How To Help Your Teenager Find Their Passion

Written by Dr Lucy Russell DClinPsyc CPsychol AFBPsS
Dr Lucy Russell Clinical Psychologist Founder of They Are The Future
Author: Dr Lucy Russell, Clinical Psychologist

Discovering a true passion can be a transformative experience for any young adult. The teen years are a pivotal time for this exploration, yet they often come with much pressure.

From academic expectations to the influences of social media, teenagers are navigating a complex path toward adult life.

It’s important to acknowledge the impact this journey and the self-doubt that often comes with it may have on their mental health.

In this article I want to support you to guide your teen through this discovery with understanding and patience.

Two teenagers chatting in a cafe

Career Vs Passion: Guiding Your Teenager

Finding a life purpose and choosing a career are distinct journeys that may or may not intersect during the teen years.

Teens may spend their free time immersed in passions that don’t seem to pave the way for successful careers. That’s okay! You can guide them in understanding that not every passion leads directly to a career, but each one can still set them on the right direction towards personal growth and fulfillment.

When a young person’s passion appears less viable as a career, it’s an opportunity rather than a setback. In my opinion, it’s a chance to explore the value of a passion that may serve as a counterbalance to the demands of adult life.

Sometimes, a particular passion helps to develop soft skills such as creativity, resilience, or teamwork, which are valuable in any potential career path.

Other times, it can evolve into a side project or hobby that provides a sense of accomplishment and identity beyond their career.

It’s also possible that a current interest, though not directly marketable, can inspire a related career that maintains the essence of their passion in a practical form.

Encouraging this exploration can help your teen find balance and satisfaction in both their professional and personal lives.

Open-Ended Questions: Harnessing Your Teenager’s Passion

The art of asking the right questions can illuminate your teenager’s path to a direction they are happy with.

Open ended questions, in particular, encourage deeper reflection on long-term goals and aspirations.

These aren’t simple questions with yes or no answers.

They are designed to help teens articulate their thoughts and feelings about their future.

Examples of Open-Ended Questions

  1. “What projects or hobbies make you lose track of time, where you lose all sense of awareness?”

This question delves into activities that truly ignite your teen’s enthusiasm and engagement, revealing potential passions and strengths.

  1. “If you could pursue any career without limitations, what would it be and why?”

This question taps into your teen’s imagination and aspirations, allowing them to dream beyond societal expectations and explore their true desires.

  1. “What kind of impact do you want to make on the world, and how do you envision contributing to society?”

This question encourages your teen to consider their legacy and the positive changes they wish to bring about, aligning their future goals with their values.

  1. “What personal qualities do you value most in yourself and others?”

This question delves into your teen’s sense of identity and the traits that resonate with them, shaping their potential career choices and personal growth.

  1. “What are you most curious about in the world and how do you want to explore this curiosity?”

This question sparks intellectual curiosity and encourages your teen to pursue knowledge and learning, opening up avenues for future endeavours.

a mother and teen girl chatting together in their kitchen

Personal Development Support: Guiding Your Teenager’s Passion Discovery

Encouraging your teen to venture slightly beyond their comfort zone is a vital part of nurturing their journey to find their own passion.

It’s about guiding them to embrace challenges in different areas, fostering a growth mindset that views setbacks as natural steps in learning.

For instance, if your teen is hesitant about public speaking, instead of steering clear, encourage them to participate in class discussions, or even debate clubs or drama groups. Even though ultimately public speaking might not be their greatest strength, they will be building resilience and adaptability, not to mention a sense of competence and a feeling that they can turn their hand to anything.

Values and Strengths in Unearthing Your Teenager’s Passion

In a world that often puts a lot of pressure on young people to excel in specific ways, it’s crucial to help teens identify their core values and strengths.

These are the building blocks that will lead them to a true sense of purpose.

Encouraging Self-Reflection

Encourage your teen to engage in introspection, reflecting on moments when they felt truly engaged, fulfilled, and connected.

This is often described as something called a flow state. In other words, times when your teen felt so engaged and absorbed in the moment, they were not thinking about the past or future, but just purely enjoying the moment.

These moments often help reveal their innate values and strengths.

TAKE THE QUIZ!

Celebrating Strengths

Recognize and celebrate your teen’s strengths, both natural and developed.

Acknowledge their talents, skills, and qualities that make them unique and capable.

Positive reinforcement builds self-confidence and encourages young people to build upon their strengths.

Connecting Values and Strengths

Help your teen connect their values to their strengths. Encourage them to identify how their values can be expressed through their strengths.

For instance, a teen who values creativity might channel their artistic talents into painting or writing.

boy admiring his modern art work

Integrating Your Teenager’s Values Into Choices

Guide your teen to consider their values when making decisions, big or small. Help them weigh their options and make choices that align with their core beliefs.

This process will ensure they act with integrity and consistency, meaning that their actions reflect their true selves.

Example:

If your teenager is interested in pursuing a career in the medical field, encourage them to volunteer at a hospital or clinic to gain real-world experience. This will help them see what it’s like to work in a medical setting and whether or not it’s a good fit for their values, strengths and aspirations. It will also help them develop their practical skills. With real life experience your teenager will be more likely to make a well-informed decision about their future.

Remind your teen that the journey of self-discovery is ongoing and evolving.

It’s okay to try things and then decide against them.

It’s also fine to have multiple areas of interest at this stage, or not to have a clear sense of direction.

Think of your role as gently guiding your teen’s inner compass. You are empowering them to make informed choices, pursue their passions, and live a life that is authentic and fulfilling.

an example of a teenager's vision board

Vision Boards For Developing a Teen’s Passion and Direction

Vision boards are a tangible manifestation of someone’s hopes and aspirations. There is no right or wrong way to create a vision board.

They can serve as a powerful motivator, as they navigate the complexities of adolescence.

Here’s an example of how to create a vision board:

  1. Explore Inspirational Sources: Encourage your teen to gather images, quotes, and words that resonate with their passions, goals, and personal values. Help them browse through magazines, online resources, personal photos, or even create their own artwork.
  2. Choose a Creative Canvas: Select a surface for their vision board, such as a large poster board, corkboard, or even a blank wall. Consider digital platforms or apps for a more interactive experience.
  3. Arrange and Personalize: Guide your teen in arranging their gathered materials, encouraging experimentation with layouts, colors, and textures to create a visually appealing and inspiring board. Encourage them to personalize with symbols that represent their unique identity and aspirations.
  4. Express Aspirations with Words: Help your teen articulate their dreams and aspirations using powerful verbs and vivid imagery. Encourage them to write down their goals in a clear and concise manner.
  5. Embrace Creativity and Flexibility: Encourage your teen to break free from traditional methods and get creative with their vision board. Use paint, markers, glitter, or even collaging techniques to make it truly personal.
  6. Locate a Prominent Display: Guide your teen in selecting a highly visible spot to place their vision board, such as their bedroom, study area, or locker. Consistent exposure will keep their aspirations top of mind.
  7. Regularly Review and Reflect: Encourage your teen to revisit their vision board periodically to review their goals, reflect on their progress, and identify areas for further action. This ongoing process will maintain motivation and focus.
  8. Emphasize Visualization and Goal Setting: Guide your teen in visualizing themselves achieving their goals, imagining the feeling of success, emotions, and positive impact they’ll make. Help them translate their vision into actionable steps and set realistic deadlines.
  9. Celebrate Achievements and Milestones: Encourage your teen to acknowledge and celebrate their progress, no matter how small the accomplishment. This reinforces belief in themselves and their ability to achieve their dreams.
  10. Recognize the Dynamic Nature: Emphasize that vision boards are not static but evolve as goals and aspirations change. Encourage your teen to regularly update their vision board to reflect their evolving dreams and plans.

By guiding your teen through this creative process, you can empower them to harness the power of vision boards, fostering a sense of direction, motivation, and personal growth.

example of a vision board: a teenager who is interested in marine life and a career in marine conservation

Mentoring: Nurturing Your Teenager’s Passion Journey

Have you ever thought of finding a mentor to help your child discover their direction in life? It could be someone you already know, or someone new they could connect with.

Mentorships come in all shapes and sizes, from formal programs to informal relationships with individuals who inspire and support us.

For teenagers, I have found that mentors can be invaluable assets, providing guidance, encouragement, and a sense of direction as they navigate the complexities of adolescence and discover their passions. In fact, I have acted as a mentor myself so i know the positive impact this role can have, both for the teen and the adult!

Identifying Potential Mentors:

  1. Seek Familiar Faces: Look within your family, extended network of friends, or community to identify individuals who share your teen’s interests or have achieved success in areas they admire.
  2. Explore Community Resources: Check with your teen’s school, community centers, or youth organizations for mentorship programs or support groups. These organizations often connect teens with mentors who share their passions and can provide valuable insights and guidance.
  3. Engage in Shared Activities: Encourage your teen to engage in activities or hobbies they enjoy, as these settings often present opportunities to connect with like-minded individuals who may serve as mentors.

Establishing Meaningful Connections:

  1. Initiate Open Communication: Encourage your teen to approach potential mentors with sincerity and openness, expressing their genuine interest in learning from their experience and expertise.
  2. Emphasize Mutual Benefit: Foster a sense of reciprocity, highlighting how the relationship can benefit both parties. This approach encourages a more open and collaborative dynamic.
  3. Nurture Regular Interactions: Encourage regular check-ins with mentors, even if it’s just a quick conversation or virtual chat. Consistent communication helps build trust and rapport.

Harnessing the Mentorship Experience:

  1. Seek Guidance and Perspective: Encourage your teen to utilize mentors as sounding boards, seeking their insights and advice on personal, academic, or career-related matters.
  2. Embrace Hands-on Experiences: Help your teen identify opportunities to apply the guidance received from mentors, such as volunteering, interning, or pursuing extracurricular activities aligned with their interests.
  3. Appreciate the Human Connection: Foster a sense of appreciation for the mentor’s time and willingness to share their wisdom. Express gratitude regularly to maintain a positive and supportive relationship.

Having a role model can help your teenager visualize their future self and understand the steps needed to get there.

Encouraging your teen to seek out mentors—whether teachers, family friends, or professionals in their fields of interest—can open doors to new opportunities and learning experiences.

Unearthing Your Teenager’s Passions Through New Experiences

Introducing your teenager to a variety of cultural experiences will shape their understanding of possible life paths. They have the potential to ignite passions that could define your child’s future.

When a young person encounters new cultures, whether through travel, art, literature, or community involvement, they gain brand new insights into the world and the possibilities that surround them.

Encouraging your teen to volunteer in different community projects, for example, can offer them a glimpse into various life situations and challenges, grow empathy and perhaps spark a new interest in social causes.

Likewise, exposure to different artistic expressions or historical narratives can open up new avenues of thought, possibly leading to a passion for the arts or social sciences. These experiences are crucial for developing a nuanced perspective of the world and can be the catalysts for a lifelong passion.

Extracurricular Activities: Exploring and Unleashing Your Teen’s Potential

Trying out diverse extracurricular activities might help your teen discover new passions.

Whether it’s learning musical instruments, joining a sports team, or participating in a drama club, clubs and hobbies often provide a safe space for exploration. They allow young people to dip their toes into various interests without the pressure of commitment.

Trying things out will broaden your child’s skill set but also increase the chance of them finding a new passion that resonates with their identity and aspirations.

If your teen is not sure what interests them, they could try an interest that allows them to try an array of different activities, such as the scouting movement.

Part-Time Jobs: Real Life Experience and Direction for Your Teen

A part-time job could turn out to be a powerful stepping stone for your teenager, offering them a taste of adult responsibilities and the satisfaction of being part of a team.

In a supportive environment, a job can teach valuable life skills such as time management, communication, and teamwork.

There’s nothing else that can give your child such brilliant real-life personal development, understanding of a work ethic, and of course the satisfaction of earning some money.

Working part-time can also help your teen explore fields they’re interested in, providing practical experience that can inform their future career choices. It can be an eye-opening experience, helping them to connect the dots between their current education and potential professional paths.

In the best cases, a part-time job can even uncover a passion they didn’t know they had, in an area they hadn’t previously considered.

a teen boy working in a kitchen

Helping Your Teen Find Passion and Direction: Example – Eli

Eli, a quiet and thoughtful 17-year-old, found himself lost in a sea of uncertainty. He had always been a diligent student, doing well in academics and artistic extracurricular activities.

However, as he approached the end of high school and the impending decision of his future path, he felt a growing sense of emptiness and detachment. Eli lacked a clear passion, a driving force that could guide him towards a fulfilling career and life.

Eli’s parents, concerned about their son’s lack of direction, decided to take proactive measures to help him navigate this challenging period of adolescence.

Teen Mentorship

Recognizing the value of mentorship, Eli’s parents encouraged him to seek guidance from someone he admired. They connected Eli with a successful entrepreneur – a friend of the family – who had also struggled with finding his passion during his youth. They had several chats online and this really helped develop Eli’s views on his options outside of formal study.

The mentorship provided Eli with insights into the world of business and entrepreneurship.

Vision Board: Visualizing Dreams and Aspirations

Eli’s parents introduced him to the concept of vision board. They encouraged him to gather images, words, and symbols that represented his passions, values, and aspirations.

Whilst initially unsure, Eli valued this exercise as it allowed him to develop clarity over time. It helped him realise what he didn’t want in his future, as well as what he did want.

He realised that he didn’t want to go to college, and that he felt passionate about the idea of setting up a business by himself.

Part-time Work: Gaining Real-world Experience and Practical Skills

Eli’s parents encouraged him to find part-time work opportunities that aligned with his interests. He began working at weekends in a local bookstore.

Ultimately this experience helped Eli realise that he wanted to work in a more creative area and he didn’t want to be an employee, and it gave him valuable people skills and experience of working regular hours. Eli was grateful that his part time job helped him gain a sense of future direction.

Trying New Skills and Hobbies: Embracing Curiosity

To encourage Eli to step out of his comfort zone and discover new passions, his parents encouraged him to try out different skills and hobbies.

He enrolled in a photography class, and his parents encouraged him to explore online courses and workshops in areas that piqued his curiosity. He discovered that he had a talent for portrait photography and loved writing creative pieces to accompany his portraits.

Eli’s Journey Towards Discovering His Passion

Eli’s journey of self-discovery was not a linear path. He faced setbacks, self-doubt, and periods of uncertainty. However, with the unwavering support of his parents and the insight he gained through mentorship, vision boards, part-time work, and trying new skills, Eli gradually found his footing.

He discovered a passion for writing, which he transformed into a successful blog and freelance writing career.

Eli’s story exemplifies the importance of self-discovery, open communication and support in navigating the complexities of life after adolescence.

17 year old boy in a bookstore

How To Help Your Teenager Find Their Passion: Summary & My Final Thoughts

The journey of self-discovery with your teenager can be as challenging as it is rewarding. You can support them with patience and encouragement. Eventually, your child will find their true passion or passions amidst the cacophony of academic, life and peer pressure.

There is a chance that they won’t find this direction until a bit later in their life though, and that’s okay too.

Don’t forget that it’s perfectly normal for young adults to explore different avenues and change direction multiple times. Their teen years are a prime time for this exploration, without the much pressure of adult life.

Sense of Purpose and Wellbeing in the Teen Years

The intersection of mental health and finding a sense of purpose is crucial.

While a passion can become a career, it’s essential to recognize that they don’t always align.

And that’s okay.

Our role as parents is to support our teenagers in discovering what gives them meaning, whether that’s through open-ended questions, personal development, or new experiences.

Practical Support for Your Teen To Find Their Passion

Encourage your teen to create a vision board, seek mentoring, and dive into new activities and part-time jobs.

These experiences are not just about finding a passion or setting the stage for successful careers. They are also about learning, growing, and preparing for the complex realities of adult life.

By providing a supportive environment, you are giving them the best tools to thrive, whatever direction they choose to take.

Related Articles

10 Ways to Easily Motivate an Anxious Teen

6 Keys to Parenting Teens Who Flourish

What Are Your Child’s Behavioural and Emotional Strengths?

Why Supportive Parenting is Key to Child Mental Health

Dr Lucy Russell is a UK clinical psychologist who works with children and families. Her work involves both therapeutic support and autism assessments. She is the Clinical Director of Everlief Child Psychology, and also worked in the National Health Service for many years. In 2019 Lucy launched They Are The Future, a support website for parents of school-aged children.

Through TATF Lucy is passionate about giving practical, manageable strategies to parents and children who may otherwise struggle to find the support they need.

Lucy is a mum to two teenage children. She lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband, children, rescue dog and three rescue cats. She enjoys caravanning and outdoor living, singing and musical theatre.

Join They Are The Future’s free Facebook group for regular tips and great ideas to support teens and pre-teens with their mental health! Join the group: Parent Tips for Positive Child Mental Health UK.

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