The transition from youth to adulthood is an exciting one filled with uncertainty both for the student and the parent. There is no guidebook; however, the literature around success and happiness has begun to grow in recent years, as scholars such as Martin Seligman and Angela Duckworth have begun exploring what truly predicts the attainment of a happy and successful life. Lately, I have found myself particularly drawn to the study of positive psychology and how it correlates with student development, well-being, and achievement. I have seen time and again how a simple shift in perspective and/or mindset has worked wonders in the lives of so many of the teens and young adults with whom I work. This week, I thought it would be fun, and hopefully helpful, to condense my understanding of what qualities or skills allow a student to transform from uncertain adolescent into thriving young adult into a handy little list. So, below is a list of 7 simple ways in which we can all work together in an effort to prepare our students to be happier and more successful adults.
1.Teach Them How to Create Attainable Goals and Realistic Actions
High school enables young adults to harness some invaluable skillsets in a few key areas (namely time management, academic savvy, and social survival), yet it typically excludes any guidance or work related to long term visioning and planning. Because high schools are often set up in an industrial fashion, thereby creating a system in which students feel they can succeed if and only if they conform to a formula or tread down some delineated path, many students tend not to rely too much on their own creativity when it comes to creating goals and action plans. However, the real world is seldom set up in this way. As the traditional means to success seems less certain for a generation growing up during a recession and technological renaissance, it is more important than ever for youth to learn how to become self-motivated, self-reliant, and self-directed. Possessing the wherewithal to create long-term and short-term goals while envisioning oneself attaining these goals through breaking them into tangible, smaller, actionable steps prove the essential “life smarts” young adults need to reach success.
2. Give Them Ample Opportunities To Fail
Failure builds character. It teaches us that we are resilient, resourceful, supported, and loved. Without successfully experiencing failure, we begin to fear it and let it keep us from doing the things that seem more risky but often provide the greatest returns. As parents, however, we often are tempted to provide every resource and safety-net available for our students so that they do not fail. Naturally, we want to ensure their success. This can be extremely detrimental to the development of a healthy and well-adjusted young adult. Young adults who go out into the world without the confidence of knowing they can defeat any hurdle that comes their way miss out on a key element that research confirms is necessary for success: grit. If you can teach your students that true failure only happens when you quit, and that every adversity provides a lesson and opportunity for growth, they will be able to pursue their dreams with confidence and a sense of grounded-ness that mark the greatest leaders of our time.
3. Teach Them How To Communicate Effectively Through Example
Few traits are more important than effective communication skills — we need them to advance in our careers, to maintain healthy relationships, to sell services and products, and to inspire and motivate others. One of the biggest gifts you can give your child is the space and opportunity to learn how to articulate his/her desires effectively, persuade others to believe in what he/she believes in, resolve conflict, and express his/her emotions and feelings. And, as the cliche goes, this process all begins in the home. If you learn how to be an effective communicator, not only will your relationship with your child strengthen, but you will also provide a model from which they can learn.
4. Share With Them Your Real Life Experiences
Humans learn through stories. We also have a tendency to respect those who are confident enough to make themselves vulnerable through telling their stories. As your child grows up, it’s important to humanize each other through the sharing of flaws and insecurities. Tales of bad decisions, triumphs, weird experimental phases, and hidden scars can serve as wonderful learning and bonding opportunities. Your growing son or daughter will be able to relate better to you, develop a deeper, more meaningful understanding of you as a person, and will likely find solace in the idea that everyone goes through valleys and mountains in this absurd journey we call life.
5. Strive to Understand Who They Really Are
Just as it is important for you to encourage your son or daughter to humanize you, it is also important to view them as autonomous human beings with their own desires, fears, and point of view. In honoring and viewing him/her as such, and resisting the temptation to view him/her as a miniature version of yourself, you will foster a strong sense of self and identity in your student. Ask him/her questions, let him/her take the lead, give him/her the freedom and empowerment to take control of his/her life in little ways while taking note of every decision. However, it is not enough just to know what your student is into. It is also important to take interest in these things. Be curious — even if just minimally — so that he/she can see your investment in his/her happiness, ultimately strengthening your relationship.
6. Help Them Find Their Passion
It is also important to understand who your student really is so that you can act as guidance in the pursuit of his/her passion. No one becomes happy or successful without finding opportunities to engage in one’s passions. While it may be hard for you or your student to pinpoint what sets his/her soul on fire, you can give your student ample opportunities to try different endeavors (and walk away from these endeavors, if they do not fit) so he/she can learn likes and dislikes. Some students’ interests may seem silly or unproductive, but with a little research and creativity, you can help your students understand how a hobby could teach them new skills that translate into the real world, or provide them with opportunities to grow as individuals. The right questions and analysis of the ways in which your student is spending his/her time and energy can shed light on a possible direction to take in life’s journey.
7. Honor Their Journey & Help Them See It As A Gift
If your child has chosen to take a road less traveled, do not freak out. We must all remember that there is no right or wrong way to live life. I believe we essentially make our own rules as we go along, and our ultimate goal should always be to find joy and fulfillment in the process of living, not in attaining some mythical end goal. We must honor the journeys of our students, even if their holy grails differ from what we may have had in mind for them, because there are infinite ways to productively contribute to society and find fulfillment. In understanding this, we must also remember that as individuals, we all have different demons to confront, lessons to learn, and gifts both to receive and to give. Have faith that whatever your child’s path may be, with your support and guidance, he/she will eventually find the way to happiness.
I wrote this piece as an introduction to an amazing new program currently in development at Rainbow called Paving the Way to Your Future: A Transformative Program for Young Adults Seeking a Life They’ll Love. If any of this resonated with you, and you know of and/or have an 18-26 year old student seeking powerful skill-building, personal development, as well as life-altering career guidance, I encourage you to call our office for more information about our program built upon these tenants. You can reach us at (310) 902-7912.