The Greatest Gift We Can Give to a Teenager

The teen years are among our greatest periods of change and self discovery. When you know who you are and why you’re here, you’re inspired to define and pursue your passions. Knowing “what makes you tick” and being able to carry that out, brings great joy and fulfillment. Unfortunately, for some, that’s easier said than done.

Take teenagers who receive few expressions of love or healthy modeling in the home. It doesn’t take long for that deficit to show up in their academics, motivation, relationships, and demeanor. In acts of sheer desperation, they search for love and false comforts in all the wrong places and check out of school. It’s a tragic cycle that has become all too common, with one unhappy ending after another.

During the past year, I’ve had many opportunities to speak with teens and young adults who are, in one form or another, facing a crisis of relevance. They see school as irrelevant, and worse yet, they see themselves as irrelevant. Some of their questions are:

  • “What am I worth when my parents never tell me they love me?”
  • “What’s the point of staying in school? I’ll never use this stuff anyway.”
  • “What can I do to convince my parents to let me live my dream?”
  • “I’m not that smart and my family has no money. Can I still become a leader?”
  • “All my parents care about is my performance…not me. How am I supposed to deal with that?

These conversations are heart wrenching. But, interestingly, it’s these kids who often most engaged in my talks on leadership! They ask the most questions and ask to share in private. They’re the ones asking questions and opening up after my speaking engagements. They’re desperately searching—for hope, relevance, and worth—even though it may not appear that way on the surface.

We’ve got to give it to them. All of them! Until young people see the relevance and value of their own lives, there’s simply no way they’ll reach their full potential.

Here are some ways adults can help:

  • Recognize that no one (especially a young person) has a complete and accurate perspective on all he or she has to offer—whether character qualities or skills. They need the perspectives of others who can offer additional insights about their value and opportunities.
  • Parents can ensure their children understand their uniqueness and value, and avoid showing favoritism through words or attention. They can value the person more than the performance.
  • Educators can offer opportunities for skills/aptitude assessments and programs where friends, relatives, and mentors honor each student with expressions of value. For example, some innovative schools hold special retreats where students receive letters collected from important people in their lives—life changing keepsake experiences.
  • Look for opportunities to “speak life” into young people and encourage them to do the same.

Remember, relevance breeds hope, and hope breeds motivation and direction. Motivation and direction help uncover passion and purpose. Passion and purpose help  fulfill potential.

These are vital gifts to give the young people in your life. Give generously.

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