Ep 206: Building Character and Self-Awareness in Teens

Scott Barry Kaufman, author of Transcend and Wired to Create, joins our show to explain how we can help teens on their journey to self-awareness. Scott and I talk about healthy self-esteem, goal-setting, creativity, and more.

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Full show notes

Figuring out who we are takes a lifetime. In our teens, we might think we’re destined to become a doctor…only to find out that med school isn’t for us. We might believe we’ve found our perfect match in our twenties, but then discover that there’s other fish in the sea. We might even experience a mid-life crisis and become an entirely new person at age fifty! Identity and self-awareness are complicated and different for everyone.

To teenagers, however, it can feel like adult life is rapidly approaching….meaning they’ve got to figure it all out right away! They might rush into a college major, a relationship, or a big relocation when they’re not fully ready. It can be hard to know what you want for the rest of your life when you’ve only been alive for 18 years! This week we’re talking about identity, awareness and self- actualization, so we can help kids slow down and embrace the process of finding themselves. 

We’re joined by Scott Barry Kaufman, author of Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization. Scott is a humanistic psychologist who has taught at Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania and New York University. He writes the regular column “Beautiful Minds” in the Scientific American and hosts The Psychology Podcast, which has over 10 million downloads! His work has appeared in The Atlantic, Harvard Business Review, and Business Insider. He’s here to help us define self-actualization–and how our teens can harness it for a happier life.

In our interview, we’re discussing how we can guide kids to develop healthy confidence, define their life’s goals, and access their creativity to discover who they truly are.

Confidence Vs. Narcissism

Self-esteem can be complicated, Scott explains. While it’s definitely possible for teens to have a healthy sense of confidence in who they are, there’s also the possibility of narcissism. And although we often think of narcissists as loud, attention-hogging types, there are also quiet, unassuming narcissists, who keep their self-obsession in their internal thoughts and close relationships, he explains. Scott and I talk more about the difference between these two types of narcissists in the episode–but neither type is healthy or a sign of self awareness, Scott says.
To help our kids develop healthy self esteem instead of narcissistic tendencies, we’ve got to treat them with compassion…but not too much! Scott explains that we shouldn't tell kids they are “the best” or teach them to compare themselves to others. Instead, Scott says we should remind kids that they are intrinsically valuable simply for existing. Instead of making them feel like high achievers, we should simply strive for them to feel like they are enough, he says.

In the episode, we also talk about how kids can have healthy selfishness as well. This means they set proper boundaries with others for their own well-being, have a stable school/life balance, and generally just take care of themselves. People often give away too much time and energy to others, Scott says, and not necessarily in an altruistic way. Sometimes people can develop a certain kind of narcissistic complex that’s fed by helping others, but only in pursuit of their own egos, he explains. In our interview, we discuss how some of the worst behavior in human history has been declared “for the greater good”, despite being destructive and even inhumane.

So teens have a healthy sense of self-confidence…but where are they going to direct it? Scott and I also talk about how teens can figure out their life’s purpose.

Setting Growth-Oriented Goals

Teens love to set lofty goals, but they’re not always realistic…or what teens really want. Many teens strive to be famous on the internet, he says, but this goal often fails to help teens grow and self actualize. Scott advises that teens stay true to themselves when deciding what to do with their lives, and evaluate their strengths and deeper spiritual needs when planning out their latest ambition! He also recommends  that parents sit down status-obsessed kids and help them reorient their goals towards personal and spiritual growth.

Scott describes something that he calls a crystallizing experience–an affirming experience which helps us realize exactly what we want to do with ourselves for the rest of our life. Some teens are lucky enough to have this moment when they’re still young, but some don’t have it until later in life. Scott explains that it could happen any time, and even more than once! Our identities continue to grow and change, so teens shouldn’t feel pressure to have it all figured out right away.

In our interview, Scott and I have an interesting discussion about hope in the face of rejection. While some animals have been researched and shown to experience a natural sense of hopelessness, humans retain the ability to remain resilient. While the sting of rejection is strong, Scott explains that teens can use both their sense of purpose and strategic minds to persevere. In the episode he explains the strategy he used as a teenger to get into the college of his dreams–despite being rejected.

One important trait kids can strive to develop is creativity! Scott and I are discussing how we can work to foster creativity among our teens.

Raising Creative Teens

There are a lot of surprising ways we can help teens be more creative, including letting them daydream! Scott explains that when teens are zoning out, they’re giving their conscious, focused minds a break and entering the world of creative thinking. By turning off their productivity, they’re able to access originality! He believes that if we want to raise teens who think outside the box, we should give teens scheduled time in the day to day dream, doodle, journal, and let their mind run free. 

 Teens who are open to new experiences also tend to be more creative, Scott explains. The more welcoming teens can be of new stimulus, the less confined their thinking will be. In the episode, he shares some fascinating examples of famous, accomplished scientists who didn’t just focus on one area, instead expanding their knowledge across different regions of the scientific world. This allowed them to think outside the box and have some of the most inventive ideas in modern science.
There are a lot of ways our education system could change to encourage more creativity, says Scott. In his view, schools need to assign more project-based learning, to help kids self-actualize and build something that incorporates their own perspectives. This is the first step to encouraging inventiveness and originality, he explains. He also suggests that kids learn to disagree with what they read in the textbook, and that teachers be more open to divergent discussions that push kids to think for themselves.

In the Episode….

Scott and I cover a lot of interesting ground in this week’s episode! On top of the topics discussed above, we also talk about:
  • The advantages of being sensitive
  • What transcendence is and how it can help us
  • The dangers of relying too heavily on labels for our kids
  • What a “Theory Z” worldview is and how we can utilize it to get results
If you enjoyed this week’s episode, check out more from Scott at Scottbarrykaufman.com or on Twitter at @sbkaufman. Thanks for listening! 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. Scott Barry Kaufman ⛵🛵
Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman ⛵🛵
Cognitive Scientist | Founder, Center for Human Potential | Host: The Psychology Podcast | Author: Transcend #Neurodiversity #Comedy | See Linktree below 👇
Ep 206: Building Character and Self-Awareness in Teens
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