6 Ways to Reveal Teen Strengths

Nurture Teen Strengths

Adolescence is a period of rapid development during which teen strengths are revealed. It is a time to hone in on likes and dislikes. It is when young people begin to uncover what comes naturally to them and what takes greater effort. Teens push boundaries, take chances, and stretch limits in order to get closer to figuring out what they value and what they want to do with their lives.

During this phase of self-discovery, parental guidance is critical. It offers a tremendous opportunity for parents to support teens’ emotional growth and self-awareness. Undoubtedly, the most important role for parents is to offer security. The kind that comes from an unwavering presence that says, “You got this. I’ll always have your back.”

Parents’ Critical Role

Parents and caring adults play an important role in helping to identify and nurture teen strengths. As teens head toward adulthood, parents can help them uncover their potential. Once young people know what they enjoy and excel in, they can begin to imagine how to shape satisfying, productive lives. However, learning what you are good at means you must also gain insights into what you are not good at. People are uneven. Young people who recognize both their strengths and limitations learn how to focus their energies.

We must be sure, however, that teens not interpret a failure as a sign that they are not good at something. In fact, they might meet failure precisely because they stretched their limits — a sign that they possess interest in an area. Parents’ who applaud efforts, even when they meet with initial failure, help their children gain the most benefit from life’s experiences. And that is critical to building resilience.

Remember, the goal is for our teens to become their best selves -- not to fit into a precast mold. Their best selves.

Strategies to Sharpen Strengths

Parents help uncover and strengthen teen abilities in the following ways:

  1. Maintain high, but realistic expectations. It’s highly protective when caring adults hold adolescents to high expectations. It sends the message that we believe the young person is capable of meeting those expectations. When setting expectations for your teens, it is important to take individual differences (like temperament or learning style) and aspects of the environment (like support systems or school resources) into account. Expectations should be high but attainable. If expectations are out of reach, teens may feel it is impossible to please others, or begin to see themselves as incapable.
  2. Reinforce the process, not the product. When adults reinforce behaviors (e.g. hard work, practice) instead of results (e.g. grades, scores), teens are more willing to stretch and take on increasing challenges. Learning and growth are most active when they mount that extra effort to meet a challenge or stretch to a new limit. Focusing on what children learn, rather than about how they perform, guides young people to think about the process it takes to achieve results. When they understand the process, they are more likely to work hard, try new things, and stick to difficult tasks.
  3. Embrace failure. A fear of failure is common during adolescence, especially in high achieving teens. But failure offers many important lessons. The best ideas are shaped after many failed attempts because each misstep generates new knowledge about how to improve the odds for success. “Failures” that occur when stretching aren’t failures at all. They reinforce that someone is trying new things and testing the limits of their potential.
  4. Accept personal limitations. No one is good at everything. We all have strengths and limitations. Teach teens that there are ways to make up for shortcomings. Ask for help. Put in extra effort. Stick with tasks even when they are hard. These kinds of actions build character and promote self-awareness.
  5. Encourage the pursuit of new things. Trying new things teaches teens important lessons. It helps them learn what they are good and what might not come so naturally. This is what encourages them to identify hobbies, passions and a potential future career path. It also guides them to understand where they should focus their energies.
  6. Cultivate character strengths. Young people that have high levels of gratitude, compassion, tenacity, optimism and confidence are well positioned to find their purpose in life. Finding meaning and purpose has long-term benefits to health and well-being. Nurture these strengths of character in teens to position them for a successful and meaningful adulthood.


Nurturing Teen Strengths

Taking time to nurture strengths allows teens to further discover what their unique contributions to society will be. Click through to review ways you can help young people become their best selves.


Have High Expectations

We must not let our teens feel like they are letting us down as they grow. Rolling our eyes or having low expectations can make them worry about growing up.


Model Overcoming Limitations

We are all uneven -- everyone excels at some things but not others. Show teens ways they can put in hard work and effort to help make up for shortcomings in some areas.


Try New Things

Encourage teens to try out a variety of activities to help them figure out what they’re good at, what they may have to work hard at, and where they may want to focus energies.


Cultivate Character Strengths

Nurture strengths of character including gratitude, compassion, optimism and confidence so young people will lead meaningful adult lives.

A Lifelong Journey

Discovering one’s strengths is a lifelong journey. Let teens know they don’t need to have it all figured out right away. Rather, show them how they will slowly uncover their potential. This includes remaining open to trying new things, learning to accept their limitations and to view failure as a learning opportunity. They do so most successfully when supportive adults hold them to high expectations and embrace unevenness.

Remember, the goal is for our teens to become their best selves — not to fit into a precast mold. Their best selves. The best way for them to find themselves is to test their limits, fail, recover, and discover where they are meant to soar.

About Elyse Salek

Elyse Salek, M.S.Ed. is an Administrative Director of Research at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Her degrees are in Psychology and Human Development from Middlebury College and the University of Pennsylvania School of Education. She is the proud mother of two children.

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