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  • Writer's pictureAlpana Shitolé

Assertiveness in T(w)eens: What does it look like

Updated: Sep 9, 2022

It was the night of Halloween, 2019. I was in my garage searching for a Halloween prop when I noticed a crumpled letter on top of one of the boxes. What I read in it filled me with shock, anger, and pride.

It was an apology letter from my neighbor, Mrs. R, to my 11 year old. Unbeknownst to me, Mrs. R, had scolded my daughter for allegedly pressuring her child into doing something she didn’t approve of. In her anger, Mrs. R had used her adult authority to override any protestations by my daughter and did not give her a chance to speak. My daughter heard her out and, because she did not get a chance to explain herself right there, later wrote down her point of view in a note which she handed over to Mrs. R. In the note she respectfully yet unequivocally denied having to do anything with her daughter’s behavior, told her she may have an idea who the real instigator was but that she will not be disclosing the name as she did not want to throw someone else under the bus, and finally, that the she did not appreciate the neighbor’s way of blaming her without knowing the facts.

This note made Mrs. R see reason and prompted her to write my daughter an apology letter, which is what I found lying in my garage. When I asked my daughter about it, she casually dismissed the incident saying she did not want to stress me out and thought she could handle it.

This is Assertiveness.

The word assertiveness is widely misunderstood. The dictionary defines it as “having or showing a confident and forceful personality”. This gives it a confrontational connotation. But true “assertiveness” is a style of communication based on balance. A balance between communicating your thoughts and beliefs while simultaneously respecting the thoughts and beliefs of others.

To better understand assertiveness, it is important to understand the four major styles of human communication:

Passsive Communication:

Passive communicators see disagreements as threats. They tend to give in quickly in order to avoid confrontation. They believe that they cannot control someone else’s behavior and are therefore not responsible for how they themselves are treated by others.

While passive communicators may save themselves the anxiety of confrontation and may be praised for ‘getting along’, the drawback is that they can feel a loss of self-esteem by letting others control how they are treated.

Aggressive Communication:

Aggressive communicators, on the other hand, dominate conversations, interrupt often, and rarely listen. It is usually ‘myway of the highway’ for them.

In the short term, an aggressive communicator might see things go their way which gives them a sense of control, making them feel like a “winner”. In the long term, however, failing to consider the views of others might create resentment in the people around them. Repeated incidences only leads to alienation and shallow relationships.

Passive-Aggressive Communication:

Passive-Aggressive communicators don't want to be seen as aggressive yet feel the need to “win”. They show aggression indirectly, often duplicitously. It could be in the form of silent treatment, subtle insults, or “keeping scores”.

Passive-aggressive communicators are not immediately be seen as aggressive since there is no direct confrontation but in the long run this manipulation will surface as a part of their personality. This leads to a loss of trust over time.

Assertive Communication:

Assertive Communicators believe that each of us are in control of our own behavior. They believe that it is possible to stand up for oneself without encroaching on other’s beliefs and rights.

When we communicate assertively:

  • We are able to acknowledge our own thoughts and wishes honestly, without the expectation that others will automatically give in to us.

  • We express respect for the feelings and opinions of others without necessarily adopting their opinions or doing what they expect or demand.

  • We listen to other’s wishes and expectations, then we decide whether or not to align with them.

Like all other forms of communication, assertiveness also has its pros and cons. The pros are that being assertive can develop authentic connections and self esteem. You are true to yourself and are surrounded by others who accept you for what you truly stand. The cons are that assertiveness is not intuitive. While there may be some who are born assertive, it takes a lot of effort and practice to communicate assertively.

Assertiveness is a key part of having a mindset to strive, achieve and exceed one’s potential despite setbacks and judgments from others. We call it a Leadership Mindset.

I have been teaching about developing Leadership Mindsets for years. It warmed my heart to see my own daughter, and inevitable student, internalize and practice it in her daily life. And how effective this style could be.

Today, as our teens and tweens are learning to figure themselves out in an increasingly opinionated, bombastic, and fractured world, the need to be assertive is stronger than ever.

Look out for part 2 of this blog where we will talk about the steps to foster assertiveness in teens and tweens.

You can also learn more about our course which instills assertiveness here:

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