15 Ways to Help Teenagers Feel Like They Matter.

In the previous post I discussed how important it is for teenagers to feel like they count and what might happen when they don’t.

Central to the adolescent journey is the daunting task of discovering and owning an adult identity. Our identity is made up of many facets.  Some of the most significant are; knowing we matter to others, having our contribution valued, and and being entrusted with responsibility for something or someone.

This journey can be scary and uncertain, but also exciting and exhilarating. It is rarely easy, but when adults provide opportunities for teens to stand up, take responsibility, value their contribution, and allow them to feel like they count, it does go a little more smoothly.

There is no rocket science to this post, merely a list of ways adults can help teenagers feel valued, connected, and genuine participant stakeholders in various spheres of modern life.

How Can Parents Help Teenagers Feel Like They Count?

  • Actively seek their opinions and views. This means ask them specific questions about particular topics.
  • Engage with them when they express and opinion or a belief. Even if you disagree, encourage them to articulate and explain their opinion. You can even gently play devils advocate and mount contrary points of view to challenge them.
  • Give your teens responsibility for contributing to the running of the household. Be sure to this in a way that ensures they have a say in how they contribute. Negotiation and compromise are valuable traits to model and encourage.
  • Allow teens have a say in daily family events such as meals, TV viewing, choice of family holiday etc. The more a teenager feels like their suggestions have been considered the more readily they will accept the outcome, even if it’s not their preference. On the occasions when the teenager’s suggestion is not taken up be sure to explain why.
  • Actively assist your teenager in solving their own problems and developing their own problems solving skills. Avoid the contrary, but equally destructive, patterns of either rescuing teenagers all the time, or never offering to help. Both communicate to the teenager that you do not think their problems are significant.
  • Affirm the positive traits you see in your teenager. Use words and make sure your teenager can hear you (don’t just think it, or tell you partner – tell your teenager.) Encourage them not only based on outcome, but also when they have tried or taken a helpful risk. Don’t praise everything they do, you only end up taking away the powerful impact of genuine encouragement.

How Can Teachers Help Teenagers Feel Like They Count?

  • Treat them with respect in the classroom. Avoiding the temptation to put them down in front of their peers, or make jokes at their expense (even if you feel like they deserve it.) is essential.
  • Let teenagers contribute to the setting and maintaining of the class discipline. It’s not radical but it gives teens a voice and a sense of being counted.
  • Give teens a chance to explain what is going on before launching into judgment and discipline mode. A few questions that demonstrate you just as concerned for the well being of the student as you are for the smooth running of a class will do wonders for how a teenager feels about you and about themselves.
  • Invite teens to suggest topics or activities that are relevant to what ever the subject might be. Teens will learn what they want to learn. When a teen has something invested in what is being taught they not only are more invested in the task of learning, they will be more personally connected to the learning process in general.
  • Where ever possible give teens the chance to produce something that matters, as opposed to completing a task purely for the sake of learning. For example publishing something on the internet that can be read by more people than just a teacher will be intrinsically more meaningful to the teenager and hence help teenager feel more meaningful.

How Can Youth Workers Help Teenagers Feel Like They Count?

  • Engage with teenagers via a medium that is important to them. This doesn’t have to be hard or extravagant, most teens will have some cultural, academic or sporting activity that means something to them.
  • Encourage activities that allow teenagers to express themselves. When doing this though make sure that the output of their expressions are acknowledged, valued, and respected.
  • Invite teenagers to take responsibility for part of the program or activity that is being run. Invite them to share their ideas and suggestions. Give them real jobs to do. Give them a chance to try, the chance to fail, and the chance to succeed. Give them the opportunity to contribute as part of team and have that contribution acknowledged.
  • Provide opportunities for teens to express praise and encouragement to their peers.  Counteracting the inherited cultural desire to put down rather than build up can make a big difference.

So there you have some of my thoughts. I would love to hear your suggestions. In fact it would be great to have a list of 50 ways to help teenagers feel like they count. So please add your ideas in the comments below so we can learn from each other.

Image by Caesar Sebastian

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