teens Help your tween be the best he can be :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Lisa M. Schab, L.C.S.W.

A national concern for kids' security has many young teens walking through metal detectors as they enter school or wearing I.D. tags around their necks.

The purpose, of course, is our children's safety, and while identification tags may be the quickest way to tell if someone belongs on school property, some parents are afraid their child has become "just a number" at an age when it is important to be developing their individuality. Children at the tween and young teen age are already driven by a crucial desire to be just like everybody else. As they start shifting from identification with family to identification with peers, what they want most of all is to fit in.

If you feel that safety procedures are pushing your child too far along the path of conformity, or if you just want to encourage him to become his own person, consider these suggestions:

• Provide a secure base. A child's sense of security comes from his family first. If he feels unconditionally loved, physically safe and spiritually connected to the people in his home base, he will have more confidence as he takes his place in the social arena.

• Focus on what's inside. The child with a strong sense of internal self-worth will have an easier time marching to his own drummer. A child develops an internal self-worth when he is appreciated for who he is, not just what he does.

Let your child know that while being the smartest kid in the class or shooting a free throw are definitely accomplishments to be proud of, it is his cheerfulness, sense of humor and loving spirit that are the most valuable parts of him. This allows him to hang on to his confidence even when he makes mistakes and gives him the courage to risk being true to himself.

• Value diversity. Explain the importance of each person bringing their unique personality and talents to the world. Talk about what life would be like if everyone had exactly the same job, hobbies, talents, thoughts or looks.

Use nature as an example: Mighty oak trees don't try to be fragrant lilacs, nor do brilliant peacocks wish they were soaring eagles. If everyone were just like everyone else, our world would not be able to exist.

Model this mind-set with your words and actions. Stop yourself from expressing bias toward people who are unlike yourself-both in person and when you make comments about television or current events. Your child will learn that her differences are the unique and valuable parts of her, to be celebrated rather than hidden.

• Compare kids to themselves, not others. Instead of asking, "Why can't you be more like your sister?" (cousin, father, or someone else), try, "Wow, you've beat your own record!" The first comment sends the message that she is the "bad" child or the family failure. The second tells her that any time she makes progress she's been a success.

Let her know that you don't want two or three children who are exactly the same. If her siblings were both in the band, but she can't play a note, help her to understand that there is something else that she is cut out to do, and help her find it.

• Help them develop individual strengths. Help your child find the natural talents and skills he possesses, and give him opportunities to use them. Not every child excels in academics or sports. His talent may lie in cooking, pet care or befriending the lonely.

If he is great at arguing, get him on the debate team; if he avoids sports but likes to curl up with a book, help him become involved in library programs; if he has a caring spirit, find him some volunteer work.

• Encourage him to think for himself. Ask for your child's opinion whenever possible and appropriate. You don't have to agree with all of his ideas, but try to listen and point out the viable parts of them if nothing else. Asking him what he is thinking or feeling helps him to start paying attention to his own ideas and to value them.

• Nurture personal, not social, motivations. Many kids at the tween age will engage in activities only if their friends are doing it, too. If your daughter has excelled in gymnastics, but now wants to quit because "no one else is joining this year," encourage her to assert her independence and continue anyway.

It's normal for kids to do most things with their peers, but help them have the courage to follow their own dream, even if no one else is interested.

• Believe in your child. Stop yourself from saying things like, "You're trying out for the play? Are you kidding?" or, "You haven't got a chance in the world to make that cheerleading squad." Success comes when someone believes in herself enough to try, and then keeps trying if she doesn't make it the first time. Your child's self-confidence grows when she knows that you have confidence in her, too.


Lisa Schab is a licensed clinical social worker in Libertyville and the stepmother of two, ages 20 and 24. She can be reached at (847) 782-1722.

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