Too many times, our well-meaning attempts to listen to our teens result in failed one-sided snippets of conversation. Parents and teens tire of the same old questions:
“How are you?” (fine)
“How was your day” (ok please leave me alone)
“What’s new?” (…please just get off my back already!)
Teens, unfortunately, don’t come with instruction manuals. But I’ll tell you one thing–teens are new to adulting, which, when you think back, is even more daunting. While some teens discover their life passion from early on, some need help to begin forming their life’s passions, goals, and mission. Parents can help their teen, not by asking her to choose a college major or career path, but by first learning more about her developing personal mission. In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens, Sean Covey says, “Life is a mission, not a career. A career is a profession, a mission is a cause. A career asks, What’s in it for me? A mission asks, how can I make a difference?”
One meaningful conversation I had with all three of my teens was a planned coaching session to help them each discover their life’s passions:
1. Make an appointment.
Ask your child something like, “Can we talk later? I wanted to ask you some of your opinions which will help me support your future plans.” Most teens will agree and welcome the chance to talk in this context. If they ask, “what questions?” Just tell them “it will take a while to explain, and maybe we should wait until we have a bit more time. How about after dinner?”
2. Start with easy, safe questions, then progress:
Tailor your questions to your teen and use questions you’d really like to know the answers to.
(respond with phrases such as I’m listening…tell me more… what else?)
3. Go deeper.
After you’ve had enough time to listen and understand the initial questions, start exploring more specific aspects of your teen’s personal mission:
- What are four things you want to be?
- What are four things you to do?
- What are four contributions you want to make?
- What are four realities you want to define your life?
There are many more questions you could follow with, based on the rich discussion these inquiries might elicit.
Knowing more about our teen’s personal mission enables us to play the role of life coach at an age when adolescents are actively looking for someone to admire and follow. Not only that, but keeping mission in mind, we can more effectively help our teen choose a college major and career path. Going forward, we can still coach, encourage and appreciate our kids as they begin to launch from the nest and follow their dreams!