Encouraging Your Teen to Dream
Parents are often looking for that magic answer to difficult parenting questions. They wonder which parenting technique will keep their child on the right track or which method of control will ensure that their teen will not make risky decisions. Unfortunately, it’s not that black and white. Every child is different, as is every situation, as is every parent. While there are no cut and dried answers to raising the perfect teen, there are some approaches that can help. One of the best ways to help teens make positive choices in their lives is to make their future attractive.
Teens who believe they have a bright future ahead of them tend to avoid risky behaviors. When they are passionate about a sport or activity, they fill their time with constructive activities that fit with their interest, leaving less time for getting in trouble. When they are excited about college or specific careers, they avoid actions that will derail their dreams, such as drug use or teen pregnancy. Remind them that they have the capability to be whatever they want, and they will keep their eye on the horizon and all its possibilities.
Encourage teens to have their own interests and dreams. Everyone has a passion – something that makes them excited. Take the time to listen to your teen and find out what makes their eyes light up. Then encourage them. If they get excited about art, sign them up for art classes. If they can’t stop talking about the stars, find a local science program. Encourage their creativity and help them to live in the moment and experience the joy of their excitement. Whatever their passion is, find a way to cultivate it.
Be practical, not pessimistic. Many children dream of impractical careers. Perhaps they want to be an actor, artist, rock star, rocket scientist, President of the United States… you get the picture. Their vision is not limited by our world or the realities of the difficulties involved in achieving those dreams. And perhaps you shouldn’t limit them either for two reasons. First, passion is an incredible energy that can overcome a myriad of obstacles. So many people have succeeded at things that everyone told them was impractical, that could never work, but that they continued to pursue simply because they loved doing it. Second, your desire to insert a dose of reality can actually cause your children to lose faith in themselves. The outside world will fill them with negativity, so you don’t need to bring them down as well. Believe in them, praise them, and build their self-confidence. When they believe in themselves, they will be inspired to try new things. It’s ok to tell them what hard work lies ahead of them in pursuing their dreams, but have faith that they can do it!
Let your child follow their dreams, not yours. It is all too easy to superimpose your own dreams of success, fame or fortune onto your children, but do not fall into that trap. Children and teens are individuals who have aspirations very separate from your own, and pushing your own wishes onto them will often lead to rebellion or apathy. Allow your children the freedom to choose what to dream about, and you will give them the freedom to achieve things you never even imagined for them.
Be a role model. Kids do what they see (not what they hear). Therefore, it’s important that you set a good example of pursuing your own goals so that teens will assume this is an appropriate life path. Additionally, you should discuss some inspirational people you know. It could be someone in your own family, someone famous or a child prodigy.
Teach them to set goals. Having a dream is great, but it likely won’t get accomplished unless you establish some goals that show how you will achieve it. Setting goals is not an inherent skill, so you need to show a teen how to go through this process. This is an important life skill that will serve them well into adulthood. Talk about your teen’s dream in detail and then break that dream down into smaller goals with deadlines. Help your teen set small, attainable goals that are fun and have specific measures. Teach them to maintain a positive attitude by encouraging them to enjoy the little progress along the way and celebrating each goal achieved. Perhaps even more important will be your ability to teach your teen to maneuver the obstacles they encounter. It is hard to stick to a plan, especially when you hit some roadblocks. Remind your teen that Thomas Edison had to try over 10,000 experiments to find the perfect filament for the incandescent light bulb. Goals are not set in stone, but rather are like a roadmap used to get to a particular destination, and the route can vary depending on the many factors involved in planning the trip.
For more information on this topic, read our previous blog: Talking About a Teen’s Future.