One of the great things about the teen years is that it is the life season in which adolescents begin to “own,” or take responsibility for, their lives and direction. It is not without stress, however, for both teens and families as it involves lots of questioning, challenging, acting out and defying in order for them to settle on whom they are going to be.
Here are some qualities a teen will need to own in order to be healthy and happy.
Basically, we experience in life what we value in life. Our values are those principles that determine our friends, our behavior and the choices we make. Here are some important values that parents can introduce to their teens for consideration:
- I value my family. I may not agree with them on lots of things, but they are people I love and want to live with in peace.
- I value good friends. I want friends who are good people inside. My friends will not be perfect, but their insides are healthy and not toxic.
- I value honesty. I don’t want to hear lies and deception from others and I don’t want to speak them either.
- I value getting the most of these years. I will never be a teen again. I don’t want to miss all the opportunities available to me by making choices that steer me wrong.
- I value being healthy. I want to be spiritually, personally, physically and academically healthy. I want to feel good about how my life is going.
We act on what we value. Values are the core of everything.
Teens, like everyone, have needs. They need acceptance and validation. They need fun and stimulation. They need opportunity. They need someone to talk to when life sucks. They need structure and good feedback.
Part of growing up is learning to know what you need, to ask for those needs to be met, and to appreciate when they are met. This is a big move from childhood, when parents seem to “read the minds” of children and anticipate their needs. During the teen years, the adolescent needs to know “my needs are my burden,” because that is what life is about.
Conversely, teens need to learn that they are not responsible to meet all their friends’ needs. They can support a friend who is struggling, but they can’t end the struggle. Parents need to help them see the difference between being “responsible for” their friends and being “responsible to” them.
The teen years are a time of intense and new feelings. Nevertheless, one of the developmental tasks of this period is for teens to learn that though they can’t control their feelings, they can own them. Feelings can be strong, but we don’t have to act out impulsively on them. When an adolescent is angry, she needs to learn to do two things: (1) Identify the cause (“I’m really mad, what triggered me?”) and (2) consider relationships (“Instead of slamming doors, I will be direct and honest, in respectful ways, to my family and friends about what is bugging me”).
Again, teens can’t own their friends’ feelings. Help them to not get swallowed up in rescuing friends who are sad, anxious or shamed. There is a big difference between supporting someone and letting their distressful feelings govern your life.
It’s empowering for teens to own their choices. Whether they say, “I’m choosing to study and I will reap the benefits of that” or “I’m choosing to goof off and I understand that there will be consequences,” they are on their way to being successful. Owning their successful choices and their bad choices will help them tailor their decisions toward a better path in life.
Be the parent who “owns” the responsibility to talk to your adolescent about what to own and what not to. Your teen will thank you.
Best to you,
John Townsend, Ph.D.