How to Help Teens Embrace Their Individuality

Welcome to our guide to Back-to-School Success: 31 days of tips, apps, recipes, and more to help you make this your family's best school year yet. Today, day nine, we're helping you raise an independent, individual teen.

For teens, a new school year is filled with all sorts of new possibilities and responsibilities. Friends, activities, homework — there's so much to think about, and it's natural to want to step in with help and advice. But this year, I'm stepping back a bit and giving my teen the space to make her own successes or mistakes.

Let Your Teen Face Life's Adversities

The interesting thing about letting go is that it's actually a lot of work. It's not as simple as stepping back and saying, "You're on your own; good luck to you!" Giving teens space to grow means giving them the skills they need to be independent and giving them permission to make mistakes. That's not an easy thing to do, but it's necessary.

Dr. Aaron Cooper, author of I Just Want My Kids to Be Happy: Why You Shouldn't Say It, Why You Shouldn't Think It, What You Should Embrace Instead, says if you don't let your children face everyday adversity, you're not allowing them to develop the resilience they'll need later in life.

So letting my teen face her own friendship problems or not reminding her to practice before her driving test may be hard, but she'll be a stronger person for it.

Plant the Seeds That Will Help Them Grow

The problem I face is that if I'm not supposed to jump in to make sure she's not making mistakes, what am I supposed to do? Thankfully, Dr. Cooper says letting go doesn't mean I don't still have a role in helping her grow into a strong and authentically happy adult.

He suggests working on instilling core values to help my teen develop a sense of self and purpose. Interestingly, he refers to this as "planting seeds," a perfect analogy for the idea of growing. Here are some of those "seeds":

  • Teach your teen good health habits. Talk with your child about eating well, getting enough sleep, and how to talk about the whole range of her feelings.
  • Promote a meaningful life. Make sure your teen knows there are things out there beyond his own needs, like community service projects and people to look up to. Essentially, teach him to do good things.
  • Encourage friendships. Show your teen how important it is to surround herself with people who care by spending time with your own friends and family.
  • Value acts of kindness. Do something kind for another mom, pay for the coffee of the person behind you, or just find a way to show your child random acts of kindness will make her feel good.
  • Teach gratitude. Plant the seed of being grateful for the good things in your life by recounting them out loud even when life isn't going as well as you would like.
  • Model optimism. It isn't always easy to have a good attitude, but showing a little optimism can help your teen learn that negativity doesn't help solve problems.
  • Encourage the pursuit of gratifying activities. When your child is looking for the right after-school activities, let her choose the ones that make her happy and feel successful.

It isn't going to be easy, but I'm going to try to plant those seeds instead of just buying the flowers at the store for my teen. I challenge you to do the same.