Helping Teens Develop Self-Awareness
“Self-awareness” is the ability to accurately:
- recognize and identify your emotions, thoughts and values;
- judge your own performance, strengths and limitations;
- understand how your feelings and thoughts influence your behavior; and
- respond to different social situations.
The term encompasses quite a bit, but it’s really about being able to see yourself objectively.
Research has shown that people with high self-awareness are more successful than those with low self-awareness. This skill leads to better decision-making, helps us become more proactive, improves our communication, increases our productivity, improves our self-control, and enhances our self-confidence.
Tips for Parents to Improve a Teen’s Self-Awareness
Encourage teens to identify and express emotions. As they transition to young adulthood, teens are usually less likely to share all of their thoughts and feelings with their parents. If they do share how they feel with you, ask them to identify the specific emotion they have. For example, if they are upset by something a friend said, ask them if they are angry, hurt, embarrassed, shocked, etc. Learning to correctly identify the root emotion is the first step in self-awareness. If they are not sharing any of their feelings with you, at least have a conversation with them about identifying safe ways to express their emotions, such as talking with a trusted friend or mentor, writing in a journal, or typing in a password-protected blog. Let your teen know that writing thoughts down can help us explore what is going on in our minds – what we think, how we feel, what inspires or frightens us – sometimes helping us to clarify confusing and complex feelings we don’t yet understand.
Model self-awareness by sharing your own feelings. Create opportunities to discuss your own feelings, taking the time to identify the exact emotion and why you are feeling that way. At family dinners, you might discuss how you felt about a recent news article. During carpools, you could mention that you feel anxious about some upcoming work deadline or family get-together. Allowing your teen to see your emotions does three things – it helps them develop the ability to more accurately identify emotions in other people, understand the perspectives of other people, and realize that it’s ok to share emotions with others.
Talk about labels with your teen. Labels and/or stereotypes can be limiting or even hurtful to other people. Realizing that people are more than just one aspect of themselves and cannot be easily defined is another important step in self-awareness. Try to have an open conversation with your teen about labels that are used in their high school. Point out that deciding someone is a “nerd” or a “jock” causes everyone to perceive them in one specific way while dismissing their opinions or actions that don’t fit in that category. Additionally, parents should try to not use labels when talking about their teens with others, as it can be harmful or hurtful to teens who are trying to build their own identities.
Identify strengths. We are often our own worst critics and tend to obsess over our flaws. In addition, teenagers tend to compare themselves to other people, wishing they could have the talent of someone else. It’s really important for your teen’s confidence, worth, and self-awareness that you help them to identify their strengths and unique gifts. When a teen understands their own talents, they become more motivated to develop the skills they need to succeed. When you’re aware of your strengths, you are better able to determine: how you can be a contributor at school and the workplace; when an opportunity is a good fit for you; or which situations you should avoid because they don’t match your strengths.
Facilitate meaning. When parents engage children in discussions about meaning and purpose in life, they become curious about themselves and desire growth. You might discuss what attributes they value or admire in others. You might talk about their favorite activities or classes and how they might use those in a potential career. You might have a conversation about personal goals. Whenever you see your teen 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 inspires teens to become aware of what’s important or meaningful to them and what they hope to achieve in life.
Encourage mindfulness practices. Becoming self-aware requires a lot of self-reflection, and it’s difficult to be self-reflective when we are always busy or constantly filling our lives with noise. Mindfulness practices develop full awareness in the present moment and encourage us to observe our own thoughts and feelings without judgment, which significantly improve our self-awareness. There are lots of ways to practice mindfulness, but the primary idea is to pay attention to the here and now. You might notice how your body feels, what noises you hear, the comfort of your environment, or what smells are present. Whenever your teen recognizes a judgmental or wandering thought, encourage them to notice and label it, and then return to the present moment.