“Always be yourself. Be an original. Embrace your unique qualities.”

We parents love telling our kids this. While these nuggets of wisdom are true (and make us sound cool and wise) many of us rarely pause to think of what they entail.

Few of us appreciate how hard it is for teens today to embrace their unique selves. They live in a world that constantly tries to mold them into something else. Today’s media is especially guilty of sending a confusing cacophony of messages that can distort our kids sense of self.

Then there’s also the influence that social media has on teens everywhere and the devastating effects it can have on their self-identity. I have to admit that I’ve been tempted to put an outright ban on social media in our house. But what would that solve? My kids, like others of their generation, are digital natives and that is part of their lives.

On the other hand, I want my kids to grow up knowing who they are and what they stand for. I don’t want to raise pushovers who blindly follow any trend that comes along.

So how can we parents create an environment that allows our children to develop their self-identity naturally?

Challenge your kids’ way of thinking.

I want my teens to be socially competent individuals who can think for themselves so I regularly challenge their thoughts. I usually watch movies and TV shows or listen to the music they like then bring up a discussion about it later. In the process, I ask why they like it so much, what message they get from it and give my own opinion. Sometimes we get into heated debates and that’s fine. By offering a contrasting perspective, I’m teaching them to expand their way of thinking by questioning what they see and hear.

Emphasize their intrinsic capabilities i.e their passions and strengths.

The overwhelming message from media is that your value comes from outside- what you look like, eat, wear, etc. So I counter this by encouraging my teens to look within themselves and celebrate their unique abilities. For instance, I support my son’s interest in all things art and celebrate my daughter’s athletic abilities.

Talk and listen to them.

Although I sometimes get caught up in work, I always set aside time each week to spend with my kids. This is our special time and the outside world isn’t allowed to interfere. I choose to hang out with them individually doing what they like. Most importantly, they talk and I listen. I’ve found it’s a great way to validate their feelings, act as a soundboard or offer support and advice. Best of all, it shows them that I’m there for them.

Keep your children grounded in reality.

I blame social media for convincing kids that they can make it without talent or hard work. But I want my teens to learn the value of hard work and the importance of having a strong work ethic. That’s why I encourage them to look for summer jobs and internships. Additionally, I set reasonable expectations and responsibilities for each of them based on their abilities. There are also consequences to be faced for breaking rules. I do this because I want them to become responsible independent adults who can take care of themselves.

Helping our kids figure out who they are and who they want to become is demanding, and perhaps even a little scary. No matter how much we want them to be like us, we have to give them the freedom to make their own mistakes and find their own way. Believe me, watching them gain the confidence to go for their dreams and build fulfilling lives is its own reward.

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