5 Ways to Help Teens Build Self-Awareness

“It takes courage…to endure the sharp pains of self discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives.” –Marianne Williamson

Regardless of your family or career role, you probably know some teenagers you’d like to see thrive. And what is one key character trait that generally leads to a happy, healthy, and successful adult life? Unfortunately, one that often takes a back seat as we navigate the busyness of life? Self-awareness.

As consumed as teens are with schoolwork and activities, home responsibilities, jobs, college prep, family, social life, and more, self-reflection is probably the last thing on their minds. However, being self-aware and cultivating healthy self-esteem will help them in life more than they can fully realize. Here a few suggestions to help encourage the teenagers in your life to become more self-aware:

  1. Does your teen journal? If not, encourage them to take a couple moments a day to quietly reflect. Have them write down what they’re passionate about, what they value, who they aspire to be. Suggest they write about their emotions, too. They’ll be surprised at how beneficial it can be!
  2. Set them up with a mentor. We all need mentors! Mentorship relationships provide great learning opportunities for people both young and old. They allow us to model our life after someone we admire and aspire to be like, and learn practical life wisdom from the pros. Your teen’s mentor could be a relative, friend, youth leader,, or someone in their desired career field.
  3. Be open about your own life experiences. A huge part of being self-aware is the ability to identify key people and events that played a role in creating our worldview and life perspective. Talk to your teen about the people who played essential roles in your own life (i.e. your parents, grandparents, a favorite college professor, an author, etc.). One of the greatest gifts we can give the young people in our lives is encouragement and wisdom from our own life experience (the good and the bad!).
  4. Don’t always gloss over mistakes. When your teen messes up in a relationship or in school, it’s easy for us to overlook the shortfall and boost their self-esteem because we want to see them happy again. However, it is important for our teens to know their strengths AS WELL as their weaknesses. Knowing areas of needed improvement will help your teen improve his or her character and mature. Reflective conversations after the fact cement those valuable life lessons.
  5. Have them develop a “Personal Balance Sheet” of their assets (special qualities they have to offer) and their constraints (things holding them back). This exercise is both revealing and inspirational as teens reflect on themselves and receive invaluable input from others. The assignment is found

Self-awareness is a product of careful introspection. It helps us develop more accurate answers to the fundamental questions of who am I, what do I uniquely have to offer this world, and what are my opportunities. When teens focus on their own personal character, including their values, beliefs, heroes, goals, struggles, shortfalls, etc., they soon reap the benefits of being self-aware. People who are self-aware learn to act intentionally and deliberately with hope and vision instead of being reactionary, random, or impulsive. They are able to redirect negative thoughts, be true to who they are, and be a positive light to the people around them.

How would you rate your own level of self-awareness? What have you done to encourage the young people in your life to become self-aware? 

Leadership for a Lifetime: Self-Awareness

When you look at yourself in the mirror, whom do you see? Is the image clear or blurry? Do you like what you see or wish you could have a makeover? Are you a kitten who sees a lion or a lion who sees a kitten?

Unfortunately, most of us lack a complete and accurate understanding of ourselves because our perception is distorted through our own biased lens. Each one of us is filled with valuable treasure, but for many it lies buried beneath the surface, waiting to be revealed. I daresay this is true for most adults, but it’s especially so with adolescents. Unfortunately, they’re making fundamental, life-changing decisions without truly understanding themselves.  We call this essential leadership quality self-awareness.

When it comes right down to it, teens and young adults are trying to answer these fundamental questions at this stage of life: 1) who am? 2) what do I have to offer? and 3) what are my opportunities? The first two get at the heart of their identity… their value proposition to the world. It’s vital that they get these answers right because they will heavily shape their future.

Within each and every person, there is a treasure of talent, qualities, assets, and skills. How would you like to mine that treasure in you? How about the treasure in your students, children, and others around you? How can you develop a clearer understanding of yourself and the tremendous value you have to offer—and help others do the same?

Here’s one way: Knowing that self awareness comes through self discovery and affirmation from others, we’ve developed a personal leadership assignment you can access here. It not only helps you assess your own unique assets/strengths, but it also captures the invaluable perspectives of others who know you well and have your best interests at heart. As you complete this project, you’ll have a much more complete and accurate perspective of…You!

Briefly, your assets fall into several categories:

  • Foundational Assets:
    • Physical: strength, speed, agility, dexterity
    • Mental: intelligence, reasoning, creativity, subject specific
    • Behavioral: personality, attitude, emotional intelligence
    • Spiritual: faith, values, inspirational experiences
  • Relational Assets:
    • Support System: companionship, security, love from others
    • Network: pool of personal and professional ambassadors
  • Aspirational Assets:
    • Experiential: credentials, life skills, service, leadership
    • Interests: knowledge pursuits, recreational, leisure
    • Passions and Dreams: desires, causes, purpose, impact

The power of gaining input from others as you inventory your strengths cannot be overstated. They will call out perspectives you either never realized or never fully appreciated. Remember the later scene in “The Wizard of Oz” when the Wizard honored the Scarecrow with a degree, the Tin Man with a heart, and the Cowardly Lion with a badge of courage? Each of them always had smarts, kindness, and courage, but it took someone else to reveal it for them to believe it!

Great leaders are self aware and lead from their strengths. They have an intuitive grasp of their uniqueness and value and how to offer it to others. Then they align their lives accordingly.

So, what are your greatest strengths? A commitment to self awareness will help you identify and develop them—and use them in a way that brings joy to you and is a benefit to the world!

The Gifts of Unconditional Love and Belief

Parents! Teachers! Mentors! If you have young people in your life—young people you believe in—this is crucial information for you!

Have you ever had someone believe in you more than you believed in yourself?  How did that make you feel?  It probably made you feel like you could take on the world, or tackle whatever situation you faced at the time. That’s the power of unbridled belief from others.

The famous artist Pablo Picasso claimed, “My mother always told me, ‘If you become a soldier, you’ll be a general; if you become a monk, you’ll end up as the pope.’ Instead, I became a painter and wound up as Picasso.” Many other successful people also point to their parents’ belief in them as the driving force behind their success. They believe that if their parents hadn’t been confident in them from the get-go, they wouldn’t be in the same place today.

I am precisely one of those people, and I will be forever grateful for my parents’ unconditional love and belief in me (even if I may not have always deserved it!). It helped more times than I can count.

Do your children (or other young people in your life) know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you love them unconditionally and believe in them unequivocally? Do they know that you see them as talented, worthy, and brimming with potential? Make certain they do. It is a tremendous asset for teens to be surrounded by adults who believe in them—who can affirm their uniqueness and value. That belief is an inner voice, encouraging them to dream big and persevere through life’s challenges.

Your child, mentee, or student will make his or her share of mistakes along the way (I know I sure did!).  But having the benefit of unconditional acceptance and belief from you will soften those blows and provide a safety net they can always count on.

Not so sure how to let them know you’re their biggest fan? Here are some ideas:

-Be upfront. Whether it’s at a meal, during a tutoring session, or after a class, be willing to open up. Tell them that you believe in them (and why) and that you’re bullish about their future. Call out some of their greatest assets and character traits.

-Write them a letter or note. Stick a note in their lunchbox, or if you’re a teacher, consider putting a sticky note on one of their assignments. Knowing you went to the effort to do that will speak volumes to them!

-Be generous with your time. What says “I believe in you” more than carving out time in your busy schedule?

-Speak from experience. Share your own downfalls, your mistakes, and your past life experiences. A little perspective from a “pro” can boost their confidence and build trust!

We can be the cheering squad that calls out the strengths and affirms the dreams and potential of the young people in our lives. It’ll let them know that if they were a stock, you’d be a buyer! And, the best part of all? Your belief will breed their belief.

Who could benefit from your gift of affirmation and belief today?

Constructive Criticism Can Help You Grow

How committed are you to correcting your weaknesses and building your strengths? Do you embrace constructive feedback when it comes your way?

Let’s face it.  Most of us love to receive compliments—but criticism?  Not so much. Criticism, even if it’s constructive, can sometimes make us feel guilty, ashamed, or inadequate. We often become angry or withdrawn when we receive it. We can be defensive. Or, out of hurt, we turn the tables on the people criticizing us, attacking their credibility and motives.

The common sense reality is that if we’re genuinely interested in improving ourselves, we should be just as interested in hearing about our weaknesses as we are our strengths—even if the method of delivery is indelicate. We are, after all, a work in progress!

It’s a great idea to make it a practice to actively solicit constructive feedback from your superiors, friends, and role models. This means asking them questions such as:

  • Am I meeting your performance expectations?
  • How can I improve—as a person and as a colleague?
  • What do you see are my strengths and weaknesses?

It also means being able to receive the feedback with a grateful heart whether you asked for it or not. It’s natural to react defensively when someone gives critical feedback.  But if you do, you’ll miss a golden opportunity to learn and grow.  Here is some advice to receive criticism well and use it to your advantage:
 

  1. Don’t take it personally. If someone criticizes you for something you’ve done, it doesn’t mean they don’t like YOU.
  2. Learn to separate yourself from the criticism and take it at face value. Think of it as a gift from someone who cares about you!
  3. Resist the temptation to interrupt or argue. Thank the person giving you feedback, and assure him or her you’ll take it to heart and consider it.
  4. Thank the person for the feedback. If it seems appropriate, enlist his or her help for making changes related to the advice given.
  5. Ask for specific examples of any behaviors needing improvement.

This is especially important for young people to embrace—a challenge when they’re exerting their independence and think they know it all. I adopted this practice early on in life and consider it one of the most valuable life lessons in my career. It made me progress that much faster by seeking the wisdom and feedback of others. It’s a hallmark of excellence!
 
Make it a point to ask for one piece of constructive feedback from someone in your life and practice responding in the ways we’ve just discussed.  Are you a parent or teacher? Share this lesson with the young people in your life. If they apply it, they’ll likely thank you for it some day!

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.

Speak Don’t Freak: Improve Your Public Speaking Skills Pt. 2

This is part two in a series on helping young adults improve their public speaking skills. Check out last week’s blog post for part one. 
 
Just as a golfer battles nerves on the first tee, most of us have butterflies when we present. The good news is they usually don’t last long, and unless it’s a really bad case, the audience won’t notice. That was my biggest takeaway when I watched a video of myself at a presentation workshop. Whew!
 
Young adults are already in a season of rampant self-consciousness and insecurity. Public speaking may seem to exacerbate the problem, but actually the opposite is true. Honing presentation skills is one of the best ways to help teens grow in confidence and self-esteem.
 
Here are some helpful tips to help your children or students handle nerves and believe in themselves when preparing to speak in public:
 
 

  1. Remember, the better prepared you are, the more confident you’ll be.
  2. Cut yourself some slack. You don’t have to be a perfect orator to win over your audience! Some nervousness is to be expected.
  3. Remember, you (usually) know more about the subject than your audience, and only you know exactly what you plan to say. If you miss something, they won’t even notice.
  4. Try to ask your audience a question as early as possible. You’d be surprised by how much this relaxes you. And, it creates a bond from the start.
  5. In most cases, the audience is on your side and they want you to succeed.
  6. If it’s a really bad case of the nerves, cough once before you enter the room. It’s a great stress reliever! No kidding!

 
Building effective communication skills in young adults should be one of our most important training priorities. It’s an essential ingredient to a successful career and plays a huge role in all of our relationships. Here’s how you can help them grow in this area:
 

  1. Encourage them to take speech classes, debate, and club assignments with speaking and leadership opportunities.
  2. Have them practice their speeches/presentations in front of you and offer positive feedback and gentle suggestions.
  3. Observe and evaluate speakers (e.g., political candidates) together to help them see the difference.
  4. Teach them etiquette and manners at every opportunity.
  5. Help them learn to read body language. Show them the difference between someone engaged and someone bored. This will serve them in social situations as well!

 
Then, watch how they conduct themselves when speaking with others (especially adults) in any situation. Praise them accordingly when you catch them doing it well. Confidence in general communications breeds confidence in presentations.
 

One day, they’ll thank you for it! (Okay, maybe.)
 


How have you trained the young people in your life or classroom to grow in confidence with their communication skills?  We’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions; please share them by posting your comments below. And then pass this post on to a friend who may benefit. We are always growing the circle!
 
 

Speak Don’t Freak: Improve Your Public Speaking Skills Pt. 1


Ask anyone, young or old, about their greatest fear and you’ll likely hear, “Speaking in public!” That’s right…most of us suffer from glossophobia…I know I did. I had two lines in my first school play and promptly spaced on the second. My wedding vows, practiced about 857 times, didn’t go so well either. (Thankfully, it didn’t affect the outcome!)
 
Thankfully, glossophobia can be overcome through training and experience. As parents and mentors, we can help build confident, skillful communicators at a surprisingly early age.
 
Every presentation situation is unique and requires good planning in order to succeed. Here are some key skills to teach young people that can help him or her win over an audience:
 

  1. Effective planning and preparation—knowing the purpose and goals, audience, venue and layout, time allotment, technology and logistics, and formality.
  2. Recognizing it’s about them (the audience) and fulfilling their needs and expectations—not about you. Arrogance kills!
  3. Engaging the audience through questions and stories—and avoiding excessive detail and jargon.
  4. Being enthusiastic and expressive and paying close attention to their body language to gauge their interest. Be friendly and natural and don’t forget to smile!
  5. Always saving room for questions and not running over your allotted time.
  6. Making good eye contact with each audience member (where possible)
  7. Not including more than half the number of slides as minutes you have to present or more than five bullet points on a slide.
  8. If possible, knowing the personalities of your key audience members and adapting accordingly. Busy executives like compelling and succinct comments. Analytical people like facts and detail.

 
Perhaps the best advice we can give young speakers (or take to heart ourselves) is to think “share with” rather than “lecture to.” No one is nervous when sharing with friends, right? That’s the key mindset to have. Make it as conversational as you can, and, by all means, have fun!
 
Have you developed some good advice or strategies for improving your own speaking skills that you can share with young people? Please post your ideas and questions below; we’d love to hear from you! And pass this blog on to a friend, encouraging them to sign up for our e-mail newsletter. There is always room for more in our online community!