Encouraging Self-Discovery in Teens

It is important for parents to support their teens as they gain more knowledge and understanding of their own feelings, character, and abilities.

The greatest discovery in life is self-discovery. Until you find yourself you will always be someone else. Become yourself. ― Myles Munroe, motivational speaker

It is important for parents to support their teens as they gain more knowledge and understanding of their own feelings, character, and abilities. Subsequently, this process of discovery (self-discovery) lays a foundation to define their life goals, their place in society, and their own worldview as they move from teenager to adult.

This guide summarizes 5 key tips for parents to support their teen’s on their journey of self-discovery: 1) using supportive language, 2) providing opportunities for growth, 3) modeling self-discovery, 4) exploring interests together, and 5) nurturing.

Use Supportive Language – When addressing areas of weakness with your teen, choose words carefully and be empathetic and understanding. (To help with finding encouraging words, check out this comprehensive list.) Emphasize that you are helping work with them toward a solution or area of improvement, rather than just being a nag or critic.

Be flexible and allow your child to have space. Don’t be forceful in making them talk to you when you want to talk. Instead, invite them to “come talk to you when they are ready.” Try to keep communication open. General tips include listening more than you speak, making time to spend together, giving them privacy, keeping up with their interests, being a loving parent, and having fun.

Explain rationally why a certain behavior may limit them from achieving their goals if they are behaving a certain way and you want to redirect them. Don’t be overly pushy, condescending, or dictatorial. Present a message that there are some things they may want to consider to make the most of what they want to do in life. (For example, “If you choose to do it this way (e.g., whatever the behavior is that is creating some challenges for them), you may have a hard time achieving your goals.” Follow up with “What might you do differently to achieve this?”)

Provide Opportunities for Growth – Help your child connect their feelings, thoughts, and actions. Talk to them (not down at them) and really actively listen. Ask questions regularly and make observations about what you see. This will help your teen also see the value in reflecting and in learning strategies to overcome personal roadblocks. (For example, “I noticed you seemed so well rested today. Do you have any ideas why that might be?”, “I saw that you completed your homework without taking so many breaks when you had some exercise and a snack first,” “You didn’t seem to cram the night before for that math test and you did so well!”).

Encourage them to think about self-defining questions:

  • What are they good at?
  • What are their personal characteristics?
  • What kind of person are they?
  • How are they perceived by others?
  • What are their future life plans?

Model self-discovery – Are you curious about learning and experiencing new things? Do you set goals and then work to achieve them? Do you voice your own strengths and weaknesses, and work on capitalizing your strengths and developing your weaknesses?

In doing these actions, you let your children see your process(es) and what you are working on in your life. The impact of parent modeling on children is very significant. When modeling self-discovery, teens can more easily grasp the concept that individuals have different personality types, aptitudes, values, and interests. They will internally seek out theirs. And in seeing that you have gone through some roadblocks and how you have overcome them, they will be better equipped to apply grit and strategy toward their own. They will be stronger independent thinkers and problem solvers.

Explore interests together – There are many new fields today that certainly did not exist years ago. Learn about these different career paths and the skills needed to pursue them. Attending lectures and workshops, taking enrichment classes, engaging in afterschool clubs/activities, reading, watching movies, listening to podcasts, volunteering, and traveling are ways to open up teens’ minds and helps them identify/strengthen their interests, skills, and talents.

If they express an interest in a certain area (e.g., politics, STEM, underwater farming, composing music, film production, etc.), help them find ways to foster this interest. Is there a class they can take, a club or extracurricular activity they can join, or a volunteer experience they can partake in? Is there someone in the community who can be a mentor? Is there a part-time job or a summer job that correlates to their interests? It might be helpful for you to talk with a guidance counselor or one of your teen’s teachers if you need more direction in finding opportunities to expand on these interests.

Nurture – Your role as a parent is not to dictate but to nurture. A parenting style that is authoritative runs counterproductive to cultivating self-discovery. It’s best to support your child but don’t steer them to what you want for their life (this may be hard to do but you can do it!). By loving and valuing your child for who they are, they will be well on their path to grow, mature, and explore options in life. They will be self-confident and resilient as they move toward adulthood. They will find a life path and career that best matches them.

Subsequently, in helping your child discover their interests, they will find it easier to make future life decisions. They also will likely be more engaged in learning and more readily see the connection between school and the real world. Additionally, their self-esteem will be enhanced and they will have developed the skills to embrace self-discovery and become a self-actualized individual.

For a self-actualized individual, the journey is never over. They never stop growing as a person and learning as a professional. They accept who they are and take steps to be their best selves. They see who they really are and are not afraid to be themselves. They feel empowered. In the words of Myles Munroe, “They will have become themselves.”


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