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Recognizing Your Teen's Strengths

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Recognizing Your Teen's Strengths

I was on the phone with my mom the other day when the topic turned to my sister, as she is in the final stages of a job interview to become a dolphin trainer (we’ll get to that later). We’re excited. We’re nervous (okay, a LOT nervous). And we’re so proud.

First, some background information on family dynamics.

My sister and I are fraternal twins, although some still manage to get us mixed up. Our relationship was tumultuous in the early years. We eventually became friends in middle school when my sister decided I was no longer smelly, and after she forgave me for throwing a book at her head (sorry, again). Despite spending almost all of our waking hours together, we were vastly different in personality and interests.

I’m a Type A personality, she is a Type B.

I spent hours and hours on schoolwork and maintained straight A’s throughout middle and high school. She spent fewer hours on schoolwork and maintained A’s and B’s.

She’s bubbly and is always making new friends. I’m more serious and have maintained a small circle of friends.

I’m following a more traditional career path for financial reasons. My sister has dreamed of becoming a dolphin trainer since grade school, and she continues to pursue it.

I’ve always been more similar to my parents than my sister, which created tension growing up. They didn’t understand why she wasn’t as driven academically as they were. They’ve always been supportive of both of us, but it frustrated them that she wasn’t as proactive as I was about applying to college and securing work during high school and college. They worried for her financial security when she chose a career training marine mammals.

Recognizing strengths.

My sister and I are now two years out of college. She’s held internships in Florida, Oregon, and California. Her employers commend her for her dedication and work ethic, natural abilities with the animals, and positive attitude. Once a homebody, she’s now a long plane ride from family and friends in Massachusetts. She’s made new friends, explored and acclimated to vastly different areas, and became more self-reliant.

Discussing all of my sister’s accomplishments over the past few years, my mom acknowledged that she wished she and my dad recognized more of her strengths as a teen. She brings laughs and silliness to family gatherings; her laugh can permeate all of the walls in our house. She doesn’t ruminate on trivial issues; I’m positive her levels of stress are healthier than mine. My sister learned to put happiness before money and material goods. She found early in life what she’s passionate about, and she hasn’t let setbacks or challenges deter her.

It’s easy to become frustrated when you don’t understand. My parents and I were (and if we’re being honest with ourselves, still are) set in our Type A ways, so we had difficulty understanding my sister’s more relaxed tendencies. While we were worrying about her college prospects in high school and her ability to pay her bills post-graduation, she was- and still is- both working hard and entirely enjoying herself. She’s reaching milestones and achieving her goals - she just took a different path than her family to do so.

Parenting advice from a non-parent.

When you’re feeling frustrated with your teen - whether it’s because your daughter isn’t interested in musical theatre like you were in high school, or because your son didn’t make the application deadline for that high school internship - take a step back and think about the wonderful and unique qualities that s/he brings to your family. I’m not advocating for condoning laziness or apathy, but I do think that some of the qualities you don’t understand now you will come to appreciate and value later. My family certainly has.

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Written by Stephanie Sprague

Stephanie Sprague-profile-picture

Steph is a recent college graduate and proud Bostonian. She received her BA in Biological and Health Psychology, and loves applying her psychology background to her marketing role. As an avid traveler, she enjoys connecting teens and young adults with opportunities to explore and gain new experiences.

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