The journey through adolescence is a challenging one. As a kid’s brain reconstructs, as their awareness opens drastically, and as they seek to find acceptance and affirmation, a lot of the big questions about life can go unanswered. When that happens, they will search to fill those voids and to find ways to quiet their insecurities or anxious voices in their head.
When someone doesn’t feel valuable or worthy, an inevitable pain arises and oftentimes people will turn to substances to numb or distance themselves from that pain.
Everyone yearns to add value. It’s a core longing we all share. To know that what we do, and are capable of doing, has real value to others.
The questions we should ask, then, are these:
- What happens to a kid when they don’t get many opportunities to contribute?
- What’s the net result for a kid who feels like nothing they do matters, they have nothing to add, or no value to bring to the table?
- How will they go about filling the void that inevitably they feel if they don’t understand their own value?
Unfortunately, much of a kid’s experience at school fails to give them opportunities to contribute in a significant way to solving real problems. With a high emphasis on test scores and GPA, and with a framework of memorization and content digestion, most schools don’t give students enough chances to really step up to the plate and find their way to add value.
Parents and educators, you have an opportunity. To take notice and be a mirror to our kids. To acknowledge and affirm the value they bring, especially when they’re able to do something at an adult level.
Just by noticing, affirming, and complementing them we can make them feel seen and also help steer them down a path that resonates with their unique design.
You might pay attention to the ways in which your kids:
- Solve problems
- Engage in building new relationships
- Create things with their hands
- Communicate an idea
- Use technical know-how to resolve issues
- Share their knowledge with others patiently and clearly
Also, we can intentionally create opportunities for our kids to step up to the plate to be successful at an adult level. Every kid wants to know that they have something valuable and meaningful to contribute. And, we might miss out on helping them learn that important lesson if all we do is encourage them to follow the rules, do their homework, get good grades, and get into a good college.
The self-confidence that comes from feedback and affirmation from families, peers, and the broader community can pay dividends for a lifetime.
The fact remains, adolescence is an opportunity to intentionally design experiences for kids that specifically help them discover their value.
We can help them find their talents, challenge them to serve others with their resources, and affirm the work they do. When we can consistently offer kids meaningful experiences to get to know their worth, any temptation to numb or avoid pain through substance use will decrease.