I had the opportunity to volunteer in a nursing home throughout my teen years. My father was a chaplain in the home and I would help “wheel” the residents to church or some other activity. I also had the opportunity to help at an inner city mission several times during my teens and early twenties. In a different vein, my family often went camping. We spent a week each summer living in a tent, swimming, fishing, building fires, and enjoying (most of the time) family adventures. Little did I know that these different teen experiences were contributing to a budding sense of identity and purpose in my life.
Lecturers at Stanford have identified three factors that come together to foster a sense of purpose in teens: a need in the world, a person’s skills and gifts, and what a person loves to do (Read Greater Good: 7 Ways to Help High Schoolers Find Purpose for more). Let’s take a closer look at these three factors and how we can use them to help our teens find meaning in their lives.
- Skills and abilities. Our teens need the opportunity to explore various skills and abilities rather than getting pigeon-holed in the first activity they enjoy. They may enjoy music but be great at sports as well. Or, perhaps they show talent as an athlete but love to cook. Let them explore a variety of interests and skills. Recognizing their own abilities and interests will help them discover what gives meaning to their lives.
As they explore their interests and abilities, allow them to experience failures and setbacks. Offer support while trusting your teen to survive these setbacks. Encourage your teen to learn from failures and teach them to see failure as an opportunity to grow. As they overcome setbacks and bounce back from moments of failure, they come to better understand their potential and how it fits into the world of need around them.
- What your teen loves to do. As your teens explore their skills, talents, and abilities, they will discover things they love, things that inspire them. They will turn to these activities when they have no other demands on their time. These activities will light them up, bring them to life. Sometimes your teen will love an activity you don’t enjoy. You may hope they become an athlete and they take up theatre…or vice versa. Don’t hold them back. Be excited with them. Remember, you are helping them find purpose for their life not a way to live your
- A need in the world. To gain a sense of purpose, teens need to connect their skills with a need around them. This demands a mature awareness of needs in the world around them. Parents can facilitate this awareness by providing opportunities to serve others. Scouting, volunteering, working in the community, or engaging in service activities will help build this awareness. Traveling, spending time in nature, and contemplation also help increase awareness of needs and how “my skills” may meet that need.
All three of these factors demand our teens have time to explore. It requires we provide them with opportunities to step away from the boring repetition of school, get off the treadmill of over-achievement, and experience the world from a new angle, to see the world with new eyes. The best part of all this: you get to spend time with your child in the exploration. You get to see their eyes light up with excitement as they try new things and discover what they love. You also get to develop a deeper understanding of your teen and a closer relationship with them in the process. Then you get to stand with pride as they actively engage the world in a meaningful way!
Christmas break will soon be over and our children will soon be returning to school for a new semester. How can we help them have the best day in school? Is there a way to boost their memory and increase decision-making abilities? If so, doing so could benefit their academic achievement and social interactions. And, a recent study suggests a possibility to actually do this (click here for PsyBlog review)! Although this study looked specifically at older adults, the review notes several studies suggest the same is true for young adults and common sense tells us it is true for children and youth. What boosts memory and decision-making abilities? Surprisingly, it is nothing extravagant or complex. In order to increase memory and positive decision-making ability in our children before school is to enhance their positive mood. Sounds simple; but, if you have kids, you know how complex it actually is to enhance a positive mood in the morning for children and teens. How can you enhance a positive mood in your children? Here are a few ideas:
- Prepare the night before. Set out clothes. Pack lunches. Put homework in the backpack. Do as much as you can the night before to eliminate the morning rush.
- Do not discuss emotionally loaded topics in the morning before school. Save the potentially conflictual issues for another time and place. And, when you do have the hard discussions, don’t lecture.
- Enjoy a healthy breakfast. A good meal helps increase positive moods. Talk with your children about the foods they prefer for breakfast and have those foods available.
- Be aware of your children’s sensitivities. Some children like quieter mornings. Some children are irritated by bright lights in the morning. Be aware of these sensitivities and set up the environment accordingly. If necessary, dim the lights and turn down the radio. These simple steps may help produce a positive mood which can boost memory and decision-making at school.
- Get up early enough that your children do not have to rush. Just 15-minutes earlier can provide a buffer of time to reduce stress and enhance positive mood.
Helping to enhance positive mood not only helps prepare for a positive school experience, but may help in those difficult discussions outside of school. When you need to discuss difficult topics with your children, increasing their positive mood may enhance that discussion. Increasing a positive mood in your children before such a discussion may help them make better decisions and remember the decision afterwards. So, tell a joke. Share a story. Sit down for a snack. Enjoy an activity together during the discussion. Whatever will increase their positive mood may also help the conversation go better and the outcome more enjoyable.
Parents have a huge responsibility. We are responsible for the next generation, the future of our society. The relationships we build with our children will shape the world in which we grow old. The unspoken values we pass on to our children will impact how future generations interact, resolve conflict, and share resources. The subtle ways we treat our children will determine how they view themselves and how they treat others. So, I have to ask: Are you a chipper or a sculptor? Do you carelessly chip away at your children and our future? Or, do you carefully sculpt your children in an effort to bring forth their inner strength and virtues? Part 1 of this article discussed the impact of a chipper on our children and our future. What are sculptors like?
Sculptors tend to respond to their children thoughtfully. Specifically, sculptors do the following:
- Sculptors strengthen children’s sense of value by becoming students of their children. They are intensely curious about their children and seek to learn the intent and motive behind their children’s behavior. As a result, sculptors take the time to listen and learn as well as discipline and teach. They discipline inappropriate behavior while teaching alternative and more appropriate behaviors. As parents learn about their children, their children feel valued. They come to see themselves as valuable. They become more willing to let themselves be known and heard. As a result, parent-child relationships grow more intimate.
- Sculptors forge children who feel competent and capable. They do this with the fires of appreciation and acknowledgement. When a sculptor sees some positive intent or good motive, he appreciates it. He acknowledges that good intent. In response, children increase their tendency to act upon positive intent and good motives. Appreciating and acknowledging positive behaviors also informs children they are competent. Children who are appreciated and acknowledged come to see themselves as capable of achieving and making independent decisions.
- Sculptors shape respectful behaviors. This shaping process begins with a description of any problem behavior that arises…and problem behaviors will arise. Describing children’s problem behavior separates the behavior from the children’s character. Describing the problem behavior informs children that you saw the problem behavior. They did not “get away with it.” There may be consequences. Along with the consequences, sculptors teach alternative, more positive behaviors to use in response to similar situations arising in the future.
- Sculptors expand children awareness by pointing out the impact of their problem behavior on other people. Doing so teaches children to be aware of other people and their impact on them. It teaches them to think about others before acting. It teaches them to be respectful of others.
- Sculptors produce resilient children by encouraging effort. Encouragement of effort becomes the internal dialogue of a sculptor’s child. As a result, children of sculptors can recover from failed attempts. They learn from these attempts and jump at the opportunity to “try again.” These children also learn to encourage others. They come to believe that success is a result of effort and there is enough success for everyone, no need to feel jealous. So, they encourage other people’s efforts and rejoice with those who rejoice.
Consider the future created by sculptors. Children grow up feeling competent. They have learned how to be respectful and aware of others. Their relationships flourish as they take other people into consideration before acting. At the same time, they are comfortable achieving and love to try new things. They seek out new opportunities, innovation, and progress. When others succeed, they celebrate. When they succeed, they share. Relationships grow more intimate as verbal communication is filled with appreciation, acknowledgement, and encouragement. This is a much more inviting future than the future created by chippers. So, I ask again: Are you a chipper or a sculptor when it comes to parenting?