5 Ways to Help Your Teen Build Identity
The teen years are full of exploration and questions. Most likely, your teens will even engage you in “discussions” about the answers to those questions. You will watch, listen, and discuss questions like: What values do I believe? What career will I pursue? What lifestyle will I live? What kind of person do I want others to see in me? What is my purpose in life? What kind of person might I want to marry? Do I want to marry? In the process of answering these questions, teens may argue with parents and teachers (maybe even rebel), withdraw from family and spend more time with friends, “push the limits,” question family standards, experiment with different lifestyles and ideas. As any parent knows, it’s not just the teen who experiences difficulties during this time. Parents also struggle during their child’s adolescence (And can learn to love more). How can a parent journey through the teen years and maintain a loving relationship with their teen? Here are 5 tips to help.
· The journey through the teen years begins with preparation. One wise writer suggests that parents “train up a child in way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Solomon, Proverbs 22:6). This author tells parents to encourage, nurture, and bring out their children’s inherent personality and natural abilities—“the way he should go.” When your children are young, pay attention to their interests and strengths. Provide opportunities for them to pursue their interests and practice their strengths. Acknowledge their interests and strengths with recognition, specific praise, and even detailed discussions about them. Express value in those interests and strengths. Notice that this takes time! You have to spend time engaged in a variety of activities in order to discover their interests and strengths, and, even more time to nurture those interests and strengths.
· Encourage your teen’s self-discovery. This will also take time…time to engage in activities and conversation. When your teen asks questions, take the time to discuss the question and answer. Realize that teens are thinking and processing many ideas and values that they hear in the world around them. With that in mind, do not try to force an idea into their mind. Instead, discuss it. Allow them to disagree and encourage them to think. Let them know your strong beliefs, but realize your beliefs are the result of thought and experience. Allow them the freedom to think and experience as well. Value them enough to allow disagreement and trust them enough to believe they will reach healthy mature conclusions…then lovingly, gently, and patiently guide them toward those conclusions.
· Enjoy your teen’s uniqueness…even more, value their uniqueness. Recognize that they may have different talents and interests than you do. Enjoy those differences. Relish in their uniqueness. Realize that those unique talents, interests, and dreams make them uniquely qualified to accomplish God’s purpose for them. Verbally admire their uniqueness. A great way to honor their uniqueness is with the compliment of accepting their expertise in areas of their interests.
· Set loving limits for your teen. I know…teens are still teens. They still need limits. They do not have the experience to “do whatever they want.” They have not gained the mental, emotional, and experiential knowledge necessary to make every decision independently. And, they still live with you. So, set loving limits. Remember, however, that the limits you set are your limits on the behavior you will accept. Talk to them about why you believe those limits are effective and how they express love. Discuss their thoughts about the limits and listen to their perspective. When realistic you might even “give in a little.” Such loving discussion of limits and values will go a long way helping your teen develop their firm identity of character.
· Be patient and constantly express love. Navigating the teen years is an adventure, a journey…and it will have plenty of difficult moments to mark the way. You will also find many joyous occasions and intimate moments that brighten the path of adolescence. Think back to your own teen years. Recall some of the silly (even dangerous or crazy) things you did. Remember, you survived. Today, you may look back on some of those events with humor or pride. When your teen does something that seems “kind of crazy,” be patient. Hold on for the ride. Work to keep lines of communication open. One of the best ways to do that is express love. Constantly find ways to express your love for your teen. Express love through your words, your respect, your hugs, your recognition, thoughtful gifts, time together, acts of service, or even a simple smile and acknowledgement of pride in them.
The teen years are full of adventure…and adventures have both scary moments and moments filled with joyful excitement. Enjoy them both. Fill the journey with times of joy and stuff it full of fun. Let your teen know that no matter what happens, you still love them. Soon, the teen years will end and your teen will be on their way. You will reshape your relationship with them into one involving two adults…and retell those teen adventures with misty-eyed pride.