Have you seen the latest superhero movie? If you have a teenager in your life, chances are you’ve seen it or at least heard a lot about it.
All the explosions and special effects in those movies are cool, but I think there’s something else that makes superhero stories popular. Everyone wants to know the hero’s secret identity! The people the superhero helps see one side of him, but there’s a whole other side of the superhero they don’t always get to see. And we love watching how the writers put the two sides together into one person.
Today I’m going to let you in on something all parents of teens should know. Every teen, including the one in your life, wants to discover their own secret identity. As they’re growing up and facing serious choices, your teen is in an intense struggle to find out who they are and how they fit into the world.
Let’s talk about a few of the best ways you can help them discover who they really are.
LISTENING TO WHAT TEENS SAY
Many of us have a tendency to get caught up in providing for ourselves and our families, sometimes at the expense of our relationships. Life can get busy—working, running errands, carrying kids to and from activities.
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If we let it, the busyness of life can take over every minute of our time and all of our energy. Meanwhile, the teens around us are watching it all and getting the wrong message—that what we do is more important than who we are.
This is where you can step in as a parent and make a huge difference in your teen’s identity and self-confidence! The key here is becoming a better listener. When they get home and you ask them about their day at school, don’t just nod for a moment before moving on to the next household task. Stop and really listen to what your teen has to say. And don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions!
Or, when you find yourself together in the car, take advantage of the chance to find out what’s going on in your teen’s heart and mind instead of spending your drive time on the phone. Ask them what they think and feel about what’s happening in your family, in your community, and in the world.
The more you ask about—and truly listen to—what your teen is going through and thinking about, the more they’ll begin to feel a strong sense of identity. Help them to see that who they are is more important than what they achieve.
UNWRAPPING THEIR GIFTS
One of the hardest problems most teens deal with is being judged by others. Feeling accepted matters more to teens than almost anything else. And whether it’s peers at school, teachers or even family, teens often feel like everyone is looking at them and judging them.
Sometimes they’re just imagining the criticism, but sometimes it’s very real. Either way, the teenage years are a sensitive time. As a parent, you can help your teen through the anxiety by focusing on their gifts and positive character traits. Is your teen feeling insecure about their appearance? Praise them for their intellect. Are they disappointed about trying out and not making it onto a sports team? Compliment them on their acts of kindness.
Fashions come and go. So do good looks, athletic wins and even school achievements. But character matters—all the time. And every single teen, including yours, has character traits and gifts that you should be drawing their attention to. Help your teen to unwrap their gifts by pointing them out each time you see them shine through. That kind of positive support will go a long way in helping your teen find their true identity.
LOVING THEM UNCONDITIONALLY
I know you want to see your teen succeed in life. And I know it can sometimes seem as if your child’s weak spots and struggles outnumber the strengths and gifts. All teens have some growing up to do!
What might surprise you is that your teen knows it too. Deep down, every teen knows that as childhood ends they will have to find out who they are and how they fit into the world. In addition to spending quality time listening to them and helping them develop their gifts, there’s something else you can do for your teen—love them unconditionally.
Don’t miss the fact that your teen is not in your family by accident. As a mom or a dad, you have the unique ability to love your child for exactly who he or she is. So keep in mind what I said earlier about the sensitivity many teens feel as they’re growing up. Pay attention to your tone of voice. Is it encouraging? Choose your words carefully. Yes, a teen is still a child, but a teen is also moving into adulthood. So when you see your teen maturing, let them know it’s not unnoticed.
Every child’s identity is tied deeply to the messages they receive from their parents. No matter how a teen might be acting or speaking from day to day, they really want to know that you love them and appreciate them for who they are.
About Anthony ONeal
Since 2003, Anthony has helped hundreds of thousands of people make smart decisions with their money, relationships, and education. He’s a #1 national bestselling author of Debt-Free Degree and national bestselling author of The Graduate Survival Guide. He recently released Destroy Your Student Loan Debt. He travels the country spreading his encouraging message to help teens and young adults start their lives off right and people of all ages succeed with money. You can follow Anthony on YouTube and Instagram @AnthonyONeal and facebook.com/aoneal.