The Importance of Acceptance to Teens
All of us struggle with self-doubt from time to time, but adolescents especially struggle with acceptance due to their lack of maturity and perspective, as well as their search for their own identity. In fact, in their drive for independence, teenagers can seem to reject parents while still desperately wanting acceptance from them. Research shows significant links between a teen’s psychological well-being and their perceived parental acceptance.
Fitting in and having a sense of belonging are vital to youth. Acceptance can feel like a confidence booster for your teen. That’s why it can be so difficult for teens to walk away from an unhealthy or harmful relationship if it still provides them some form of belonging.
Unfortunately, there are not a lot of things we can do to help our teens gain acceptance among their peers. We might be able to offer advice or create opportunities for them to connect with friends, but we cannot pick our teen’s friends nor can we help them make new ones. The only way we can satisfy a teen’s need for belonging is to offer them our own acceptance as a parent.
Here are a few ways that you can help your teen feel accepted:
Tell your teen that you love them. Many families don’t easily say these three words, perhaps because it might feel hard to express feelings, but letting your teen know how much they mean to you and how much you love them is critically important to their well-being.
Focus on the positive. As parents, we want our teens to behave well and be successful, which means that sometimes we tend to notice all our teen’s flaws or shortcomings in order to help correct them. However, for most teens, our desire to correct them often comes across as criticism or rejection. Instead try to focus on the things your teen does well. Help them feel good about their efforts. Notice their strengths. Compliment their uniqueness. This kind of positivity helps people feel valued and accepted. Ironically, by avoiding criticism and accepting a teen, they become more willing to listen to and respect your advice in areas of improvement.
Show interest in your teen’s life. Showing interest in your teen can mean many different things, such as:
- asking for their opinions and thoughts (you don’t have to agree with their ideas – simply listen and ask follow up questions to understand their viewpoint),
- asking to see their latest creation (a song they are learning, a poem they wrote, a drawing they made, etc.),
- listening to them so that they feel understood,
- attending their events (sports games, drama productions, etc.), or
- asking them to teach you about a topic they are passionate about.
Tolerate their experiments. Adolescence is a time of “trying on” different identities. This can manifest as changes in clothing styles or hair styles, different mannerisms, or even in strong opinions on world topics. More than likely, you won’t like a lot of these experiments, and may even be concerned that they could lead to negative behaviors. However, if you question your teen’s every decision, then your teen will either rebel, fill the household with tension, or experience a lot of worries and insecurities when they feel your doubt. Most of these experiments last a very short period of time, and if you can demonstrate that you love and accept your teen no matter what, you will have gone a long way to giving your teen a strong foundation of belonging, which will help them make excellent decisions in the future.
Accept that there are a range of life options. If you were raised with strong ideas about your options in life, you may have an equally narrow definition of what options are available to your child. Many teenagers are made to feel bad about their choices, not because their choices are wrong but simply because they deviate from the values of their parents. Make sure that you are staying open to your teen’s own ideas and interests. Acceptance doesn’t mean condoning bad behavior, but it does mean loving your child the way they are, not the way you wish they were.
Do things together that your teen enjoys. Let your teen know you value their interests by encouraging their passions and doing things together that reflect your teen’s preferences. If your teen loves ice cream, then make an ice cream date once a month. If your teen enjoys snowboarding, plan an annual trip to the local ski resort.
Be affectionate. Research shows that the absence of touch in a relationship can negatively impact the quality of that relationship. Although teens do not want to be cuddled, they do still need affection on occasion. A hug before bed or a kiss as they walk out the door are enough to demonstrate your comfort and care.
We need to foster an environment in which our teenager feels good enough exactly as they are so that they will want to achieve goals and make supportive life choices because they feel worthy. That is what true acceptance can bring.