How to Help Build Your Teen’s Identity
Developing an identity is perhaps one of the biggest challenges every adolescent faces. If your child is a teen, be aware of this identity crisis and a struggle towards its resolution.
By Mina Dilip
As the famous psychologist Eric Erikson noted, “The most critical aspect of emotional and psychological development during the teen years is the establishment of a clear-cut, positive, healthy and socially acceptable identity, as well as its wholehearted acceptance and integration by the individual.” When children develop a healthy sense of self, and consequently a realistic identity, they are able to lead contented, fulfilling lives. This article explores some ways of assisting your teen develop a positive self-esteem and a healthy identity. The first letters of each tip combine to form the word ‘TEENAGE’.
Take the time to understand and connect with your teen: Every individual is unique and different. As a parent, it is natural to see your child as an extension of yourself. During the early years of childhood, this is fine, because children see themselves that way too. However, as your child steps into teenage, you must learn to gracefully step back and allow her to start making her own choices. Even if you feel tempted to correct her before she fails, hold back that urge and let her make the mistake. But, be available to talk about any feelings that come up in the process. For, although your teen may act all grown up, she is still a child who needs you. However, learn the art of being supportive without sounding commanding or controlling.
Explore your own sense of self and personal identity: Our children mirror us in many ways. Be it habits and mannerisms, or personal choices and self-confidence, our children are a true reflection of the way we see ourselves and carry ourselves. So, look within. Learn to introspect. Figure out whether you have a healthy sense of self-esteem and a positive sense of self and identity. If you do, you will be in a much better position to guide your teenager towards developing a healthy, positive identity for himself.
Encourage your teen to explore her interests: It is all too easy to get carried away by the need for vicarious gratification. I have met many parents who try to live their lives through their children. Parents who could not achieve their dreams try to do so through their children. In the process, they stifle their teens. If your teenager has interests that do not match your own, be mature about it. Accept that she is different, and encourage her to explore her own interests rather than forcing your agenda on her. This will aid her in understanding herself better and thus develop a healthy identity.
Negotiate: Rebellion is the most common aspect of teenage and is often talked about in most parenting circles. As a parent, if you take the time to understand the reasons underlying such rebellion, perhaps you can circumvent a great deal of unpleasantness. Teens rebel because they are trying desperately to set themselves apart as individuals, and assert themselves as well, which is often met with adult disapproval. If you can hold back the criticism and guide your child gently towards making appropriate choices, he will not feel the need to swim against the tide. But, for this, you need to know when to let go. Stop controlling your child’s life. Instead, negotiate. Talk about the possible natural consequences, and let him make the connection between his actions and the logical outcomes.
Accept your teenager and encourage her to accept herself: Some children are introverts, others are extroverts. Some children are academically gifted, others are sporty. Some children prefer to take the lead, others like to follow. Observe your own teen. What is her personality like? Whatever you discover, be open to accepting her unconditionally. Never compare! A parent’s unconditional acceptance goes a long way in creating a sense of safety and well-being, thereby laying a firm foundation for healthy, positive self-esteem. When you acknowledge and accept your child just the way she is, she will naturally gravitate towards accepting herself too. Children who are comfortable in their own skin do not face an identity crisis. Unconditional acceptance will help your teenager to grow and develop into the best version of herself that she can be.
Give him the gift of compassion: The value of compassion can never be overstated. The more compassionate you are, the greater the chances of your child picking up this trait. When you treat others with respect and kindness, your teenager will learn to do the same. Give your teen the impression that you value him for who he is, focussing particularly on the compassionate aspect of his nature. Encourage him to help others and give generously. It is the best gift you can give your child.
Empower your teenager: It is your responsibility, as a parent, to empower your teenager to take a firm stand for herself. Teach her to be assertive without resorting to aggression. Focus on values like integrity, respect and responsibility. Teach her to value her inner virtues and qualities rather than the external attributes like clothes and accessories. Keep her grounded in reality, and create a healthy family environment where she feels safe to express herself freely and openly. This way, you would empower her to develop a strong, affirmative and successful identity for herself.
Despite following all the above pointers, if you find your teenager struggling with identity issues and worrying uncharacteristically about body image, peer acceptance, future and so on, you might want to consider getting professional help to help your teen tide over this difficult phase of life.
Mina Dilip, Child Psychologist, Trainee Practitioner in Therapeutic Play Skills (PTUK)
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