Help Teens Reach Their Full Potential

Help Children Reach Their Full Potential

What would you say if I told you one of the secrets to unlocking your child’s full potential wouldn’t cost you a penny? No, we don’t have a deal on free math lessons in your neighborhood. What we have access to is even more valuable.

Parents can nurture their children’s curiosity and build resilience. They can influence whether their teens have the type of outlook on hard work and learning that will ignite their full potential.

Spark a Growth Mindset

A mindset that fuels emotional and intellectual growth doesn’t drift to easy solutions. It invites challenges. Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, calls this kind of perspective a “growth mindset.” With a growth mindset, she writes, “people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point.” Dr. Dweck goes on to argue this particular vantage point creates a love of learning, and a love of learning is absolutely critical for achieving significant accomplishments.

The opposite of this perspective is what Dr. Dweck calls a fixed mindset. Individuals with a fixed mindset believe their intelligence can’t be improved. An example of this would be students who get C’s on a test thinking there’s nothing they could’ve done to earn a better grade. They believe they’re just not smart enough to have performed better. In contrast, children with a growth mindset might consider the C a bump on the road to learning. These students recognize that understanding material is a process. They believe they’ve got the potential to do better next time with dedication and hard work.

Frame of Mind Matters

Having a growth mindset works. Students with growth mindsets perform better in school than those with fixed mindsets. They do better across academic subjects, including math and language.

A growth mindset builds confidence. When parents notice how hard a child is studying, that recognition of process is often more important than applauding the ultimate grade they earn. Praising effort, rather than a final product or performance, is essential for building short and long-term competence.

How we praise and criticize young people can affect whether they have a fixed or growth mindset.

Support a Growth Mindset

How can parents support teens to develop a growth mindset? It’s easier said than done when teens are so often exposed to messages promoting a fixed mindset. This may happen when they compare themselves to peers, when outcomes are emphasized more than mastery, or when media highlights images of “perfection” in teens. Parents play an especially important role in supporting this mindset when so many messages sent to teens may tell them otherwise. Dr. Dweck offers the following strategies.

1) Recognize and Adjust the Fixed Mindset “Voice”

When your teen approaches a challenge, encourage him or her to pay special attention to their internal voice. Are they knocking themselves down before they’ve even started?  Do they tell themselves that if they have a failure, they are a failure? The goal is for your child to accept their fixed mindset is real, that it truly exists. Only when he or she is aware of its presence, and how it has the capacity to limit current and future achievements, can that internal voice be changed. And change is good!  Paving the way to a growth mindset is well worth the effort.

2) Understand Mindset can be a Choice

By working on having a growth mindset, young people can interpret challenges as signs they just need to try harder. Help your son or daughter understand they can control how they view obstacles and criticism. If they have a fixed mindset, they may very well think of setbacks as proof they lack the necessary skills and smarts to succeed. And while having a growth mindset doesn’t guarantee success for everyone, it is still an important mindset to understand and strive towards as there’s always room for improvement.

3) Fake It Until You Think It

Obstacles feel less daunting when teens learn to think about them differently. For example, when your son or daughter doubts their ability to accomplish a task, encourage him or her to reflect, “I’m not sure I can do that yet, but I think I’ll be able to do it with time and effort.”  The emphasis here is on that encouraging and empowering word “yet.” If your child reframes their thinking often enough, they hopefully will gradually adopt a growth mindset. The fixed mindset sees intelligence as something one possesses . . . or doesn’t. The person with the growth mindset understands that intelligence is built through effort, new experiences, and support from others.

4) Behave Accordingly

With enough practice, your teen will have the option to work to develop  a growth mindset over a fixed mindset. Parents can be role models for this essential shift in thinking. If you find yourself assuming you can’t, demonstrate that you can conquer the limitations of that internal voice through real effort. Discuss goals you set for yourself, the hard work it’ll take to reach them,  and your pride in achieving them.

5) Give Control to Your Tween or Teen

How we praise and criticize young people can affect whether they have a fixed or growth mindset. You are _________ (beautiful, good at math, a science whiz, a great dancer, smart at history, a powerhouse on the soccer field . . . lazy, or a slob) leads a young person to see themselves in a fixed state. They learn, “I am __________.”  They may do little to challenge that notion, including trying new things. “I am good at history, I shouldn’t try out for the poetry slam.” On the other hand, when we connect the outcome to an action they took, they learn they controlled the result, and could do so in new territory. “You did _____________ (studied hard, practiced) and as a result you ______________ (got a good grade, won the game).” A teen praised in this way may say, “If I work hard on the science project, I can really earn my spot in the exhibition.” If you need to offer critical feedback, it may be helpful to remind your teen of your confidence in their ability to meet your high expectations.

See Teens as They Will Be

Like all advice regarding human communication we shouldn’t take this to the extreme. It is good to notice some of your child’s innate talents and strengths, that too can build the confidence that can be at the root of effort.

We rarely view tweens and teens as the 35, 40, and 50-year-olds they will become. If we are to prepare our children to become healthy, productive, and contributing adults, we should help them develop a growth mindset.

About Allison Gilbert

Allison Gilbert is Senior Writer for the CPTC. Her pieces cover an array of topics including self-care, bullying, grief, and resilience. Allison is author of numerous books and speaks across the country to corporations, non-profits, and community groups. You can learn more by visiting

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