7 Ways to Help Your Teen Thrive

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By: Kelly Scott, MA.Ed. (CYS Program Director)

The Search Institute conducted years of research to identify building blocks of healthy development that help young people grow up to be healthy, caring, and responsible. They developed a chart based on the research called the 40 Developmental Assets. (You can find that chart here: http://v.fastcdn.co/u/73824624/35782691-0-12-18-English2557998.pdf)

This very valuable research helps us understand the most important take-away: youth with the most assets are least likely to have issues with alcohol use, violence, illicit drug use, as well as risky sexual activity. The study found that the top 7 assets teens most commonly lack include positive family communication (33%), youth as a resource (32%), healthy adult role models (28%), parent involvement in schooling (32%), community values youth (25%), reading for pleasure (22%), and partaking in creative activities (20%).

Because the research focused on teen’ strengths, we get a more positive picture of what we need to instill in our children. It’s helpful to look at areas where teens are commonly lacking and help instill and strengthen those assets. Based on the research from The Search Institute, we composed, “7 Ways to Help Your Teen Thrive”.

1.       Develop positive family communication: Make a point to talk to your teen and check in at least twice per week. Allow your teen to freely discuss issues without rushing to judgement. Teens need someone they can count on for advice (other than their peers). Perhaps schedule a weekly dinner or weekly lunch to do this. If you have more than one teen, find time to spend individually with each child. It is highly recommended that during this time you give your child your undivided attention… so put those phones away! Also, please try and be self reflective… meaning, listen to how you speak to others in the family… are you always making commands, asking questions, active listening, etc… this can be impactful if you think deeply and as, “How am I communicating with my family?” A great resource on this topic is How to Talk so Teens will Listen and Listen so Teens will Talk, a book by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazliah. Great, practical advice on communicating with your teen! If you feel as though a Professional Therapist or Counselor would enhance the communication between you and your child, we offer a sliding scale counseling center available to suit your individual needs. For more information visit our website at http://www.cyspathways.org/ 


2.       Use youth as a resource: Instead of always telling your teen what you plan to do, try asking them for their input. Utilize their strengths and talents to help them solve some of your own problems or perhaps some social/community problems. How great if you were to have a problem and you asked, “Hey Kim, I have this deadline at work and I was given only 2 days to complete it, what do you think I should do?” Imagine how great it would be to switch roles and get advice from your teen. (If they shrug and say “I don’t know”, keep trying with… “Well, you have so many great ideas with your own situations, I thought I’d really benefit from your advice!”) Allow them to get involved with community issues, as well. Ask for ways in which they would help with the challenges the community faces as a whole. Who knows, you might be surprised by their answers!


3.       Surround your teen with positive adult role models: It is important for a teen to have parents and healthy adult role models in their life exhibit positive, responsible behavior. Obviously, it is not a great idea to use drugs with your teen in order to be their friend, that is a given. Instead, let’s focus on healthy adult role models. What if you show your child how to network? Maybe take them to a city collaboration (there are many cities that have collaborative meetings to try and solve community issues). Go to school board or city hall meetings (all are open to the public), have them go volunteer and work directly with non-profit leaders, take them to places that they may want to have a career in and interview or connect with leaders in that industry (family members might be able to connect with these people, too). This is a great way for teens to start meeting adult leaders in their community with whom they can have a positive relationship with and potentially network. Just do your due diligence and assure that this person has good moral character. Unfortunately, we must be mindful that some adults can take advantage of young, impressionable teens. 


4.       Parent involvement in schooling: Don’t you just love the short, uninformative responses to the infamous question: “Hi Honey, how was school today?” The response is usually a teenage grunt, “fine”, or maybe not even a sound just an, “I don’t know” shrug. Try to ask more specific questions and see what happens. “How did the science quiz go for you today?” or “I heard there was an assembly on substance use today, what did you think about what was said?” The trick, of course, is knowing what is going on at school in order to ask about specific events. Thus, I’m sorry to say that we will need to read the emails from school or check on our teens to see what exactly they are studying. All things which I know sound easier said than done. Some may think that a “shrug” or the “I’m fine” is a rejection, however, research indicates that teens actually appreciate when their parents are involved with their schooling. They like to know that parents are looking out for them. Additionally, it wouldn’t hurt to go to an event hosted by the school every once in a while, right? We can fit at least one a year, can’t we?  


5.       Community Values youth: This one can be tricky since we must depend on outside sources to show that the community cares about youth. I know many places of business that do not give teens the respect they deserve and sometimes it’s understandable… that is why the best advice I can give you is to stick with city or non-profit organizations. Volunteering and community service is a great way to show teens that their community appreciates youth. Every city has some type of organization that loves volunteers both adolescent and adult! Google “[your city] community foundation” and one will surely pop up. Then, find a contact person and ask how your teen can volunteer. Since age can be a liability, you might have to volunteer with them and be your teens supervisor… but hey, what great positive adult role modeling you are partaking in!


6.       Help your teen read for pleasure: You may be thinking, “How in the world would I fit this into my schedule?” Our kids have way too much on their plates with sports, hours of homework, community service, peers, scheduled family times, and now I have to instill reading for pleasure? Being a parent is a daunting task, however, reading for pleasure comes in many different forms. For example, you are reading this… maybe it’s not as pleasurable as I hoped it would be, but if you got this far into the article, it means there was something interesting that kept your attention! Articles, newspapers, blogs, etc., are all forms of reading. The best way to instill this asset is to model it, while finding something they enjoy learning. Maybe set up a time in the day where the family has quiet reading time together. “Hey kids, Monday is electronic unplug night and we are all going to pick a book (or magazine, article, blog etc.) we like and read quietly.” Incorporate this into their nightly reading requirement for school. Or maybe start a book club with your teen. Find a book they are interested in, read on your own time and schedule a day of the week to connect and talk about what you read and what you thought. I know that many teens are juggling school work, sports, friends, etc., but if they realize how great it is to escape into a good book of interest, they may just start doing this on their own. If the act of reading is a challenge for your teen, in this digital world, there are audiobooks that can be listened to (check out Learning Ally, or Audible). Lastly, if your child struggles with reading or just needs a little extra help, we have tutoring available via our “Learn 2 Read OC” Program. For more information, visit https://www.learn2readoc.org/


7.       Help youth partake in creative activities. This includes outside activities involving some type of art or creative expression. Teens report having the least exposure in this area. It may be time to let our teen explore their right brain and find an activity they enjoy trying. Sign them up for an acting, art, pottery, or any type of creative arts class. (Sorry, sports don’t count!). Attending plays, musicals, or concerts counts, but, they must have at least 3 or more hours a week for it to be meaningful. The nice thing is that most junior high and high schools offer some type of class or even club that teens can partake in to access their creativity!


There you have it, the 7 ways to help your teen thrive. Let’s recap:

1.       Develop positive family communication. Support positive communication and provide a safe place for your teen to seek advice without judgement.

2.       Utilize youth as a resource. Empower your teen to have a useful role in the community.

3.       Surround your teen with positive, adult role models. Demonstrate boundaries and expectations by modeling healthy, responsible behavior.

4.       Involve yourself with school. Support and actively participate in helping your teen succeed in school.

5.       Show that their community values them. Empower your teen to realize that adults in their community value them.

6.       Help your teen read for pleasure. Have them commit to learning through reading a book, article, or blog of their interest at least 3 or more hours per week.

7.       Support youth creativity. Help your teen develop constructive use of their time by setting aside 3 or more hours to the arts through lessons or practice in music, theater, or other fine art.

Now that these are in place, go read the other 33 other ways and see what developmental assets your teen may need help gaining.