By Jane Parent
Learning to self-advocate is a key step in becoming an adult and an important life skill to teach your teenager. It means looking out for yourself, speaking up instead of letting others speak for you, and telling people what you need. No one is born with these skills, but everyone needs to learn them. Before teens launch from home, they should learn to start being their own advocates.
While you are still around to help, encourage your teen to practice speaking up—in doctor’s appointments, with waiters or salespeople—with full permission to screw it up. “Even if they err from time to time, just the trial will increase the degree of confidence, and the permission itself allows teens the space to experiment,” says John Duffy, a Chicago-based clinical psychologist and author of The Available Parent.
Here are some important qualities that self-advocacy instills in young adults:
Resilience. When you advocate for yourself, you “build a stronger sense of competence and automatically make yourself more resilient in tough situations,” Duffy says. A teen who does not know how to express emotional needs can be more subject to burnout, resentment, and unhappiness.
“Learning to understand your own needs, and to act to ensure they are met, gives you more of a sense of control over your circumstances,” Duffy adds.
Confidence. Speaking up builds self-confidence. Many teens lack the confidence and trust in their own voice to speak up, which can lead to social anxiety and a tendency to just go along with what others do. “When you speak up for yourself, you are less likely to go along with the pack for fear of social impact or people judging you negatively,” says Duffy. Self-advocacy can help teens recognize that they have the ability to impact their own circumstances.
Decision-Making. Many parents have a tendency to over-parent, which is not only a disempowering technique, but also one that suggests “little confidence in our children’s decision-making ability,” says Duffy. Parents should encourage teens to make some decisions themselves, so they can learn how to make good choices, set goals, and self-advocate. Be available for help in decision-making, “but show that you trust in their ability to do so themselves.”