Why Teens Need Opportunities for Self-Discovery

It can often be easy for parents to meet a teen’s physical, educational, and even emotional needs. However, meeting a child’s psychological needs can sometimes be a challenge, especially during adolescence. In fact, some parents may not even be aware of the psychological needs an adolescent has. Teens are at a unique stage of life as they cross the bridge from childhood to adulthood. They require the opportunity to discover who they are as adults, as individuals separate from the family tribe, and as a person unique onto themselves. When parents support this journey of self-discovery, a teen is more likely to experience self-confidence and resiliency as an adult.


Adolescent – Not an Adult and Not a Child


It can be a hard road for teens as they make their way to adulthood. They may feel a pull to want to hang on to their parents (the child in them) but also the pull to find their own way (the adult in them). And managing this inner struggle is the burden they bear. Teens require the opportunity to discover themselves for the following reasons:

  • supports their psychological development
  • encourages a strong sense of self
  • creates a psychological foundation that will help them face adversity
  • supports taking responsibility for their own life
  • fosters self-reliance
  • encourages intelligence and independent thinking
  • supports a teen’s discovery of life path and career


Challenges for Parents During Adolescence


As parents you might understand your teen’s need  to grow up and become their own person, but you might also resist their pull away from you. Here are a few challenges parents face as their teen discovers who they are:


Some parents don’t want to let go. Having a child whom you raised to be a part of the family and now having to encourage their individuality can be emotionally challenging. Parents may want to hang onto the child their teen once was.


Long-held family traditions might get in the way. If your family tends to have strong religious, ethnic, or cultural traditions, there may be some areas of life you may resist your teen’s individual choice. This is common for parents who strongly believe in homosexuality with a teen who is transgender or gay or bisexual.


Parenting styles might also impair a teen’s self-exploration. If parents tend to be authoritarian, meaning having a strict and firm style of parenting, it might feel uneasy for them to give their teen the chance to discover themselves.


Despite these challenges, the more parents can accept their teen for who they are and encourage their self-exploration, the more their teen is likely to feel loved and accepted. In turn, when teens feel accepted and loved by their parents, the more they are able to experience a strong sense of self.

How Parents Can Support a Teen’s Self-Discovery


If they are willing, parents can support a teen’s self-discovery in the following ways:


Encourage your teen’s self-exploration. Teens can engage in self-discovery in a variety of ways such as through books, movies, and music. They will also tend to have idols and models, pointing to the type of person they want to be. When you hear your teen talk about a person they admire, you might ask, “What is it about them that you like?” or “If you were that person how would you act, think, and feel?” The point is that you’re inviting your teen to think about the person they are and the person they might become.


Encourage your teen to think about self-defining questions. Some teens might be inclined to think about life’s big questions naturally. And other teens may need some encouragement. However, some questions you might ask include:

  • What are you good at?
  • How do others perceive you?
  • What will you do in the future?
  • What are your personal characteristics?
  • What kind of person are you?


Support your teen in their social exploration. A teen’s social life becomes highly important during adolescence. This is also part of their self-discovery. They are exploring themselves through the people they spend time with as well as through the people they don’t spend time with. For instance, teens tend to form cliques at school, indicating the type of person they are – and are not.


Don’t quickly jump to providing consequences for your teen’s rebelliousness. At this stage, teens may begin to rebel against their parents. It’s not to make your life miserable, but it’s to test limits and push boundaries as a way to separate from the family and become their own person. Of course, strong forms of rebelliousness may require a consequence. But parents might think about the value of the consequence versus their teen’s need to find their own way apart from the family.


Encourage your teen to be creative. Another characteristic of adolescence is a teen’s developing brain. Because the brain is growing in astronomical ways, a teen will tend to be more creative, impulsive, innovative, and inquisitive. By supporting your teen’s creativity, you also encourage their development and self-exploration.


Support your teen’s ability to overcome obstacles. When your teen is faced with a problem, don’t jump to solve the problem for them. Although this might be the first instinct of a loving parent, helping them to find their answers themselves can help build resilience and problem-solving skills.


Think about the needs you had in adolescence. If you are resisting the pull of your teen away from the family unit, you might think about your experience as a teen. What did you need from your parents? And did they give it to you?  By reflecting on your own experience, it might support your ability to be more flexible and understanding with your teen when they need it.


The suggestions provided above can help a teen discover who they are, develop a strong sense of self, and build their self-confidence. With this, teens can enter adulthood with a strong foundation beneath them which can carry them towards success and life achievement.