is defined as kids born between the years 1995-2014. Many of the young international students enrolling in U.S. schools are born during this period. Many of the students report that they are confident yet their confidence seems to be in regard to technology—often the use of video games or social media. Once they step outside of those areas, they frequently wear a mask and hide.

When I get the chance to talk with students in person I find that they feel very scared, very anxious and a lack of confidence. Their chief fears include:

  • 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 actually boost a person’s selfie-esteem. But there’s a negative. 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 Build Confidence in Students

There are five fundamentals we can teach students that consistently raise their level of confidence.

  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?

We will share with you the other four skills you can teach youth to build their confidence. I want to encourage you to choose short-term study abroad programs carefully. Our IDEA Academy (Innovation, Design, Entrepreneurship, Action) helps teens build their confidence and public speaking skills.