Answer by Mildred Lewis:
Being really good at something. I was studying cello, playing in the Manhattan and City Wide student orchestras and zooming along at a wonderful high school. As a result, I had an identity and community. This gave me the pride, confidence and esteem to make better decisions. Even though I hadn't fully defined who I was apart from what I was doing, it gave me a critical safety zone and the time to figure those things out.
This experience is why I'm adamantly against bogus programs that try to boost self esteem apart from real accomplishment. I also find the idea of keeping teens busy to keep them out of trouble to be profoundly insulting. They need activities of consequence to create meaning and value just as adults do.