Teen father with arm around his daughter While life can be unpredictable sometimes, living amid an ongoing pandemic has many of us feeling a sense of instability on a daily basis. Living in close quarters, day after day, may lead to moments when it’s hard for parents to see the best in their children. As the COVID-19 pandemic piles on to the pressures teens face, it’s more important than ever to spot and build on teen strengths.

Why parents must recognize teen strengths

During adolescence, teens are working to answer one of life’s biggest questions: “Who am I?” The way caring adults view teens helps build the foundation of how they see themselves. So, we must protect teens by seeing them in their best light. We must also encourage them to see themselves from that same positive viewpoint.

By doing so, teens will learn they are capable of becoming their best selves. They will come to understand they can do the right thing, correct mistakes and move past setbacks.

How to spot teen strengths

Notice what your tween or teen is doing today. Think about the best things they bring to the world. Consider the qualities your teen may have that would allow them to make wise or positive decisions. Perhaps they have drive, insight, thoughtfulness, compassion, resilience or a protective instinct — these are just some of the core qualities that will help them thrive.

In the moments when you’re feeling most challenged to see your teen’s strengths, call upon your memories. Remember who your child has always been — since the first moment you fell in love with them. Think back to when they were toddlers and the joy you felt as you saw glimpses into their budding personalities. Those were character strengths you were noticing! What were the things when they were little that made you most proud? Was it their passion? A sense of fairness? Their sensitivity toward others?

You can get through even the most challenging times when you focus on who your teen really is rather than how they might be acting in the moment. Bring unconditional love and acceptance to your interactions, and your child will be more likely to rise to expectations. 

Ways to reinforce strengths

Take the time to point out your child’s personality traits that will help them get far in life — especially when they use those traits for good. Are they generous? Do they have great compassion for others? Are they persistent? Let them know what you’ve noticed, using specific examples when possible. Explain how they can apply those same traits to other aspects of their lives.

When our children were little, they wanted attention. The best discipline method was to “catch them being good” and redirect them when they weren’t. It helped reinforce good behaviors because it offered the attention they craved when they behaved well. The desire to please doesn’t change just because children move into adolescence. They still want our attention and will work to get it. So, keep on “catching them being good” to reinforce positive actions.  

Make sure your praise is genuine. Be intentional and specific when you talk to them about their strengths. 

The benefits of strength-based communication

Adolescence is a time when young people envision where they fit in the world around them. They may feel vulnerable about how others see them. Peers and friends may define them within a limited range. But as a parent, you are there to remind them of the best they have to offer. And because you also see their faults, this authentic positive reinforcement offers them even more security.

When we outwardly recognize what’s great about our teens, it reinforces those strengths. It also lowers their performance anxiety because they know we’re proud of them and love them just as they are. It gives them a confidence boost they may need to get through some of life’s challenges — even when there isn’t a pandemic.

Parents offer a protective force

Noticing and reinforcing teen strengths is highly protective. It demonstrates our unconditional love for them. Recognizing who our teens can become — based on what we see in them —helps establish the strong sense of self needed to thrive long into adulthood.

To learn more about teen health, visit CHOP’s Center for Parent and Teen Communication.

Contributed by Ken Ginsburg, MD, MSEd, and Eden Pontz, Founding Director and Executive Producer, respectively, at CHOP’s Center for Parent and Teen Communication

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