Play - Teenage Potential

We focus a lot on what young people could do or will be in the future. We look forward to when our babies sleep through the night, use their words, and become potty trained. I know a dad who can’t wait until his son is big enough to golf with. But putting so much attention on what lies ahead can leave our children wondering if they are good enough right now.

Parents, teachers, and coaches talk a lot about ‘potential.’ They envision a future version of the kid in front of them as more accomplished, more confident, faster, or stronger. These adult guides may help young people develop skills and encourage them to keep trying. They might also compare kids with each other using phrases like, “how come Anna’s room is so much tidier?” or compare kids with themselves: “you are smarter than this report card shows.”

Leaders and influencers have been talking about potential for years. Sheryl Sandberg advised, “Being confident and believing in your own self-worth is necessary to achieving your potential.” Barak Obama said, “It’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realise your true potential.” You might like these inspirational quotes if you’re an ambitious person and not overly self-critical. It’s important to balance messages like, ‘you could be more!’ with messages of ‘you’re wonderful the way you are’ for both ourselves and our children.

Instead of what teenagers ‘could’ be, focus on what they are right now.
It’s easy to get drawn into the cultural story of children ‘growing up’ because we hear it all the time. From the ubiquitous ‘look how tall you’re getting!’ to the pressure of ‘what will you do when you graduate?’ young people are constantly reminded that they are a work in progress. Childhood is indeed a season of change, but time doesn’t actually stop for any of us. For a teenager living their life and enjoying themselves in the moment, they are a full person experiencing the complexities of human existence – it’s wrong to reduce them to a traveller on the road from here to there, not yet at the proper destination.

Potential may bloom in unexpected ways.
As long as you are alive you are continuing to change. The possibility of making different choices and trying new things exists for all of us, every single day. As a parent, what does the word ‘potential’ mean to you? What unspoken, perhaps unconscious, expectations of greatness do you hold in your heart for your teenager? You could ask yourself, ‘what does greatness even mean?’ Maybe you think of university degrees, fat bank accounts, or sporting wins. These ideas can be a burden on our teens even if we never say them out loud and don’t think our kids can read our minds. Children sense their parent’s emotional field, so they will know if we are pleased or disappointed in them even if we are secretive about our feelings.

Everyone has potential.
When the gifts within our children emerge it’s as miraculous as the big bang itself. This young person, who never existed just a few years ago, begins to reveal interests and talents and perspectives that are completely unique in all of the Universe. That is something to appreciate! How do you nurture potential? Remember that each person – each child and teenager - is an expression of ultimate creativity. We get to celebrate that and demonstrate to our young people that we warmly support them.

What about your own potential?
If I hold a limited mindset about what’s possible for me that is the example I’m setting for my children. As a parent, how can I expect my teenager to reach for the stars if I hold myself back? Young people are always watching us; they automatically pick up on our view of reality. Adult attitudes get passed on to our kids, so concepts like ‘people can do amazing things’ or ‘the most important thing is to try’ will live in our children’s minds.

Just because you’re grown up doesn’t mean you’re done growing. Adults can create and relish personal and professional development opportunities for their whole lives. What untapped potential lives within you?