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6 Ways to Teach Teens How to Find Their True Passion

Ah, the teenage years! Where our curious happy, obedient children seem to morph into eye-rolling, mood-swinging, door-slamming creatures, with cell phones perpetually in their hands.

The intense physical and psychological changes that characterize these years also spur an awakening in our teenagers. Like teens before them, they face the stark and slightly scary reality that very soon they will be adults—individuals with an identity, residence, and life separate from their parents. They wonder what kind of adults they will be, what profession they will enter, what their lives will be like.

Teens today wonder about other things, too. The availability and accessibility of technological tools have transformed the way teens communicate and have allowed them to connect to the world and to a mosaic of ideas like never before. As a result, they are keenly aware of our global society. They understand that every challenge we face—from poverty to terrorism, racism to climate change—exists and persists because of the choices we make. They realize that choices will determine the future and wonder what role they might play in creating that future.

This is great news for parents who want to help their teen discover an interest or activity that intrigues them. Maybe they will find the true passion that resonates so strongly with them that it evolves into their life’s work, their purpose.

How to Help Teens Find Their True Passion

Eye-rolls and slammed doors notwithstanding, here are some ways to help teens find their true passion:

1. Lead by example

What are you passionate about? Do your teens see it in your work, your relationships, the impact you have in your family, community, the world? Passionate parents inspire their teens to find their own true passions, so let them see yours.

2. Let your teen be your teacher

Be intentional about spending time with and talking to your teen. Discuss the news, their projects, or their interests. If they get great grades in a particular subject, ask about the root of that excellence. Seek their advice on presentations you have to give or get ideas from them about solving a problem. Understand what your teen is drawn to or gets lost in, how they deconstruct problems, what they prioritize and value. Then, you can create opportunities and experiences that will help their passions fully emerge.

3. Learn about the world together

Through age-appropriate books, articles, documentaries, museum visits, etc., dive deep with your teen into the issues we face as a human family. Conduct research and discuss the roots of those issues (however painful) and volunteer or find other ways to engage with organizations working to change things for the better. As your teen deepens their knowledge and understanding of the world, they may discover a strong interest in solving specific problems or creating specific change.

4. Seek out mentors for your teen

Host lunch at your home for your friends who are passionate about their work or whose jobs focus on caring for or inspiring others, innovating to solve problems, resolving conflict, preserving the planet, etc. Ask your teen to interview people you know about their work. What qualifications they needed, what a typical day is like, and  what they love and dislike most about their job. Arrange for your teen to shadow or intern with friends whose work resonates most with them.

5. Highlight your teen’s unique gifts.

As much as our teenagers feel the need to fit in, it is their unique traits, perceptions, and interests that will ultimately lead them to a fulfilling life. So find opportunities to highlight your teen’s way of thinking, the things they find funny or fascinating, the way they form and nurture friendships, the things that hold their attention. Highlighting their uniqueness reminds them that they have a special contribution to make.

6. Help them create their vision for the future

Vision boards have been a powerful instrument of manifestation for my teen and me. Maybe it can be helpful for your teen, as well. Your teen’s vision board should be visible to them every day. It may include pictures of things they desire, goals they want to accomplish, and the means through which the things they want can be acquired or achieved. If your teen wants to attend a summer program to learn about space travel, the logo for that camp should be on the board. If your teen wants good health, to practice mindfulness or be more empathetic, those positive affirmations should also appear on their board. Paying attention to and visualizing the things they want will help bring those things to life.

Partnering with your teen in innovative ways will help them find what they’re truly passionate about—and will reinforce your bond as they pursue that passion.

Petal Modeste is Associate Dean at Columbia Law School, mother to two daughters, ages 13 and 3,  and host of the podcast, Parenting for the Future. The opinions and views expressed herein do not purport to reflect any policy or position of Columbia Law School.

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