Providing a Strong Sense of Belonging
Everyone wants to feel they belong. All humans desire a connection with someone who cares and to feel they are part of something bigger than themselves. Teens are no exception; in fact, since adolescence is such a radical time of change, the need may be even more prevalent. If young people do not have their need for belonging met in a healthy place – with family, appropriate friends, clubs, sports, etc. – they will get it in an unhealthy place – with inappropriate friends, drugs, gangs, etc. The satisfaction teens experience within groups contribute to feelings of security and support. Groups offer teens the opportunity to share ideas and interests, to demonstrate their abilities, and to gain personal recognition, all of which contributes to increased self-esteem.
How to Create a Strong Sense of Belonging
The best way to develop a strong sense of belonging is to create a community within your family. To accomplish this, parents should value their teens, support them in their activities, and create family traditions.
Valuing your teens means giving them a vote in decisions, listening to their input, recognizing and using their strengths, and understanding their weaknesses and finding ways to strengthen them. You can learn more about some of these techniques in our previous blog, Effectively Communicating with Teens.
Supporting each family member is very important. Each child should know that their skills and/or accomplishments are accepted and respected because the other family members show up at their games, concerts, showings, or other events. Showing an interest in activities gives each member of the family a boost of self-esteem.
Family traditions are things that families do together on a regular basis. Traditions can be defined broadly, ranging from a favorite TV show everyone watches once a week to a specific food you prepare and eat on a specific day of the year. Many times, parents will think that teens have grown out of traditions, but that is not the case. Traditions create stability, and teens are going through a drastic time of change. They depend on the stability of a cohesive family unit. Traditions will create positive memories and strengthen the family bond, all of which reinforce a teen’s sense of belonging.
Results of a Strong Sense of Belonging
When families are able to foster a strong sense of belonging for their children, they reap some very positive results.
Generally, the values and habits of a group are transferred to the individual members of the group. In other words, members of a group tend to appreciate the same principles and ideas and perform all of the same routines and practices that the group does. So, if your teen “belongs” to your family, they will pick up and integrate the values and good habits that you, as parents, model to them.
One of the main roles of an adolescent is to begin to define themselves and figure out who they are as an individual. When a teen feels like they “fit” in a group that promotes their likes and values, they become stronger in their own attitudes and convictions. They also become comfortable enough that they can try new things. They can explore their lives knowing they have a foundation to rely on through the good and bad times.
A sense of belonging helps teens make healthy decisions. Even when they are outside of the house, teens who identify with their family as their primary group will make positive choices simply because it doesn’t fit their family’s values or because they do not want to disappoint their family. Teens tend to choose other groups in their social networks that are positive and reflect many of their families’ values. They are also better able to fight off loneliness and depression.
Children with a strong sense of belonging within their family see themselves as valuable and have self respect and carry themselves with dignity and integrity. This translates to how they act outside of the family, giving them confidence to make better decisions, participate in teams and other groups, and providing motivation to avoid risky behaviors. If they do not find their sense of belonging within their family, they will turn to other groups, which may not be positive, to satisfy this need.