Curiosity is one of the top qualities we should help our teens cultivate, according to researcher Elyse Salek. Why? “Because rapid brain growth during adolescence results in even greater potential benefits to memory and learning,” Salek says. “Teens are developing the capacity to think critically and reason thoughtfully. The underlying force of many of these developing skills is curiosity.” In other words, nurturing teens’ curiosity boosts their brain power and establishes beneficial patterns of learning, memory and problem-solving that they take with them into adulthood. To encourage your teen to embrace their curiosity, try these four tips:
1. Make sure they have downtime.
These days, it’s easy– and sometimes even expected– for teens to take on too much. But when teens are overscheduled and stressed, there’s no time to explore their interests or make the deeper connections that grow their neural networks. A lack of downtime can also lead to curiosity-killing anxiety, depression and burnout. To make downtime a priority, let your teen know that you value rest, fun and self-care. Help them learn how to say “no” and set boundaries to protect their time and energy. Especially if your teen is a high achiever, stay on guard for signs that they’re losing their enthusiasm for activities or feeling more pressure than pleasure. Think about ways you can help them schedule relaxation, play and no-pressure time with family and friends. Finally, remember that actions speak louder than words. Be sure your teen sees you prioritizing your own passions and making time for self-care, too.
2. Embrace not knowing.
Albert Einstein once said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” Even while seeking deeper understanding, creative thinkers like Einstein are comfortable not knowing all the answers. They are fascinated by the act of exploration and discovery itself. To help teens feel more ease with the unknown, encourage them to ask questions, find their own answers, and be creative and resourceful when solving problems. Be transparent when you don’t know the answers or when you’re gathering information and weighing pros and cons. Finally, make a habit of asking more open-ended questions with your teen, like “What’s interesting to you about that?” and “What do you think about…?” That trains their brains to stay open and dig deep.
3. Reframe mistakes as opportunities.
How does your teen relate to setbacks? Teens with a fixed mindset see failure as a reflection of who they are as individuals, and that limits their goals and achievements. Curious teens are more likely to have a growth mindset, or the belief that they can learn and improve their abilities through effort. They see mistakes as a message to uplevel their own skills, ask for help or try a different approach. That helps them stay optimistic, patient and persistent instead of getting frustrated and shutting down. Mindset is mostly learned, so teens can become more growth-oriented. Start by teaching your teen that mistakes are a necessary part of growth. When they know their worth and your love for them are never in question, they’ll be more confident taking risks even when success is not a sure thing. Validate them for trying hard and stretching beyond their comfort zone, and be ready to help them assess what they’ve learned from mistakes and chart a new course.
4. Help them find interesting outlets.
Any parent of teenagers knows that curiosity can have a dark side. What if curiosity leads them to try something dangerous? According to writer Hank Pellisier, “dozens of studies on adolescents worldwide reveal that curiosity is by far the most common reason kids give for trying smoking, e-cigarettes, marijuana, other drugs, and sex.” That’s because the risk-assessment capabilities of the prefrontal cortex aren’t fully developed until we reach our mid-20s. But when teens focus their curiosity on something constructive, they’re less likely to engage in risky behavior. Passionate teens are too busy pursuing their interests to jeopardize their success. Not all teens are sure where their passion lies, but curiosity can help them find it. When your teen gets inspired by something, kindle their curiosity by letting them know you\’re interested and supportive. Ask what problems they want to be a part of solving and help them devise a plan to take meaningful action. Allow your teen to explore without the expectation that trying something new means they’ll stick with it forever. And when they do find their passion, make sure they know you’re their biggest fan. Regardless of what piques their curiosity, it’s proven to be a major brain booster that lays the foundation for lifelong well-being and success.