We have to really educate ourselves in a way about who we are, what our real identity. (Deepak Chopra)
I am often asked by parents, “How do I encourage or help my teenager build and create their own identity?” That is a complex question with many correct answers. I encourage parents to love unconditionally and to create trust which builds the relationship bonds and allows for communication. Communication is where each person listens with the desire and intent to understand the other person's perspective and wants to grow the relationship. With that understanding of communication, it is easier to help foster the growth of your teenager's identity which in turn builds character, self worth, and independence as your teenager matures and prepares to leave home. Assisting your teen in forging a strong, positive identity is one way to help your teenager form convictions based on truth, and then stand firm in them regardless of what everyone else does. Parents can encourage the building of their teenager’s identity by using a brick mason’s approach. If you think of building anything with bricks, you need to have a strong foundation and then the bricks of values, principles, and choices are easily placed upon this foundation. The foundation is strong and for teenagers it becomes resilient as challenges test their values and principles only to be met with the strength of the brick wall being constructed. The job is messy, and it requires hands-on application and commitment. In other words, as parents you will work alongside your teenager as they experience the joy of discovering their identity. Brick-by-brick, parents make a difference in their teenagers' world. Often as a parent the acknowledgement is little or none, much like the brick layer whose work is lost in the interior design of the house. The first item I discuss with parents is to allow your teenager the room for self discovery. Until your teenager has figured out who they are, your teenager will struggle with making friends and making choices based on their principles and values. Acknowledge your teenager’s natural abilities. Teenagers want their parents' support, and it is important to encourage their natural abilities, be their cheerleader. Attend their competition, recital or game, even when they tell you that it is not important. It is important, and it builds the teenager parent relationship by showing up for something that is important to your teenager. It lets your teenager know they matter and that you have carved out that time to be their cheerleader, not their coach. Create a family mission statement. I encourage the teenagers I work with to write a personal mission statement. Often the personal mission statement becomes a motto, a few words that offer them encouragement when they are faced with a choice that disagrees with their principles and values. I encourage families to do the same. Having a family mission statement or motto, allows for the added support your teenager may need when making a difficult choice. As a parent you will never know when that family motto came into your teenager’s conscience for making a decision, but it will. I find it rewarding to work with families as a unit to create a family mission statement. It is fun and allows everyone to engage in a process that will build unity and trust in the family unit. Value your teenagers' uniqueness. Your teenager is an amazing individual who has amazing potential. Physically and emotionally, teens’ lives constantly change. A teenager can feel overscheduled, unknown, abandoned, or even betrayed. Your teenager needs to know they belong and that they matter. It is important to build their self worth and encourage their unique talents and abilities. Encourage busy teens to enjoy down time, which strengthens their creativity and problem-solving skills. Everyone of us can benefit from some down time for reflection. Unconditional love. Teens develop confidence when they believe they are loved — no matter what. This inner strength will carry them through trials and peer pressure. As they search for significance, our teens can influence their peers to do the same. It is by having that strong foundation that the bricks are upon that allows your teenager to develop the confidence that they need. This building of the brick wall is a long process, as are the teenage years. However, the labor is the reward, watching your teenager come into their own identity and their self-worth blossom is worth the work.
Desiree Panlilio, BSN, MA Counseling; Life Coaching, Writer of Encouraging Teens Blog Posts Owner Encouraging Teens LLC www.encouragingteens.com