/ Jul 23, 2019

The Importance of Focusing on Teen Strengths

Focusing on Teen Strengths

A study examining conversations between parents and their teenage children found teenagers remember discussions about parental concerns more frequently than conversations about their strengths. This underscores the importance of parents talking consistently with teens about their positive attributes and making sure those discussions remain key as parental expectations change over time.

Within 171 pairings of teens and guardians (most often their biological mothers), slightly more than 80% of parents and nearly 70% of teenagers reported talking about adolescents’ strengths within the last month. By comparison, a little more than 40% of parents reported discussing their worries in the previous month, while half of adolescents recall having similar conversations in the same period.

Improving Communication

These findings expand understanding of family communication patterns. Previous investigations suggest that adolescents may be especially sensitive to feedback about their perceived efforts and successes. The results are also important as prior research shows the frequency of strengths-based conversations is connected to how eagerly adolescents want to talk with their parents, how satisfying these discussions are perceived to be, and overall, how well parents and teens say they get along.

Shifting focus onto their positive attributes has the potential to encourage teens to more readily open up.

Broken down by age, parents of older adolescents recall having more frequent communication about areas of concern than parents of younger adolescents. One likely reason for this uptick is shifting expectations of teens, with many parents becoming more critical of behaviors they once tolerated. Another may be a parent’s well-meaning message (constructive criticism, for example) is interpreted more severely by teens than intended.

Defining Strengths and Challenges

In this analysis, teen strengths are defined as:

  • Working hard, making a strong effort
  • Successfully using their unique skill sets
  • Positive aspects of their behavior and/or personality

Challenges are defined as:

  • Concerns about behavior
  • Disappointments regarding effort
  • Worries about certain personality traits

Shifting Focus

These results emphasize the need for parents to take a close look at what they’re communicating to their teens. Shifting focus onto their positive attributes has the potential to encourage teens to more readily open up. And when addressing concerns, parents should consider the way in which they present the information. If parents avoid comments that are shaming (e.g. “You are lazy.”), they will increase the likelihood teens will listen to feedback as intended. Parents should consider framing the same issue as a challenge that can be overcome and supporting the teen with skills to address it. An upside of this kind of constructive criticism is a boost in teen confidence and resilience.  

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Cultivate Character Strengths

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

About the Study

The study, “Frequency of communication about adolescents’ strengths and weaknesses and the parent-adolescent relationship,” reflects the participation of teenagers between the ages of 14-17, equally divided between boys and girls. Families were pulled from the same pediatric practice within the Pediatrics Research Consortium at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The article appears in Applied Developmental Science and was led by Emma Goodman and Jessica Mirman in partnership with members of the Center of Parent and Teen Communication, Carol Ford, Elizabeth Friedrich, Ken Ginsburg, and Victoria Miller.

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