Is your teen a big dreamer? Do they talk to you about their future plans and what lights them up inside? Or do they seem a little unsure of themselves and their goals? It doesn’t get a lot of attention, but a teen’s capacity to dream is an important indicator of their overall well-being.
Teens who dream big have an optimistic outlook, and optimism in teens correlates with lower rates of depression and mood disorders and higher levels of goal setting, coping skills, and self-confidence. Optimism is a mindset that can be cultivated and helping your teen dream big is a great place to start. Here are some ways you can support your teen in reaching for the stars!
Expand their worldview.
Nothing helps teens dream big like being exposed to new experiences, places, people, and ideas. The teenage brain is wired to absorb information from diverse sources and weave it together in exciting ways. When introduced to something that inspires them, teens often experience states of awe and wonder that spark their creativity and shape their sense of what’s possible. Travel is a major motivator for many teens: a trip to a national park might get them curious about conservation, or a summer abroad might inspire them to become fluent in a foreign language. Volunteering and summer or after-school jobs also rank high for “a-ha” moments, as does exposure to art, music, history, nature, or new technology. It’s best to let your teen take the lead and tell you what they’re interested in learning, but don’t underestimate the power of the unexpected. One teen we talked to was surprised to fall in love with horticulture during a summer job on the farm of a family friend. The more new and diverse experiences you can share with them, the better.
Help them meet mentors.
Even teens who have one or more caring, engaged parents on their team can experience great benefits from mentorship. Mentors provide support and guidance and can help teens discover and nurture their passions. According to MENTOR, teens with a mentor are 55% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school, 78% more likely to volunteer, and a whopping 130% more likely to hold leadership positions. Lots of mentor relationships get started in informal ways, with relatives, neighbors, or family friends. If your teen is interested in a particular field, maybe you know someone with expertise in that area. Could your teen meet up to chat or spend a day shadowing them? Teens can also meet mentors through volunteer opportunities, jobs, and internships. Since teens may lack confidence in approaching adults, parents can help them identify organizations and people they would be excited to learn from, plan how they’ll reach out, and set goals to get the most out of the experience.
Seek out stories of inspiring teens.
A quick Google search is all it takes to discover almost endless examples of teens who are dreaming big and changing the world. Check out scientist and Time’s first Kid of the Year Gitanjali Rao, Klothes 4 Kids founder Nijel Murray, and punk band The Linda Lindas. Teens are inspiring others as entrepreneurs, activists, content creators, artists, gamers, and inventors. While they are making their mark in different ways, most say they started with a passion or curiosity and just decided to go for it. Peer role models inspire other teens to ask, “If they can do it, why not me?” Many share advice for other teens on how to take action via podcasts, YouTube videos, and TED Talks. Try watching or listening with your teen to spark a conversation about where their own passion and curiosity might lead. Note that lots of successful teens credit their parents for supporting them and helping them set their projects in motion.
Finally, and most importantly, help your teen discover and nurture their passion. Give them space to explore, try new things, and learn from any mistakes they make along the way. Let them know you’ll always be there to help and that nothing could make you prouder than cheering them on. And be an example of someone who’s not afraid to take risks to make your own dreams come true. Your teen probably has some ideas to inspire you, too!