Help your teen to act as an individual.

How to Encourage Individuality in Your Teens

by Erica Loop

As teens develop and grow towards adulthood, they begin to form their own identities and gain a sense of independence, notes HealthyChildren.org, a website of the American Academy of Pediatrics. When your adolescent begins to shift her focus from family to her friends, encouraging individuality is key if you want her to act more like a leader than a follower. Although it's completely normal for your teen to want to fit in with her friends, the lack of individuality can pose problems when it comes to your child learning about who she really is, what she wants for the future and standing up to peer pressure.

1 Communicate with your teen. Ensure that your teen understands that everyone is different -- and that this is true when it comes to physical development as well as interests and personality. Talk openly with your teen about the positive aspects of being an individual and praise her for being special. Let her know that following her friends or going along with peers at school won't make her more popular or a better person.

2 Help your teen to discover her own, individual interests. Instead of relying on what her friends like to do all of the time, encourage your teen to brainstorm her own ideas. For example, if her BFF's absolutely love going on weekend ski trips, but your teen isn't much for the downhill pursuits, help her explore other leisure-time options. Tell her -- or even help her -- make a list of her main interests, also including potential interests that she might want to try.

3 Connect your teen with ways to explore his interests. For example, if he is showing an interest in art, sign him up for classes at a nearby museum or encourage him to join the school's art club.

4 Build up your teen's self-confidence. A confident teen is more likely to express her individuality than one who has low self-esteem. Verbally praise her cute and quirky personality traits and tell her how proud you are of her for acting on her own.

5 Discuss peers and peer pressure. During the teen years, there is often an increase in the amount of pressure that friends and classmates exert on a child to conform. This might surface in fairly benign ways such as your teen wanting to dress like the "popular" or "cool" girls, or it can take a much more problematic or serious turn. Peer pressure to drink alcohol, use drugs or engage in sexual behaviors might weigh heavily on your teen as she moves through the high school years. Talk to your teen about strategies to resist peer pressure -- such as saying "no" or leaving an uncomfortable situation -- often. Tell her that other teens who make fun of her, or are mean to her, only because she won't do what they say aren't really her friends.

6 Allow your child to act as an individual. It's not always other kids that put a stop to your teen's individuality. Some parents might view asserting individuality as a negative or defiant behavior. For example, if your teen suddenly decides that she doesn't like the super-preppy clothes that you typically buy for her and wants to trade them in for a hipper look, you should let your teen choose what she wants to wear -- as long as it's not sexually explicit or completely inappropriate. Unless your teen wants to engage in unhealthy or dangerous behaviors, let your teen act as her own person and show her individuality to the max.

Tip

  • Support your teen's exploration of new interests by allowing her to try various new activities. Instead of making her pick just one afterschool activity, allow her to try several different ones. Chances are that she doesn't know exactly who she is yet. Encouraging her to try out different pursuits can help her decide what she does, and doesn't, enjoy.

Warnings

  • Avoid overly stressing individuality to the point that your teen begins to pressure or bully other kids. While you might want your teen to act as a leader, you don't want her to force her friends to conform to her likes and interests.
  • Don't allow individuality to turn into negative behavior or actions. If you see your acting antisocial or heading down the wrong path -- such as cutting school to pursue her other interests -- put down your foot. Individuality shouldn't equal bad behavior.

Photo Credits

  • Ezra Shaw/Digital Vision/Getty Images