One of the biggest struggles of adolescence is learning to become comfortable with who you are and how God made you. Teens waste a great deal of energy trying to be what they are not. They have so many people telling them what they should be or who they should be like. Parents, teachers, friends, the church, the media—all offer competing messages about what’s best, what’s cool, or what’s God’s will. All of this can be confusing for kids who need to just be themselves and find their own way—which they must do for their own happiness and fulfillment.
Here are five ways parents can help prompt passion in their kids:
1. Affirm their uniqueness. Your family is made up of unique individuals, each with different talents, personalities, abilities, and gifts. If you have ever taken a personality test (such as the Myers-Briggs personality profile), you know how complex a person’s personality can be. Some are very introverted while others are very outgoing. Some are detail minded; others see the big picture. Some are creative; others are analytical. Some are thinkers; others are doers. None of these traits are better than others—they are just different, and they result in different kinds of people. When you require an introvert to act like an extrovert, it’s like asking a right-handed person to write left-handed. It can be done, but it’s difficult, and the results aren’t very good. In the same way, we need to realize that each young person is unique, and one of our jobs as parents is to help him or her discover what he or she does best.
2. Avoid comparisons. It’s easy to compare kids to their siblings, to other people’s kids, to their friends, to other “good kids” we know (or haven heard about), or even to ourselves. We don’t like it because our son or daughter isn’t taller, thinner, smarter, more polite, less clumsy, or a better Christian. Even if you don’t say anything, kids will pick up signals of disapproval or disappointment from you. Learn to love and appreciate your son or daughter for who he or she is right now.
3. Put their interests ahead of your own. In other words, let go of your need to look good in front of your friends. (They won’t think any less of you if you don’t have perfect kids.) Stop trying to live your life through your kids. (It’s okay if your teen isn’t popular or athletic like you always wanted to be but never were.) Don’t worry if your teen doesn’t choose that high-paying career track. (Trust that it’s better for your child to be happy than to be rich.)
4. Expose them to possibilities for passion. Don’t be so overprotective of your kids that they miss out on chances to have new experiences that might ignite their passion and open new possibilities. Let them explore their world and see what’s out there that might interest them or excite them. We all know people whose lives were changed almost instantaneously by being exposed to someone or something that inspired or motivated them to pursue their passion. A prime example of a person who followed his dream is an airline pilot who as a youngster was invited to visit the cockpit of an airplane. There is a successful lawyer today who visited a courtroom during an eighth-grade field trip and a prominent surgeon who years before admired doctors who treated her while she was hospitalized.
5. Nudge a little. If you notice your son or daughter doing something well, encourage them to pursue it further. A mother shared with me how she noticed her high schooler giving careful instructions to a group of children about how to play a game. She did such a good job of explaining the rules and making things clear to the children that the mother told her later, “You know, honey, you would make a wonderful schoolteacher. You really handled those children so well.” The daughter later pursued a career in childhood education.
Our goal is to help kids discover and develop not only what they are good at but also what brings them the most joy. Too many adults are in occupations that they don’t like. If your son or daughter can find a niche, their God-given passion, and then follow it to their eventual vocation, they’ll find the best way to achieve happiness and fulfillment in their life’s work. And the best way will be their way.
Excerpted from Wayne Rice’s book, Cleared for Takeoff.