Parenting For Healthy Identity Development

Posted on November 5th, 2016


The teen years can be a tricky period for both parents and teens alike. Teens are bombarded with a plethora of changes including undergoing puberty, navigating their social world, juggling an increasingly challenging academic life, and learning how to drive. One of the wondrous parts of this developmental stage is a movement toward self-discovery and finding their own identity.

Identity isn’t something that is shaped over night. It takes years of exploration, contemplation, boundary-pushing, and experimentation to make sense of a puzzle with some of its pieces missing. Poorly developed identities can lead to depression, anxiety, risky or defiant behaviors, and challenges making healthy life decisions.

During this time, parents are tasked with finding that delicate balance of holding boundaries and structure while providing the right amount of space and independence. The balance is different with each teen, meant to match their unique needs. The tips below will help parents in supporting their teens’ journey of identity development.

Support your teens in exploring their lives and identities.

As supporters of our teens, we often hope for them to ‘do their best.’ This hope is backed with the wisdom of hindsight from our own life experiences. For example, one may see the advantages of playing a sport for several years and shrug off a desire to piece out time toward other less dedicated hobbies. While the wisdom may give us an edge in guidance, this can also cause our teens to push away. It isn’t uncommon to hear complaints from my clients that their parents are having them focus on a particular line of extra curricular activities and shut down a request to try out something new. Adolescence is a time of life where burgeoning individuals are given different cultures and interests to try on while remaining under the safety of their family unit. Supporting the variety of characters your teens try on help them build confidence in themselves and their relationship with you.

Positively encourage your teens when they show interest and passion in various things.

Media has a strong presence in the lives of teens. As teenagers naturally separate from the family, they turn to external sources to take cues for life. It is difficult for a person at any age to have a full picture understanding of him/herself. Sometimes teens cannot see certain strengths they possess, and it is up to others in their lives to help them realize these aspects of their identity. Passions are valuable in every shape they come: academics, arts, relationships, personality traits, talents, skills, feelings, and beliefs. Encourage your teens to appreciate their uniqueness and how each interest and passion adds to their identity.

Help your teens to exercise autonomy and empowerment over their lives by offering them opportunities to make choices.

Although giving teens a choice may seem simple, it is a complex facet of this developmental stage. We seek to promote the discovery of self, continued growth of confidence, and the capacity to advocate for oneself. Allowing teens to be decisive about their own lives helps them expand their ability to think flexibly and practice self-management. Taking away opportunities for choice communicates implicit messages that we don’t trust or have confidence in the teen’s ability to make decisions for him/herself. Giving teens opportunities to decide also creates the opportunity for teaching your teens how to work through a decision-making process.

Allow your teens to pick themselves back up when they fall.

Resilience is the power to recover and return to a normal state after facing adversity. Teenagers are amazing in their natural ability to regain their footing. However, first they need practice and experience in facing challenges to help build that confidence and strength. Our desires for their success can inhibit these chances for them. Despite good intentions, assisting teens in each and every step makes launching into adulthood more challenging. Their life becomes a collection of experiences where they weren’t given the opportunity to take any steps truly on their own.

Model healthy values and habits.

As the primary role models for your teens, you show your teens how you navigate life through your daily habits. In what ways have you put energy into tending to yourself and engaging in parts of your identity? Your children will naturally pick up on your values, different cultures you identify with, how you recover from stumbles, how you express yourself, and how you care for yourself. Lead your teens by example. Because your teens spend the most time with you, they will learn largely by watching you.

Keep lines of communication open.

Respect becomes an important part of teenage years. Open, nonjudgmental communication shows your teens that you respect them and their thoughts, and that they should respect themselves too. With trusting communication, your teens can turn to you with problems, seek guidance from you, and simply share their lives with you.

The teenage years are an adventurous time of self-discovery and identity exploration. As parents, you can help your teens through this process using these techniques. Even more, you and your teen can grow closer as you support him/her in finding their true values, beliefs, and passions!

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Would you like additional guidance in this area? Teen Therapy Center provides individual teen therapy, family therapy, group therapy, parent support counseling, and in-home teen and family coaching 7 days a week, including afternoons, evenings, and weekends. For more information, contact us at 408.389.3538.