Talk to Teens About Purpose

Purpose can be described as a goal that is both personally meaningful and makes a positive difference in the world. Feeling that you have a purpose in life, or connecting to a deeper meaning for your existence, has many benefits. People who believe they are meant for something special tend to:

  • feel more passionate about life,
  • be more focused,
  • have more motivation and resilience,
  • feel more gratitude and fulfillment,
  • live with integrity, and
  • feel happier.

In addition, teens with a sense of purpose experience less anxiety, sleep better, and cope with stress better.

While the benefits are clear, finding a sense of purpose can feel difficult and overwhelming, especially for a teen. There are so many options in our lives that it feels hard to narrow down the choices to a specific path. There are so many big needs in the world that we can feel too small to make a difference. The important thing for teens to know is that there are many ways to find your purpose, and they don’t need to have all the answers now. In fact, most people feel that their purpose evolves over their lifetimes. Teens can still identify goals that will give them a sense of meaning.

For parents and teachers, here are some ideas for helping youth to explore the concept of purpose:

Ask Deeper Questions

To discover our purpose, we must ask deep questions. When you have your teen’s undivided attention and you’re both in a calm or content state of mind, ask your teen the open-ended questions listed below. Let them know there are no right or wrong answers and that the questions are simply meant to expand their thinking and get their creativity flowing.

  • What’s most important to you in your life?
  • Why do you care about those things?
  • Do you have any long-term goals?
  • Why are these goals important to you?
  • What does it mean to have a good life and be a good person?
  • What is a big accomplishment you hope to achieve in your lifetime?
  • If you were looking back on your life when you’re old, how would you want to be remembered?

If you think your teen wouldn’t want to answer these questions with you, consider asking a favorite relative, coach or other trusted adult to ask them.

Share Others’ Journeys

Stories from you or other close family members about what gives your lives meaning are relatable and relevant to teens and can help them understand the concept better. If you don’t feel like you have an example within your family, share the journey of inspiring people around the world.

Identify Strengths

Our purpose is often derived from our own unique talents and strengths. Knowing what their strengths are can help teens understand how they can make a positive contribution to their community or the world. Encourage your teen to discover their strengths. They can do this in a couple of ways. There are free online tools that offer a quiz on their website and information on your top strengths. Simply Google “free strengths test.” Another method to explore their strengths is to solicit feedback from adults they are close to, such as relatives, teachers, coaches or other mentors. They can ask these adults:

  • What do you think I’m particularly good at?
  • What are my greatest strengths?
  • What do you think I really enjoy doing?
  • How do you think I’ll leave my mark on the world?

Knowing your strengths is an important first step in understanding the deeper meaning for your life.

Encourage Long-Term Thinking

Teens tend to think about things in the short-term – today, next week, maybe next year – but they are notoriously short-sighted when it comes to the future. Whenever you notice that your teen is engaged in something – when you see them really enjoy an activity or get passionate about an issue – ask them to consider how it might impact their future. For example, if they are upset about racial injustice, ask them how they would change it and how they might imagine their community 10 years from now with more equality. This type of forward thinking can help youth consider what is meaningful to them and what they hope to achieve in life.

Final Thoughts…

People with purpose are more happy, successful, and resilient. These are attributes every parent wants for their child, so consider how you can instill a sense of purpose in your children. Ask them meaningful open-ended questions that expands their thinking and identify strengths that you believe your child can share with the world. However, don’t be discouraged if your teen doesn’t land on a specific purpose now. Many people don’t know their purpose until later in life, but your questions and encouragement of their strengths will plant seeds that will bloom in their future.

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