Empower Your Teen to Follow His or Her Dreams
- Friday, September 23, 2005
Your teen son or daughter has dreams bubbling up inside that can either spring forth in power or fade away like steam. As a parent, you can help develop those dreams – in science fairs, art shows, skating rinks, orchestras, basketball courts, and anywhere else your teen pursues them. Your encouragement and support is vital to keep your teen’s dreams alive and growing.
Here’s how you can empower your teen to follow his or her dreams:
Dream big dreams yourself. Model for your teen what being a dreamer looks like. Believe that your own life is full of possibilities and opportunities from God. Pursue your dreams with passion. Show your teen that God is much bigger than people’s fears of making changes and taking risks.
Support your teen’s interests. No matter what activities in the realm of academics, church, music, sports, or community service capture your teen’s interest, offer your support. Be willing to invest time, effort, and money while also encouraging your teen’s pursuits.
Encourage your teen to try different things. Expect some efforts to show promise and others not to go well. Recognize that it’s just as valuable to learn which interests not to pursue as it is to discover which interests to pursue.
Say "yes" as often as possible. Whenever your teen wants to try a new activity or take the next step in pursuing an interest, try to say "yes" as often as you can to enable his or her dreams to keep growing.
Learn from setbacks. Help your teen understand that setbacks are almost inevitable on the road to a dream. Teach him or her to respond to setbacks wisely by considering what lessons can be learned from each situation. For example, might God be using it to develop a certain character quality in your teen’s life?
Help your teen develop a healthy self-esteem. Understand that, while God doesn’t want your teen to be arrogant, He does want him or her to have the confidence necessary to pursue dreams. Show unconditional love; make sure your teen knows that no matter what choices he or she makes, you will still accept and love him or her completely. Regularly express your love to your teen by saying "I love you" and offering praise, compliments, positive touches such as hugs, time, and attention.
Whenever your teen makes mistakes, hate the sin but love the sinner. Demonstrate grace by being willing to forgive and work together to help your teen try again. Catch your teen doing something good every day, and tell him or her about it. Help your teen notice his or her own areas of success. Be your teen’s biggest fan by celebrating his or her achievements, no matter how large or small.
Say "no" to your teen’s requests when necessary; remember that spoiled kids don’t appreciate life’s benefits and achievements. Speak often and positively about their dreams and the possibilities that are open to them.
Understand, respect, and work with the way your teen is wired. Ask your teen questions to find out more about how God has wired him or her. Try some like these:
"What really drives you?"
"What’s the most fun you’ve ever had helping someone else?"
"What dreams do you think God has given you?"
"What can you do that most people can’t"
"What ability would you most like to develop? Why?"
"If God hired you for a summer job, what would you hope it would be? Why?"
"If you could design a specific way to serve God and knew you wouldn’t fail, what would you do?".
Listen carefully to how your teen responds, and learn from what he or she says. Also, ask others who work regularly with your teen (such as teachers, youth group leaders, coaches, school counselors, Scout leaders, Sunday School teachers, and parents of close friends) what they’ve observed about your teen’s likes and dislikes, interests and passions, abilities and aptitudes.
Affirm your teen’s unique wiring – whether or not that is similar to your own. Let your teen know you’re pleased with him or her through physical affection, spoken words of encouragement, emphasizing that your teen’s value is based on who he or she is (rather than on what he or she does), envisioning a special future together, and devoting time, energy, creativity, and resources to supporting your teen’s hopes for the future.
Help your teen find interests and passions. Encourage your teen to take advantage of any opportunity to try various activities to discover what he or she likes. Ask your teen to write a list of activities he or she has pursued since fourth grade in the realms of school, home, church, community, and work. Then have your teen rank each activity according to how positive or negative the experience was.
Pray together, asking God to open your teen’s heart and mind to what He wants to show him or her as your teen reflects on this list. Ask questions such as:
"Is there a pattern or anything these events have in common?"
"Are some of the activities things I’d like to pursue more?"
"How can I begin doing more of these kinds of activities?"
"What kinds of qualities, talents, character traits, and skills do these activities require?"
"Do I have some of these qualities and traits?"
"Are any circumstances or events missing from my worksheet? If so, what are they, and why might they be missing?"
"Are there any activities that I’ve never done before, but I’d like to try?".
Discern your teen’s spiritual gifts. Understand that these gifts aren’t the same as natural abilities. Rather, spiritual gifts are abilities that allow someone to perform specific tasks beyond the realm of human skill. They’re given only to believers in Jesus Christ, and listed in the Bible.
Pray, asking God to help you and your teen recognize the spiritual gifts that He has given your teen. Then have your teen learn by getting involved in situations where he or she has to depend on God’s Spirit to get something done in projects both inside and outside your church. Ask people with whom your teen works on these projects to give you both honest feedback about what gifts your teen may or may not have.
Identify whether your teen is left-brained or right-brained. Understand which side of the brain is more natural for your teen to use – the left side (which handles sequential, logical, rational thought) or the right side (which is in charge of creativity and feelings). Know that some experts recommend that each person try to spend at least 70 percent of his or her waking time operating from the hemisphere that is most natural for him or her. Help your teen counteract pressure from school or elsewhere to adapt away from his or her natural preference and spend more time and energy on activities that reflect that natural preference.
Discover whether your teen is an extrovert or an introvert. Consider whether your teen finds energy in things and people (as extroverts do) or in his or her inner world of ideas (as introverts do). Make sure your teen isn’t pressured to be something he or she isn’t.
Pinpoint your teen’s sensory preference. Understand how your teen prefers to learn about the world: through seeing (visual preference); hearing (auditory preference); or touching, tasting, and smelling (kinesthetic preference). Use this information to nurture and affirm your teen.
Find mentors for your teen. Ask God to help you find adults who care enough for your teen to invest in his or her spiritual and vocational development. Consider family members; church leaders; school teachers, coaches, and guidance counselors; close friends; co-workers; neighbors; and professionals in the fields in which your teen is interested in potentially pursuing a career. Be willing to mentor other people’s teens yourself.
Teach your teen to see where God is at work. Help your teen understand how God is active in the world and how he or she might fit into what He is already doing. Encourage them to develop a close relationship with Him and pray often about how to join His work both locally and in the wider world.
Help your teen make decisions with long-term goals in mind. Model important values for your teens by seriously asking yourself these questions when facing a decision of your own: "Will this honor God? Will this help me or hinder me in reaching my goal?". Make your teen’s dreams the topic of conversations regularly to help him or her keep a vision of the future in view.
Turn scars into badges of honor. Assure your teen that everyone encounters setbacks on the way to realizing their dreams. Remind your teen that hard times can be opportunities for growth and fine-tuning goals. Help your teen cope with setbacks by acknowledging the hurt, explaining that they’re a normal part of God’s pruning process to help him or her grow and blossom, and considering how the experience might be turned into an opportunity to pursue an even higher dream.
Urge your teen not to quit in the middle of a commitment (such as midway through a sports season or play rehearsal), but to fulfill that commitment and then pray about what to do. Listen carefully to your teen and allow him or her to drop activities that truly aren’t working for him or her.
Do whatever it takes to help your teen’s dreams come true. Be willing to invest your time, energy, money and other resources, creativity, and humility into your teen’s pursuits. Know that it’s all worthwhile, because it’s an investment in your teen’s future and in your relationship with him or her.
If you’re married, work with your spouse as a team to encourage your teen. Make sure you’re on the same page about how to encourage your teen. Hold private conversations to discuss issues about which you disagree. Recognize that you and your spouse are different so that you can complement each other. Respect your mate’s unique perspective and talk and listen to each other in love.
Make sure the dreams are truly your teen’s – not your own. Never force your own dreams on your teen. Recognize that doing so is a recipe for disaster. Understand that God has a unique purpose for your teen’s life that may differ significantly from your own. Embrace the unique person God has made your teen to be.
Chill out! Don’t worry if your teen’s dreams aren’t clear or coming true as soon as you’d like. Realize that the story of your teen’s growth into a mature person who honors God is still being written. Be patient, and remember that God isn’t finished with your teen yet.
Adapted from Wired by God by Joe White with Larry Weeden, copyright 2004 by Joe White. A Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Ill., www.tyndale.com.
Joe White is the author of 14 books, including the 1997 Gold Medallion Book of the Year for Teens, Pure Excitement. He is the president and founder of Kanakuk Kamps. He and his wife, Debbie-Jo, have four grown children and live in Branson, Missouri.
Larry Weeden is a veteran of more than 25 years in Christian publishing and serves as director of book development for Focus on the Family. He and his wife, Beth, have one son, Matt.
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