It may seem like your teenager is unmotivated and lacks ambition, but this is a common stereotype of teens portrayed in the media. However, research suggests that teens may not actually lack ambition but rather a sense of purpose.
Contrary to the typical stereotypes of teens in the media as unmotivated, disorganized, and lazy, research suggests this may not be the case. Instead, teens may search for a sense of purpose and not necessarily lack ambition.
The importance of having a sense of purpose in life is becoming increasingly recognized by researchers. Even adults struggle to find their meaning, which can be an even more pressing issue for teens. As such, helping adolescents discover their purpose can play a vital role in maintaining their motivation and commitment to their pursuits.
What is Purpose?
Discovering the purpose of one’s life is a universal struggle that many of us face at some point. It is a classic philosophical question that has been pondered by many. From a research standpoint, there are various perspectives on the concept of purpose.
Scholar Kendall Cotton Bronk, who specializes in studying the topic of purpose among young people, posits that purpose comprises four main components: commitment, meaning, goal-directedness, and a vision beyond oneself. These elements are important to remember when discussing the concept of purpose with teenagers. It is important to note that finding purpose is not just about finding an activity that teens enjoy but encompasses these other components as well.
Finding one’s purpose is a personal journey that teens must undertake themselves. However, as parents, we can support and guide them in this endeavor.
Why is it Important for Teens to Find a Purpose?
Researchers who study the impact of purpose on adolescent well-being have found that it is a vital aspect of overall well-being. In addition, adolescents who possess a sense of purpose tend to have better psychological well-being.
Studies indicate that teenagers with a sense of purpose experience greater overall happiness, and life satisfaction, possess better coping skills, and are more resilient when faced with challenges. By assisting teens in discovering their purpose, we motivate them and promote their mental health and well-being. Research also highlights that the adolescent years are significant in helping teenagers understand and find their purpose.
The changes that occur during this time in the brain and body are not limited to hormonal changes but are more comprehensive.
During the adolescent years, stress sensitivity is a crucial aspect of development. Researchers are starting to understand how the changes in the teenage brain make them more susceptible to stress. This means that even mild stress can lead to more significant issues, such as burnout for teens.
One of the changes that stress can cause is a decrease in the hormone dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter responsible for the feeling of pleasure when participating in a rewarding activity.
Teens who are under stress tend to have lower dopamine levels, which can negatively impact their motivation. This may explain why teens are often thought of as unmotivated.
Assisting teenagers in discovering their purpose can effectively counter the adverse effects of stress and dopamine. In addition, adolescents who have a sense of purpose are naturally more motivated as the activities they engage in hold personal significance, and they have more control over them.
With the various changes in hormones and brain chemistry occurring during adolescence, teenagers need to find ways to manage stress and maintain focus. Finding their purpose in life can help them focus and regain motivation.
How to Help Teens Find Themselves and Discover Their Passions
As adults, we know that discovering one’s purpose in life is not always a straightforward process. Therefore, it’s important to be patient with teenagers as they navigate this journey. As parents, we can serve as supportive guides on this path.
1. Ask “Why” Questions
Psychologists recommend that helping teenagers discover their purpose starts with asking open-ended “why” questions. These types of questions can assist them in exploring their emotions and beliefs about different experiences, helping them to understand themselves better.
As a starting point, you can begin with basic “why” questions about the activities they enjoy, such as “Why do you enjoy soccer?” or “Why are video games so appealing?”
They are probing deeper with more complex “why” questions can lead to more profound discussions and assist teens in uncovering their core beliefs. Examples of such questions could be “Why is it good to be kind to others?” or “Why do laws exist?”.
2. Uncover Their Interests
As parents, we often have a good understanding of our children’s interests. For example, they might love baseball, video games, or spending time with friends.
However, we can gain insight into their passions and purpose by delving deeper beyond these surface-level interests.
For instance, a teenager who is passionate about sports may appreciate challenges or find fulfillment in physical activity, providing insight into their purpose. Similarly, the reason for a teenager’s fondness for socializing might be an inclination towards social interaction and being a “people person.” It can be beneficial to talk about your observations with your teenager. Observe attentively and notice the activities that genuinely excite your teenager.
Identify the hobbies or activities that seem to inspire enthusiasm and energy in their lives.
3. Allow For Trying and Failing
We naturally want to see our teens succeed in everything they attempt; however, failure can be a valuable teacher and reveal much about their passions and interests. When teens only engage in activities where success is guaranteed, they miss the opportunity to learn from failure.
Failure often provides valuable insights into one’s passions, skills, and values.
By giving teens more autonomy over the activities and pursuits they wish to try, we provide them with an avenue to discover personal meaning rather than merely fulfilling the expectations of others.
4. Positive Role Models
While our teens may value our input and guidance, sometimes the perspective of another caring adult can be instrumental in helping them discover their purpose. As parents, we can encourage our teens to form relationships with other adults who can serve as positive role models or mentors.
This can include family members who have had diverse life experiences, as they can offer valuable insights and guidance. It can also be beneficial to seek out adults outside the family, such as teachers, coaches, or community leaders, who can provide a different perspective and help your teen form a network of support and guidance.
Teens may find a sense of purpose through new perspectives offered by educators, trainers, facilitators, or spiritual guides.
Habits to Help Teens Discover Themselves
In today’s fast-paced society, teens are often consumed with meeting expectations and finishing schoolwork. Of course, it is important to instill a strong work ethic in them, but it is also beneficial to allow them to take a step back and reflect in their free time.
Providing teens with opportunities for introspection and mindfulness can play a crucial role in assisting them in discovering their purpose.
1. Downtime For Reflection
While some teens may not immediately embrace the idea of talking about their purpose with their parents, most would likely appreciate more leisure time. Having free time without the responsibilities of homework or chores can benefit teens in various ways, including self-discovery and processing of experiences and emotions.
Additionally, while technology such as social media or video games may be attractive for teens during their free time, research indicates that some downtime should be spent away from screens.
Advise your teenager to seek advice from you or other dependable adults on their talents and strengths. Feedback from others can often provide valuable perspectives on one’s purpose.
Technology can also be utilized to assist teens in discovering their purpose. For example, online resources can enable teens to investigate various parts of the world, promote causes they are passionate about, and learn from other young people.
There are now online toolkits available that have been designed to aid high school students and young adults in exploring the concepts of purpose and significance.
2. Transformative Experiences
Studies show that significant experiences can often lead to discovering one’s purpose. For example, some teenagers may uncover their purpose through conversations or introspection, while others may need to engage in new experiences and activities.
While transformative experiences may be associated with international travel or challenging wilderness adventures, simpler experiences can also profoundly impact teenagers.
Consider your teenager’s personality and interests when supporting them in trying new experiences. For example, please encourage them to volunteer at a local charity or work with a group of people they haven’t had experience with before, such as the elderly, veterans, or individuals with disabilities; these types of experiences may be transformative for them.
Helping teens find their purpose may seem daunting, but it mainly involves paying attention to their interests and providing them with opportunities to explore new things.
It’s important to give them the freedom to explore and find themselves.