Recently I walked by a young family getting their three little kids into the car in a parking lot. One of the kids, I would guess to be around five, was having a fit. The mom did one of those whisper-yells in the kid’s face and says, “Act your age!”
That got me thinking. What does it mean for a kid to act their age?
As parents and educators, we often anticipate certain milestones that mark the transition from childhood to adulthood. These milestones might include turning 18, graduating high school, obtaining a college degree, landing a well-paying job, paying bills independently, or even getting married. While these external measurements certainly have their place in our understanding of growing up, it's time to redefine what it truly means to "act your age."
But, rather than focusing solely on conventional markers of adulthood, we should encourage teenagers to tackle a different set of questions and challenges—ones that foster self-awareness, critical thinking, and emotional intelligence. Here are a few of the critical questions that every teenager should be equipped to answer as they navigate the path to maturity.
1. Who Am I?
Encourage teenagers to reflect on their identity, values, and beliefs. Help them explore their interests, passions, and what makes them unique.
> Discuss the importance of self-acceptance and embracing one's individuality. Teach them that it's okay to be themselves and not conform to societal expectations.
2. What Do I Stand For?
Engage in conversations about values and ethics. Encourage teenagers to define their core principles and understand the difference between right and wrong.
>Help them recognize the impact of their choices on others and the world around them. Foster empathy and a sense of responsibility toward their community.
3. How Do I Handle Conflict?
Conflict resolution is a vital life skill. Teach teenagers effective communication, active listening, and problem-solving techniques.
> Encourage them to see conflicts as opportunities for growth and learning. Emphasize the importance of compromise and finding common ground.
4. What Are My Goals?
Guide teenagers in setting both short-term and long-term goals. Encourage them to dream big and take steps toward achieving their aspirations.
> Discuss the importance of perseverance, resilience, and adaptability in pursuing their goals.
> Share stories of individuals who overcame challenges to achieve success.
5. How Do I Manage My Emotions?
Adolescence can be an emotional rollercoaster. Teach teenagers how to recognize, express, and regulate their emotions in healthy ways.
> Promote mindfulness practices, such as meditation or journaling, to help them manage stress and build emotional resilience.
6. What Is My Purpose?
Encourage teenagers to explore their sense of purpose and meaning in life. Discuss their passions, interests, and what brings them fulfillment.
> Emphasize the idea that purpose can evolve over time and that it's okay not to have all the answers immediately.
7. How Do I Navigate Relationships?
Healthy relationships are fundamental to a well-rounded life. Teach teenagers about boundaries, consent, and respect in friendships and romantic partnerships.
> Discuss red flags in relationships and empower them to make choices that prioritize their well-being and happiness.
8. What Does Success Mean to Me?
Challenge the traditional definition of success. Encourage teenagers to define success on their own terms rather than conforming to societal expectations.
> Highlight the importance of pursuing passions, finding joy, and leading a fulfilling life as measures of success.
While external milestones like turning 18 or graduating college remain significant, the ability to answer life's essential questions and navigate its complexities is equally crucial—or perhaps even more so.
We can play pivotal roles in guiding teenagers on this journey. By modeling and encouraging self-awareness, critical thinking, and emotional intelligence, we empower the next generation to "act their age" in the most meaningful and fulfilling way possible. It's not just about growing up; it's about growing into the best version of themselves.
For years we’ve been studying what a young person needs in order to transition into a healthy, thriving adulthood.
They're uncommon sense ideas, really.
Download this checklist and use it with your students (or kids).