Teen years are a turning point because so many of the choices made during this period have a life-long impact. Whether your teen chooses an area of study, develops their skill in a particular sport, or begins a partner relationship, the impact can have lasting effects. The challenge is that teenagers are not yet developmentally competent to make independent decisions. Their prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for decision-making, is still developing. Sometimes they engage in high-risk behavior simply because they are unaware and have blind spots. In addition, we all have emotions about our emotions, and being unaware of this can cause challenges for them. For instance, if they are embarrassed to share their fears about an activity with their peers, they may engage in potentially dangerous activities.
One thing that helps give adolescents direction is discovering their purpose in life. Identifying their passions, strengths, and weaknesses helps create a blueprint of why they are here. This process of self-discovery is not an intellectual exercise. Even difficult emotions like disappointment and sadness offer them the possibility of introspection. Your teen’s relationship with failure and their ability to integrate the wisdom derived from it are rooted in their emotional competency. If you want your teen to be resilient, they must cultivate a growth mindset which means they can embrace failure as a learning opportunity. Again, many emotions such as fear and embarrassment are the drivers for avoiding mistakes. Befriending those emotions, including those they find uncomfortable, helps them benefit from successes and failures.
For many teens, how one makes wise choices can be confusing. You know from your experience how difficult it can be to choose a direction with confidence. Clarity of purpose helps tremendously. Once your adolescent has articulated why they are here, the question to ask them is where they want to be in ten or fifteen years? What will the world look like to them then? How will they feel about the situation as they imagine it? Can they prepare for the future they envision?
One consideration about your teen’s purpose in life is that we are on the cusp of a technological revolution powered by artificial intelligence and robotics. Irrespective of what field of work your teen may choose, there will be an impact from the automation this brings. The global pandemic has accelerated digital adoption, and your teen has already experienced its impact. As automation grips every part of life, we are witnessing a shift in skills requirements. Many routine tasks are being automated, and those jobs are no longer opportunities for your teen. Emotional intelligence now ranks as high or higher than traditional competencies such as math and science. Computers process data much more quickly and efficiently than humans but cannot connect emotionally.
As a problem solver in this emerging world, your teen needs to be able to connect deeply with the world around them. Deep connection is only achievable through the ability to empathize with others. The power of empathy to shape the world is as great as that of technology. As parents, it is critical to help your teen cultivate empathy and learn to leverage it when designing solutions to life’s challenges.