Ep 140: Helping Teens Thrive

Dr. Michele Borba, author of Thrivers and Unselfie, offers up research-based ways to help teens thrive. We’ll delve into some of the seven key traits parents can teach their teen to set them up for success.

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Full show notes

We would do anything for our kids to be successful. That’s why we sign them up for SAT prep classes, make sure they practice piano every day and watch their report cards like hawks. If they can get good test scores they can go to a good college, then get a job with benefits until hopefully they don’t need us at all anymore! So long as we ensure their meeting the marks academically, we’re giving them everything they could ever need...right?

Well, not quite. When we look at the research, we find that kids with the highest grades aren’t necessarily the most successful. Those deemed “gifted” don’t always become lawyers and CEOs if they don’t know how to work hard or persevere through adversity. In fact, when interviewed, kids in generation Z often feel like they’ve just been brought up as a product to fulfill certain standards–not as a well rounded human being.

How can we raise kids to not just fit the bill of academic perfection, but actually find lasting success and happiness? In other words, how can we help them thrive? Our guest today, Michele Borba is here to answer that very question. She’s the author of Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine. After conducting years of research, she's discovered the key traits of the world’s most prosperous people. She’s here today to tell parents how they can pass along the recipe for a bountiful and fulfilling life to their kids.

In our interview, she explains how you can guide teens to discover their core assets to ensure they’re on the pathway to prosperity. We also discuss how you can instill strong values in your teen and why it’s important for teens to have a high level of agency in their everyday lives.

Helping Your Teen Find their Super Power

As a parent, it’s easy to fall into a cycle of trying to correct a kid's faults instead of encouraging them to pursue their strengths. We want kids to be their best selves, but sometimes hyper fixating on their problems can be much less helpful than cheering on their natural gifts. Later in life when they’re trying to pick a college or a career, they’ll find themselves drowning in strength assessments or find themselves in an interview, being asked what they do best, says Michele. If we don’t help them discover their abilities, they won’t even know where to start!

Michele encourages parents to help kids identify their core assets, or their most prominent passions and skills. She suggests that parents sit down and ask themselves: what do my kids do well? What do I see them prioritizing frequently? Where are they naturally inclined? You might find the answer lies in a hobby. While some think of hobbies as mere distractions, Michele believes they’re extremely powerful in allowing kids to discover themselves. Hobbies help teens develop perseverance, and challenge them to strive for improvement.

When you do figure out what it is that your kids do best, Michele advises against giving them trophies and accolades. These things only lead to self absorption, she says. Instead, she suggests simply acknowledging how skilled or talented they are, giving them an extra boost of confidence. Although you may not see it, your encouragement means a lot. With some kind words from you, they’ll feel ready to take on the world, says Michele.

Along with giving them the confidence to succeed, Michele emphasizes the importance of passing down values to your kids. When you’re not around, these guiding principles will help kids get themselves out of sticky situations and lead their best lives.

Instilling Strong Values in Teens

Helping teens develop strong values comes down to how you talk to them when they behave badly, says Michele. When kids are acting up, it can be easy to just tell them to knock it off and leave it at that. But Michele proposes linking your scolding with a positive value. Instead of just calling your kid a trouble-maker and imparting punitive measures, Michele recommends guiding kids to examine what their less-than-stellar behavior might say about the content of their character.

Michele lays out some steps you can take when encouraging your teen to think through their actions, which she calls “name, frame, and reclaim.” It starts by defining what you stand for as a parent, what lines you won’t allow kids to cross. Then, when kids do cross the line, she says call them on it, and name exactly how they’ve violated your family’s principles. Michele emphasizes the value of demonstrating to kids why their actions are wrong, and then giving them the power to explain how they’ll handle the situation differently next time.

This method leads kids to internalize a value system, explains Michele. This is more important than reminding teens of whatever rule they broke, as these principles are what will stick with them as they move through life, Michele says. When challenged by forces like peer pressure, kids will have a code of ethics to keep them from falling into bad situations. In the episode, Michele and I discuss how important it can be to be repetitive about these values, to make sure they really stick in kids’ heads.

Beyond just skills and values, kids need to develop some independence before they’re out on their own. If they’re thrown into life without having a sense of self sufficiency, they may come crawling back to the nest. In the episode, Michele and I detail how you can help kids find agency, even while they’re still living under your roof.

Fostering a Sense of Agency

Michele believes teens who have an attitude of self sufficiency are headed for brighter futures. Teenagers who think parents or teachers will pick up their slack and solve their problems are not likely to find themselves on the path to success any time soon, says Michele. That being said, it isn’t easy to raise teens who can always fend for themselves.There’s a fine line between imbuing independence and leaving teens to the wolves.

If you want to raise empowered teens, Michele says to start small. Start with the basics. Maybe they can start by taking care of the dog all on their own. Show kids what to do, giving them constructive criticism, Michele says. She recommends slowly building to bigger steps, like letting them stay at home with the dog alone on the weekend. The goal, Michele explains, is to stretch kids like a rubber band, gradually giving them the practice they need to expand their abilities over time.

If kids mess up along the way, that’s ok too. In the episode, Michele and I talk about how essential it is that we allow kids to fail. Kids who are comfortable failing are comfortable taking risks and thinking outside the box, meaning they’re ready to deliver innovative ideas and find creative solutions for the world’s most pressing problems.

In the Episode….

We’ve only scratched the surface of all the amazing content in this interview. Michele was a joy to have as a guest this week and had so much to teach us! We also talk about:
  • How kids exhibit different kinds of empathy
  • Why goal-setting is essential to success
  • How we can help teens work through pessimistic thoughts
  • Why the stress generation z feels is different than any other generation
It was so much fun sitting down with Michele this week, and so educational too! If you enjoyed listening and want to dive into more of Michele’s work, you can find her at Micheleborba.com. Don’t forget to share and subscribe, and we’ll see you next week!

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Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
Dr. Michele Borba
Dr. Michele Borba
Ed Psychologist; Speaker; TEDx:Empathy Is A Verb;TODAY Contributor 24📚inc UNSELFIE & THRIVERS:Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle & Others Shine; MOM
Ep 140: Helping Teens Thrive
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