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How to Help Teens Embrace Their Individuality

Aug 19 2014 - 12:00am

Welcome to our guide to Back-to-School Success [1]: 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 [2] and giving them permission to make mistakes. That's not an easy thing to do, but it's necessary.


Dr. Aaron Cooper [3], 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":

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.


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