Teens need meaning in their lives. They search for purpose, value, and fulfillment. Existing day-to-day and week-to-week isn't enough; they hunger for more than daily routines and obligations. When they find nothing to fill those voids, they're sometimes at risk for exploring treacherous ground with lost people.
For life to make sense to a teenager, for him/her to find the motivation and desire to build integrity and achieve, five traits that parents can teach their child to develop will create the bedrock he can stand on.
Those traits are resilience, direction, focus, passion, and consideration for others. Qualities like these lay a foundation within that a successful and gratifying life can be built upon.
Resilience is the number one quality I'd want my own child to develop, if I had to choose. The ability to get up after being knocked down. You have a choice to stay down -- or get up and keep moving forward. Rocky says it best to his son in this scene from Rocky Balboa. Check out this video:
I see many kids fail in academics and sports, or struggle socially. What is missing is resilience. Kids need their parents to help them build resilience. It begins when the toddler tries to walk and falls down.
Parents could shame the child for failing, but most parents will help their child stand up and try again with enthusiasm and determination. From that point, everything the child attempts is another opportunity for developing resilience.
Parents need to back off the lecturing and start telling stories. Tell your kid stories about when you struggled, battled, and were down for the count. When everything you had known to be true just wasn't and you felt betrayed and kicked by life. What did you do? Did you stay down and give up? Or did you get back up and continue moving forward? And how? How did you do it?
Talk about it, because these are the things your child needs to hear to form his own ideas about how to bounce back from difficulty and failure, how to survive and thrive.
Many teens haven't yet developed the level of resiliency necessary to be successful in their lives or their relationships. By talking about these experiences, you're showing them a way of being in the world. At the dinner table, or following a movie or television show, or in the car when you're riding together, opportunities to model your responses to challenges are all around you. Telling stories of your battles and how you overcame or how you failed, but got back up again, give your son or daughter wisdom to draw from in their own lives.
How can we get stronger if we never fail? Failing is good.
Often in my practice, I put my client into a really difficult situation, get them to hold steady in that space for awhile, then guide them as they work their way out of the crisis or failure. It's incredible to see. You know why? Because they gain confidence as they work through or overcome the situation. And over time it becomes more natural, and their emotional strength and confidence grow, too.
Teens need direction. From my perspective, direction is the ability to look into the future and project success. It's not what you're going to do for the rest of your life, i.e. your career.
How is a teen supposed to know what they're going to do for a living? Income is not direction. When I hear, "make a living," I hear money and material things.
I'm all for making a living but the only way this will happen is if that teen has the ability to live his or her best possible life. Look into the future and consider what it would be like to be successful. Parents, you can do this with your kids.
Help your teen imagine himself in various roles, and doing things he believes in. Help him create a picture of himself living a meaningful life -- what that would be like, feel like, look like. The elements of fulfillment and meaning are more important than the career and money. Help him lay his foundation so he'll recognize direction as it forms within him.
Focus empowers a teen to follow his direction. Focus is not the ability to sit in class for an hour without moving. What a shame that a student's ability to focus is reduced to that single skill. When my clients speak of focus I regularly hear this definition -- to be able to sit still and take in information.
We aren't meant to sit still. Notice all the legs bouncing and the bodies swaying in a classroom. Focus leads to results. If I give my attention to something, focus my mind and drive on it, then results WILL come from it. Focus is about thinking into the future, literally feeling outcomes before they even happen, and then charging forward to accomplish those results. It's being single minded to achieve a goal.
My own mentor told me one time, "where you put attention is where you get results." This concept is teachable, and can be imparted.
Passion fuels a kid's focus to achieve results. Passion is the gas that runs the motor. Where do teens find passion?
I often hear this: "He just doesn't have any passions."
Lay off and consider the fact that humans are constantly evolving and often change what they desire. Understand that if your child has the space to move forward the passions will ignite as he goes. He has an entire life before him and there will be passions that come and go. It's not just one thing, one job, or one career.
Encourage your child to pursue interests as they arise, and see where they take him. If given opportunities and latitude, your child will discover what is important to him, what motivates him, and what he's passionate about.
Consideration of others gives your teen the power to focus on others outside himself and to find the creative energy that's at his disposal when putting his attention on the welfare of those around him. It takes the pressure off himself and helps him to see his place in the world; and to see his own problems and value in a larger perspective.
Kids learn to be 'others-focused' from their parents, teachers, and mentors; and you can teach your teen to look beyond himself through conversation, stories, compassion for those less fortunate, respect for other family members and friends, and through experiences like volunteering, camp, babysitting, and other opportunities.
While it may seem that your highest quest in helping your kid grow is that he pursue high grades with all his might, or excel in sports, neither of these things will serve him as well as having the solid strength in his character to deal with whatever life throws at him. When that's in place, academics and performance tend to take care of themselves.