Help Your Teens to Find Their True Identity

Who Am I – help your teenagers to find their true Identity.

As they approach adolescence, all teenagers struggle with ‘who they are’. Parents often refer to their teenagers as ‘rebellious’ but in actual fact they have to weigh up what they have been taught in their childhood in order to develop their own principals and beliefs. Without these they cannot be truly themselves and won’t be equipped to live in the adult world. We need not fear this process, and can actually make it easier for ourselves – and our children. What they need is respect and unconditional love. We need to help them to grow into adults, even at the risk of them choosing a different lifestyle from our own.

Even if you so not agree with a particular point, your child still needs respect.

Words are dangerous things and we need to be aware of this always. For example instead of declaring

‘that’s daft/dangerous/reckless, try:-

‘I don’t really understand why you see it that way but I am pleased you have tried to work it out for yourself. That’s brave/clever/constructive/creative’ etc

If they are talking about a problem instead of jumping in with your own solution try asking:-

What do you think you ought to do? 

If you can see a glaring fault in the solution try saying

‘how do you think that will work out in the end?/what would the consequences be?/ do you think so and so will be pleased etc 

Keep reminding your child:-

  • You are unique
  • You have your own personality and talents
  • You don’t have to be like everyone else
  • You are growing up and have to decide what your own principals and standards now

Help your Teens to understand that they are allowed to make mistakes. 

This area needs much re-enforcement as everyone feels bad when they make mistakes. Teens however need to understand that

  • No-one is perfect
  • Everyone make mistakes but the trick is to get up and move forward
  • Constructive criticism helps you achieve your goals
  • If you take a risk and things don’t turn out the way you wanted, it’s not failure- it’s experience
  • Learn the difference between constructive criticism and people who are just being mean.
  • Know when to stop mixing with people who bring you down or get you into trouble.

Help your Teens to Forgive Themselves.

Carrying around guilt and shame effects a persons self esteem and causes a great deal of emotional damage. Try to teach your child that

  • We have all done things we are less than proud of but we must forgive ourselves and move forward
  • Unforgiveness cripples, forgiveness heals
  • When we forgive ourselves, we can walk forward, leaving the past behind
  • We should say sorry when we have wronged someone.

 Don’t forget that as parents we need to be good role models. Are you carrying guilt, shame or unforgiveness around with you ? Dump it today and move on. Your journey will be lighter and your family will notice too.

On this point I must mention that children of all ages often believe that things are their fault when they are not. Even when family members become ill or die, children have been known to blame themselves. If this is happening to your child the issue must be addressed because ‘false guilt’ is a huge burden to carry. If a person says sorry when something is not their fault then nothing is achieved. The burden isn’t lifted and the weight is still there.













Being connected

Adolescence is a time when parents and children begin to spend more time apart. This is partly because teenagers need to explore relationships with friends and others outside their family. It helps them:

  • develop a sense of independence
  • understand their place in the world as young adults
  • work out independent values and beliefs.

But your teenager still needs a strong relationship with you to feel safe and secure as she meets the challenges of adolescence.

Staying connected is about building closeness in a relationship by being available and responsive to the other person. It’s more than just spending time around each other  – after all, family members can sometimes share the same physical space without really connecting.

Connecting can be casual, which involves using frequent everyday interactions to build closeness. Or connecting can be planned – this is when you schedule time to do things together that you both enjoy.

Our Talking to Teens interactive guide explores some common parent and teenager situations. For example, you can see how different approaches to staying connected can get different results.

Keeping it casual

Casual connecting is a way of using everyday interactions to build closeness. The best opportunities for casual connecting are when your child starts a conversation with you – this generally means he’s in the mood to talk.

Tips for casual connecting

  • Stop what you’re doing and focus on the moment. Even for just a few seconds, give your child your full attention. Connecting works best when you send the message that ‘Right now, you’re the most important thing to me’.
  • Look at your child while she’s talking to you. Really listen to what she’s saying. This sends the message that what she has to say is important to you.
  • Show interest. Encourage your child to expand on what he’s saying, and explore his views, opinions, feelings, expectations or plans.
  • Listen without judging or correcting. Your aim is to be with your child, not to give advice or help unless she asks for it.
  • Just be there – you might be in the kitchen when your child is in his bedroom. Teenagers benefit from knowing that sources of support are available.

You can also actively try to create opportunities for casual connecting, but don’t push it if your child doesn’t want to talk. Trying to force a conversation can lead to conflict and leave the two of you worse off.

When you stop what you’re doing and really listen to your teenager, you’re telling him that he’s important, respected and worth your time. You might like to read more about listening to your teenager.

Planning your connections

Planned connecting involves scheduling time to do things with your child that you both enjoy.

Busy lives and more time apart can make it difficult to spend fun time together. That’s why you need to plan it. Teenagers aren’t always enthusiastic about spending time with their parents, but it’s worth insisting that they do – at least sometimes.

Tips for planned connecting

  • Schedule time together. You need to find a time that suits you both. Initially, it can help to keep the time short.
  • Let your child choose what you’ll do, and follow her lead. This will motivate her to want to spend time with you.
  • Concentrate on enjoying your child’s company. Try to be an enthusiastic partner and actively cooperate with what your child is doing – the activity itself is less important than shared fun and talking with your child.
  • Be interested and accepting, rather than correcting your child or giving advice. It’s not easy to give up the teaching and coaching role, but this is a time for building and improving your relationship. So if you see a mistake or an easier way to do something, let it go without comment.
  • Keep trying and stay positive. At first, your child might not be as keen as you to take part in these activities, but don’t give up. Keep planned times brief to begin with, and your child will come to enjoy this time with you.
Teenagers who have stable, warm, trusting and open relationships with their parents are better equipped to develop independence and grow into responsible adults. They’re also more likely to be successful at negotiating commonly encountered high-risk situations (such as drug use and sexual activity). You might like to read more about teenagers and family relationships.

Overcoming obstacles

Your child avoids spending time with you
Making the most of everyday opportunities to connect – such as chatting during the drive to school – can help you get over this hurdle. If your child is reluctant to spend scheduled time with you, you could try the following:

  • Keep it brief to begin with – a cup of coffee at a favourite café after school, for example.
  • Let your child choose the activity (even if you do have to sit through a teenage romantic comedy or action movie!)
  • Don’t give up – it might take a little while but the more time you spend together, the more you can both relax into it.

Your child refuses to talk with you about what he’s doing
You and your child might feel closer if you make the most of casual conversations during the day. Every little chat is an opportunity to listen and talk in a relaxed, positive way.

You feel you’re the only one who’s making an effort
If you’re kind and considerate with your child, this can help create goodwill and positive feelings. Often, simple things make a big difference – for example, saying please, giving hugs, pats on the back, knocking before entering a bedroom, cooking a favourite meal, providing treats or surprise fun activities.

This approach creates a more positive environment, even if your child isn’t joining in. Make a point of doing kind things, even when you don’t feel like it. If you wait to feel positive before you act positively, you might never do it.

Active listening: the basics

Active listening to your child is more than simply hearing her. You can actively listen by:

  • getting close to your child when she’s speaking
  • looking at your child
  • allowing your child to finish and not interrupting
  • avoiding questions that interrupt your child’s train of thought
  • actively trying to understand what your child is saying
  • concentrating hard on what your child is saying rather than thinking about what you will say next
  • showing your child that she’s being heard and understood
  • showing her that you’re interested by nodding your head, smiling, and making comments like ‘I see’.
Listening isn’t the same thing as agreeing. You can understand another person’s point of view without agreeing with it.

Benefits of active listening

When you use active listening with your child, it shows your child that you care and are interested. In fact, it can help you learn and understand more about what’s going on in your child’s life.

Active listening can prevent blocks in communication and even make it more likely that your child will seek your views.

It’s good for your child’s thinking processes too, and can help him to clarify his thoughts.

Good listening is the best way to show your child that you’re genuinely interested and that you really care. It also helps to avoid conflict caused by misunderstandings.

Improving your listening skills

An essential ingredient of strong, healthy relationships is good communication. Successful communication depends a lot on how you listen. Here are some ideas for improving communication by improving listening skills.

Get into the here and now
This means really paying attention and not thinking about something else when your child is talking to you.

To understand why this is important, think about how it feels when you’re talking to someone and that person keeps watching the TV or texting on a mobile phone. Contrast that with how it feels to have someone’s undivided interest and attention.

Showing that you will take time out to listen lets your child know that you’re available and interested in what she has to say.

Try to understand
Concentrate on what your child is saying rather than thinking about what you’re going to say next. Are you missing his point while you think about your own? What is he trying to tell you and why?

Show that you’re trying to understand
Summarise your child’s main points and how you think she might be feeling. Try repeating what your child is saying in your own words. For example, ‘You’re feeling angry because I didn’t talk to you before making plans for this weekend. I can understand that’.

Try to avoid making judgements in your summary. For example:

  • Judgmental – ‘You want to stay out too late’.
  • Nonjudgmental – ‘You want to stay out until midnight’.

Then invite your child to tell you more about what he’s thinking and feeling. Often when you use active listening and repeat back the speaker’s words, it acts as an invitation because the person will say more to correct you or further explain what he’s thinking.

Active listening can be a great way to stay connected with your child. You can check out our Talking to Teens interactive guide to see how different approaches to staying connected can get different results.
You might like to read more about teenage friendships and how to support them. Our articles on keeping teenagers active, extracurricular activities and getting teenagers into community activity also have lots of ideas to help your child make social connections.




The good news is that resilience isn’t something you’re born with or not – the skills of resilience can be learned. Resilience – the ability to adapt well in the face of hard times; disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes or fires; tragedy; threats; or even high stress – is what makes some people seem like they’ve “got bounce” while others don’t.

10 Tips to Build Resilience

What are some tips that can help you learn to be resilient? As you use these tips, keep in mind that each person’s journey along the road to resilience will be different – what works for you may not work for your friends.

  1. Get Together. Talk with your friends and, yes, even with your parents. Understand that your parents may have more life experience than you do, even if it seems they never were your age. They may be afraid for you if you’re going through really tough times and it may be harder for them to talk about it than it is for you! Don’t be afraid to express your opinion, even if your parent or friend takes the opposite view. Ask questions and listen to the answers. Get connected to your community, whether it’s as part of a church group or a high school group.
  2. Cut Yourself Some Slack. When something bad happens in your life, the stresses of whatever you’re going through may heighten daily stresses. Your emotions might already be all over the map because of hormones and physical changes; the uncertainty during a tragedy or trauma can make these shifts seem more extreme. Be prepared for this and go a little easy on yourself, and on your friends.
  3. Create A Hassle-Free Zone. Make your room or apartment a “hassle-free zone” – not that you keep everyone out, but home should be a haven free from stress and anxieties. But understand that your parents and siblings may have their own stresses if something serious has just happened in your life and may want to spend a little more time than usual with you.
  4. Stick To The Program. Spending time in high school or on a college campus means more choices; so let home be your constant. During a time of major stress, map out a routine and stick to it. You may be doing all kinds of new things, but don’t forget the routines that give you comfort, whether it’s the things you do before class, going out to lunch, or have a nightly phone call with a friend.
  5. Take Care Of Yourself. Be sure to take of yourself – physically, mentally and spiritually. And get sleep. If you don’t, you may be more grouchy and nervous at a time when you have to stay sharp. There’s a lot going on, and it’s going to be tough to face if you’re falling asleep on your feet.
  6. Take Control. Even in the midst of tragedy, you can move toward goals one small step at a time. During a really hard time, just getting out of bed and going to school may be all you can handle, but even accomplishing that can help. Bad times make us feel out of control – grab some of that control back by taking decisive action.
  7. Express Yourself. Tragedy can bring up a bunch of conflicting emotions, but sometimes, it’s just too hard to talk to someone about what you’re feeling. If talking isn’t working, do something else to capture your emotions like start a journal, or create art.
  8. Help Somebody. Nothing gets your mind off your own problems like solving someone else’s. Try volunteering in your community or at your school, cleaning-up around the house or apartment, or helping a friend with his or her homework.
  9. Put Things In Perspective. The very thing that has you stressed out may be all anyone is talking about now. But eventually, things change and bad times end. If you’re worried about whether you’ve got what it takes to get through this, think back on a time when you faced up to your fears, whether it was asking someone on a date or applying for a job. Learn some relaxation techniques, whether it’s thinking of a particular song in times of stress, or just taking a deep breath to calm down. Think about the important things that have stayed the same, even while the outside world is changing. When you talk about bad times, make sure you talk about good times as well.
  10. Turn It Off. You want to stay informed – you may even have homework that requires you to watch the news. But sometimes, the news, with its focus on the sensational, can add to the feeling that nothing is going right. Try to limit the amount of news you take in, whether it’s from television, newspapers or magazines, or the Internet. Watching a news report once informs you; watching it over and over again just adds to the stress and contributes no new knowledge.

You can learn resilience. But just because you learn resilience doesn’t mean you won’t feel stressed or anxious. You might have times when you aren’t happy – and that’s OK. Resilience is a journey, and each person will take his or her own time along the way. You may benefit from some of the resilience tips above, while some of your friends may benefit from others. The skills of resilience you learn during really bad times will be useful even after the bad times end, and they are good skills to have every day. Resilience can help you be one of the people who’ve “got bounce.”

For More Help

Developing resilience is a personal journey. If you’re stuck or overwhelmed and unable to use the tips listed above, you may want to consider talking to someone who can help, such as a psychologist or other mental health professional. A psychologist can help you cope with many of life’s problems. The American Psychological Association does not provide referral services. For a referral to a psychologist in your area use APA’s locator service. Turning to someone for guidance may help you strengthen resilience and persevere during times of stress or trauma. Information contained in this brochure should not be used as a substitute for professional health and mental health care or consultation. Individuals who believe they may need or benefit from care should consult a psychologist or other licensed health/mental health professional.

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