After decades of groundbreaking research Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck discovered the simple but groundbreaking concept of mindset. People with a fixed mindset—those who believe that abilities are fixed—are less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset—those who believe that abilities can be developed. Information about what a growth mindset looks like in teens is plentiful, but it often overlooks the role parents play in shaping the mindsets of their kids.
We set out to discover what growth-oriented parents do differently and came up with four surprising insights:
They compliment with care. When you praise your child, which of their qualities do you compliment? Praise carries subtle implications about what we value. If parents praise perfection, it may send the message that mistakes are not ok. If we only encourage kids to do things they’re already good at, they may assume that we think they’ll fail at something new. You can help your kids cultivate courage by complimenting their persistence, effort, hard work, bravery, resilience, and willingness to learn from a mistake. Let them know you’re proud of them when they try new things and take risks, whether or not they succeed. Your encouragement and validation helps them feel successful even when they fall short of a goal.
They know that teens’ brains are “works in progress.” Growth mindset researchers tell us that teens’ brains are still forming, constantly making new neural connections and pruning away underused ones. After the first three years of life, early adolescence is the second most active neurological phase of the human lifespan, and major changes keep happening in the brain throughout the teen years. As they make positive decisions, learn new things, and bounce back from mistakes, they’re literally crafting their adult brain to be resilient. Knowing this can help both of you relax your fears of failure and remember the power of persistence.
They don’t “helicopter” parent. Helicopter parenting tends to backfire. It signals to teens that 1) they’re not capable of solving problems on their own, and 2) you don’t trust them. Parents who nurture a growth mindset monitor their own anxiety and remember that in addition to keeping their kids safe, they’re also helping them grow into strong, independent adults. Practice not rushing to the rescue every time something doesn’t work out. Talk to your teen about why it’s sometimes so hard for you to let go…that way, they know you’re motivated by care, not control.
They ease up–on themselves. How do you react when you make a mistake? If you get angry or mutter, “I can’t believe I did that; I’m so stupid,” remember that your teen is paying attention. Instead of criticizing yourself, practice self-compassion. If appropriate, see if you can find some humor in the situation. Then look for and talk about what you learned from the mistake. Teens are often relieved when their parents are willing to be vulnerable with their imperfections and grateful when they hold themselves accountable. Letting your kids see you keep trying and growing – even when it’s messy – may be the very best example of a growth mindset you give them.
The benefits of a growth mindset are many: more courage and willingness to stretch for goals, higher motivation, better relationships, and lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. A growth mindset is one of the most significant predictors of success and well-being for young people. Don’t underestimate the impact of your parenting in helping your teen develop a lifelong commitment to a growth mindset.
Originally published on Personalexcellence.org