If you’re the parent of a teenager, chances are that just a few years ago, they were running around in a Spider Man suit or Wonder Woman bracelets, saving the world while you cheered them on. Whatever their age, we want our kids to recognize and embrace the unique superhero qualities we see in them.
The teen years are all about self-discovery, and sometimes teens struggle to figure out who they are and what they’re good at. Parents can support teens by helping them identify the qualities, skills, and passions that make them unique. Here are four ways you can encourage your teen to discover their own personal superpowers:
1. Help them see the qualities they might not notice in themselves.
Superpowers can be overlooked because they’re often things we do well without having to try. Even if your child is a math mastermind or a musical prodigy, they may downplay what comes naturally to them. Teens may not think of things like being a good friend or making people laugh as valuable skills. And some abilities – like the gift of gab or a wild imagination – may even get them in trouble from time to time. You know your teen better than anyone, so you can help them see their unique qualities as the superpowers they are. Take note of what comes naturally to them and let them know how special it makes them in your eyes. Give them opportunities to showcase their talents and celebrate their successes. And be sure to point out the superhero traits they may not see in themselves, like compassion, kindness, and creativity. That lets them know they’re super for who they are, not just what they do.
2. Give them opportunities to step out of their comfort zone.
Picture three concentric circles. The middle circle is the Comfort Zone, the place where you can always wear your favorite fuzzy slippers and feel zero anxiety. Just outside of the Comfort Zone is the Learning Zone. Here you’ll encounter some risk and discomfort, but it’s also where you develop new skills and abilities and learn to solve problems. Beyond the Learning Zone is the Growth Zone, where you find your purpose and live your dreams. Help your teen find their superpowers by encouraging them to be brave and step out of their comfort zone. Make courage a family value. Let your teen see you challenge yourself, take risks, and make mistakes. Support each other in learning new things and setting goals. Praise your teen when you see them challenging themselves, whether or not it leads to awards and achievement. Each time they step into the Learning Zone, they’re expanding their superpowers.
3. Be of service together.
Superheroes discover their powers by helping others, and so can your teen. Volunteering gives teens opportunities to develop skills, explore interests, overcome real-world challenges, and make a difference in the lives of others. Many teens find lifelong passions while volunteering, and teens who volunteer have higher self-esteem, empathy, and academic achievement. According to the United Way, young people with at least one parent who volunteers are almost twice as likely to volunteer themselves. How can you start volunteering with your teen? Let them take the lead. Ask them if there’s a cause they’re curious about or an organization they want to support. A few of our favorites: Gamer’s Outreach volunteers play video games with hospitalized kids, and Pet Partners trains teens to provide pet therapy with their family pet. There’s a volunteer opportunity for just about every interest.
4. Encourage them to develop a growth mindset.
From Avengers to X-Men, everybody loves superhero stories. Ever wonder why these modern myths are so enduring? Almost all superheroes start with loss or struggle. Heroes must ask themselves, “Can I really do this?” and endure self-doubt before rising to the challenge. Through struggle, heroes become who they are meant to be. Seeing life as a hero’s journey can help your teen develop a growth mindset: the belief that they can improve their abilities with dedication and hard work. Recent research shows that teens with a growth mindset have less fear of failure, higher self-efficacy and motivation, and better overall well-being. Talk to your teen about how setbacks can lead to new opportunities and struggles can build strength. Let them know that they might not always be able to choose their circumstances, but they can always decide how to respond. Teach them to look for the lesson when they make mistakes, and that, as Winston Churchill famously said, “Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”
The teen years are full of opportunities for exploring, expanding and experiencing one’s superpowers. Parents can support these discoveries by encouraging and supporting teens as they embrace their identity and use their superpowers to make the world a better place.