3 Ways to Help Teens Show Humility

When the situation calls for it, I tell my sons, ages 17 and 12, to show humility – to remain modest when it comes to revealing their opinion of themselves or their accomplishments.. You just made the high honor roll three years in a row; be proud of yourself, but stay humble. You scored three touchdowns? Bask in this feat, but don’t brag about it to everyone. Instead, have some humility. Or, you were wrong in that situation – now is a good time to be humble and admit you made a mistake.

Humility is Essential for Young People

 Teaching teens to show humility can be difficult at times. We live in a day and age in which social media often allows – even encourages – them to be egocentric and braggy. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with being confident and secure about your talents, skills, and aptitudes. And I make sure my sons know that. But having humility is also an essential trait for a teenager.

For teenagers, it's important they know that with humility, you don't have to deny your strengths. You have to recognize you're human. You're not infallible. Humility opens that door to continue learning and growth.

 “We need humility to learn and grow. Being aware that your knowledge is incomplete is required for learning. You can’t learn what you think you already know,” says Tenelle Porter, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology at Ball State University.  “Arrogance says, ‘I don’t have any room to grow. I’m already there.’ But humility says, ‘I’m a work in progress.’ For teenagers, it’s important they know that with humility, you don’t have to deny your strengths. You have to recognize you’re human. You’re not infallible. Humility opens that door to continue learning and growth.”

The Benefits of Humility

On the flip side, a lack of humility can negatively impact a teen’s life. Let’s say a teen does something wrong to their friend and refuses to apologize. If they’re not willing to admit they’re wrong, it may show their friend they care less about their feelings or correcting poor behavior. “When you admit you’re wrong, it shows others you are committed to getting it right. Owning up to our current limitations or mistakes doesn’t cast doubt on our credibility or make us weaker; it actually makes us stronger,” says Dr. Porter. “When you don’t admit that you’re wrong, it can make you weaker because it prevents you from growing from those mistakes. We grow by being honest about our shortcomings, not denying them.”

In the research that Dr. Porter and her team recently conducted, they saw that humbler teens tend to persist more in school. They try harder to learn, are more open to teacher feedback, and use that feedback to improve and earn higher grades. On a social level, Dr. Porter found that teenagers often don’t like arrogant people. “There can be social risks to arrogance. When you lack humility, you’re not willing to see that you are a human being or that you have limitations. It keeps you stuck where you are. There can be social consequences.”

Having humility means you have respect for yourself and others. Here are three ways to teach your teen the importance of humility:

1. Model Humility for Your Children

How do you deal with your own mistakes? Sometimes we can get defensive as adults if somebody points out that we’ve made an error. Try not to get defensive. Admit when you’re wrong, or you’ve made a blunder. Use it as an opportunity to learn and grow yourself. “Modeling humility is really powerful. When parents do it, kids really notice,” says Dr. Porter. When your teen makes a mistake, don’t ignore it, enable them to see it for themselves. “Parents sometimes deny or deflect that a mistake was made to protect their teen. But a way parents can encourage their teens to have humility is by helping them see mistakes as valuable learning opportunities,” Dr. Porter suggests. “Tell them being kind to yourself isn’t about ignoring your mistakes or your weaknesses. It’s about giving yourself permission to learn.”

2. Praise and Celebrate Their Humility

If you notice your teen demonstrating humility, call it out. Praise it! Tell them they showed great character in the situation and that you are proud of them. “Let them know it can be tough to be vulnerable and admit they’ve made a mistake. But you’re really proud of the person they’re growing into,” says Dr. Porter. Expressing this will inevitably help your child feel good about showing humility and they will feel good exhibiting modesty or humbleness the next time around.

3. Empower Their Humility

Let’s say your teen and a friend have a disagreement and it turns out your child is wrong. Dr. Porter says her research shows that being humble is not only about understanding you don’t know everything there is to know but that people who disagree with you may know something you can learn. In the case of your teen and the disagreement with their friend, it’s important for them to take the time to understand their friend’s viewpoint. Realizing someone else’s point of view often takes some self-awareness as well as humility. Dr. Porter recommends enabling humility by keeping books around the house from different points of view or setting up a ritual with your child where you both discuss how you changed your mind over the past year about various issues and situations. 

Young people with humility are often trusted by peers and adults alike. They are the kids that others want to be around. As a parent, create opportunities for your teen to practice humility and they’ll be more likely to continue to grow and learn. 

About LaShieka Hunter

LaShieka Hunter is a health, parenting, and entertainment writer living on Long Island, NY. Her work has appeared in The New York Times; O, The Oprah Magazine; Essence; Dr. Oz The Good Life; Men’s Health; and Ebony.

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