Helping Your Teen Capitalize on His or Her Strengths

Just as you may not want to pursue a career in science if your passion is writing, your teen may have certain activities and school subjects that capture his or her interest. “Every student wants to feel successful, which is why many gravitate toward subjects where they are strongest—and away from those where they are weak,” says Eileen Huntington, co-founder of Huntington Learning Center. “It’s perfectly natural that by the time a student reaches high school, he or she may have discovered a passion for one or two subjects or hobbies. One of these areas may soon become your teen’s college major or even evolve into a career path one day, so in the high school years, parents should think about how to encourage their teens to make the most of what they’re good at.”

How can parents help their teen flourish by nurturing his or her strengths? Huntington offers the following tips:

Start with a self-assessment. If your teen seems to feel and perform average at most things, help him or her explore what he or she is good at. Open-ended conversations about areas where your teen feels the most confident are a good place to start, but if your teen struggles to articulate his or her thoughts, try an assessment, such as the Gallup StrengthsFinder (the adult or youth version) or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

Personality traits can be parlayed into strengths. Your teen isn’t a straight-A student, but is a social butterfly who loves organizing activities and rallying friends and family to get involved. Perhaps your teen has the skills to excel in a school leadership position, such as serving on student council. Or, does his or her high school offer any business management or leadership courses?

Remind your teen that strengths can be useful, even if they’re not favorites. If your teen is great at math but doesn’t love it, becoming a statistician will not likely become his or her future career. However, your teen could use this area of strength to his or her advantage. Your teen’s calculus teacher could serve as an excellent college reference and mentor if he or she nurtures the relationship. If your teen sees him or herself as a budding entrepreneur, having strong math and reasoning skills will definitely be valuable down the road.

Let strengths guide passions. Encourage your teen to seek out opportunities to build upon (and get excited about) his or her areas of strength. Think of volunteer prospects, part-time jobs, school activities and extracurricular activities that will allow your teen to exercise his or her skills in new and different ways. A bookworm might enjoy reading to children at the local library, working in a book store or trying his or her own hand at writing stories.

Huntington reminds parents that just as it is important to work on one’s weaknesses, it is imperative that teens cultivate their strengths, too. “Well-roundedness is valuable and will certainly help your teen perform well academically, but when it comes to identifying a college major and future career path, your teen would be wise to focus on his or her talents,” says Huntington. “Help your teen identify and develop these strengths and you’ll be setting him or her on the path to a fulfilling life.”


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