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6 Tips to Support Self-Awareness Development in Teens

by Milena Ćuk,

Life Coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-training

“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.”
― Lao Tzu

Research has shown that a high self-awareness score is a crucial predictor of overall success. Acclaimed psychologist Daniel Goleman points out that self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence and that mastery of emotional self-awareness is a key attribute of successful leaders

Why is self-awareness important for teens?

Who am I? What makes me special, a unique human being, different from others? What do I want from my life? Why do I feel like this? What made me react like this? These are just some of the questions adolescents ask themselves.

Answers to such questions build the foundation of a teen’s self-awareness. Practically speaking, being self-aware means we are able to understand our thoughts, emotions, beliefs, traits, and motivations and perceive how they affect our performance.

This skill develops naturally over time through experience and maturity. However, since  it is crucial in taking ownership of our lives and the direction we choose, we all need to foster it in ourselves and in our children.

There are a variety of practices and exercises to help you enhance self-awareness as you guide your child’s development, and we describe these below. Your teen doesn’t have to choose only one as they begin to discover which of these practices resonates the most with his/her unique being. Each can become a habit of daily routine, which is the best-case scenario.  And remember, it’s  good for all of us to be open to applying them in our own lives. Let’s not forget that we thrive together with our kids!

Time and space for self-reflection

We live in a busy world where speed and multitasking have become the norm. However, our brains haven’t evolved fast enough to catch up and process all the information and impressions inundating us daily. Sometimes (ideally each day) we need to slow down, pause,  be still, and be left quietly alone for self-reflection because this will ground us in reality.

This applies to your teen as well, especially after busy day or week. If your teen is more introverted, he prefers to spend time alone and you should respect his need. However, you might suggest that exploring and learning different ways to self-reflect could be beneficial for him. If your teen is more extroverted and doesn’t like being alone, you should teach him the advantages of slowing down and self-reflecting every now and then.

This could mean taking a walk outside or just sitting or lying down in your room and doing nothing. Though it may appear we’re doing nothing, we are consciously and subconsciously processing information and getting closer to our true selves.

You can simply offer a  gentle suggestion. For instance: “Honey, why don’t you go for a walk, write in your journal, or just spend some time processing this so you can figure out your true feelings and what you should do next.”

Keeping a journal

This is another form of self-reflection, but it is especially beneficial for teenagers.

Writing our thoughts down can help us explore what is going on in our minds – what we think, how we feel, what inspires or frightens us. Writing provides a sense of clarity especially for confusing and complex feelings we don’t yet understand.

For the emotionally loaded or conflicted experiences teens face as they grow, writing a journal is particularly useful since it provides a safe space for expressing their feelings, and there is a greater chance that creative solutions will emerge in the form of new decisions and actions.

If you had a diary of your own when you were young, you can share it to encourage your teen to start his own.  Journals can take many forms. Besides the classic diary, they can combine words with drawings or images if your teen is more visually inclined.

Mindfulness practices

Mindfulness practices develop full awareness in the here and now, promote non-judgmental observance and acceptance of our inner thoughts and feelings and help us release and overcome emotional pain. Watch this short movie to find out how mindfulness empowers us.

Inspired by the wisdom of the East, particularly the Buddhist tradition of meditation, Jon Kabat-Zinn was one of the first to introduce and adapt mindfulness practices to the Western world.

Due to its proven clinical effects on stress reduction, enhancement of self-awareness, inner balance and general well-being, a variety of mindfulness techniques has been developed for application in daily life and school programs.

You can find available mindfulness programs in your area or even find some guided online sessions and practice it together with your teens.

Emotional learning

Emotional awareness, understanding why we feel a certain way and knowing how to handle these feelings is crucial to success and happiness in every aspect of our lives.

Psychotherapist Claude Steiner defines this ability as “emotional literacy”. We learn how to manage our emotions, develop empathy for other people, repair emotional damage when we’ve done something wrong, and succeed in interacting with others effectively.

The importance of emotional awareness has brought emotional learning programs into schools and hopefully your children have already had the opportunity to develop this competency. If not, look for available lectures and workshops in your community that are oriented towards developing emotional awareness and literacy, either for youth or adults. Let’s not forget that as parents, we are pivots of our children’s emotional health and emotional learning, and personal development should always be a priority.

You can also check available online programs. Here you can find more about emotional literacy and even download a full book by Claude Steiner. In one of our previous articles, we wrote about how we can enhance teen’s emotional development through the use of movies.

Learning to have an accurate self-image

Self-image in teens can often be biased or fluid and they need to learn to evaluate their own strengths and limitations objectively. Constructive feedback, both positive and negative, is essential in learning this ability, which is part of self-awareness and development in general.

Foster an atmosphere in your family where providing honest feedback is natural both for you and your children. Here you can check some of the principles to deliver effective feedback.

Try this interesting exercise along with your teens from time to time. Each of you should write down three positive and three negative aspects of yourself. These can be your personality traits, habits, abilities or physical appearance. Then share and discuss what you all wrote down, suggesting how strengths can be used and limitations overcome.

Pay attention to how realistic your teen has been in his/her estimation. Has she written positive or negative first? Did she have problems listing positive or negative qualities? These indicators, if any, will be the basis for your further interventions.

The mind-body connection

Long a tradition in Eastern cultures and advocated widely by current holistic practitioners, mind-body awareness or the ability to “listen” to your body through sensory experiences can enhance the development of full self-awareness.

Besides yoga, there are numerous practices that can help us integrate mind-body experiences.  Some are spiritual in nature while others are more physical. Free dance practices with elements of improvisation, such as 5Rhythms, Open Floor or Authentic Movement, also referred to as “moving meditation”, are good examples. All these can help us focus on our inner selves,  become rooted and more fully present.

So if your teen is more inclined to work through his thoughts and emotions  through body/movement, seek out those activities and practices that best match his channels of communication with himself.

“Know thyself” – it was inscribed at the Delphi temple. This virtue was as valued in ancient times as it is today. Let’s help our kids acquire this wisdom and prepare them to be able to lead fulfilling lives.

Need additional support in helping your teen develop self-awareness? Don’t hesitate. We can help. Schedule an appointment with our coach.

References and useful links:

  1. Self-Awareness: The Foundation of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
  2. New Study Shows Nice Guys Finish First by Shari Lifland (American Management Foundation)
  3. How Mindfulness Empowers Us: An Animation Narrated by Sharon Salzberg
  4. Emotional Literacy: Intelligence with Heart by Claude Steiner (2003)