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Teen Matters

5 Skills Adolescents Need for a Successful and Satisfying Life

September 1st, 2015

By Linda Mornell

Teenagers spend a good chunk of their learning time immersed in such subjects as math, history, biology and geography.

But the march toward a successful and satisfying adulthood involves more than the ability to add numbers or read and analyze complex material.

Equally vital are skills that help young people develop character and give them the courage and fortitude to deal with the many challenges life will throw at them. During the physical, emotional and intellectual explosions of the adolescent years, it’s critical that teenagers develop a belief in their own ability to succeed.

People who truly believe they can perform well are more likely to view difficult tasks as something to be mastered rather than something to be avoided Skills and values that help lead adolescents to a more satisfying life can range from respecting their parents to understanding that making mistakes is part of life. Here are just five of the many skills that can make a difference:

•  Learn to listen. The willingness to listen is a direct reflection of how much we value each other, and being listened to reduces stress. Nothing teaches young people more about how to become good listeners than having a mentor or other adult who consistently and intently listens to them. The ability to listen with intention and compassion creates and enhances qualities like curiosity, empathy and altruism.

•  Understand and manage stress. Recent research indicates that the adolescent brain is highly sensitive to stress.  It is essential that young people understand the role stress plays in their lives and the difference between healthy and unhealthy outlets for handling that stress. Healthy outlets for stress include exercise, talking, crying, creative pursuits and venting anger through words and exercise in safe environments. Unhealthy outlets include withdrawing and bottling up feelings, overeating or restricting food, inappropriate aggressive behaviour, relying on passive activities like TV and video games, alcohol and drug use, premature sexual activity, and blaming others.

•  Embrace anger. Young people (and perhaps adults as well) who want to achieve success often try to keep a lid on negative emotions, yet I have seen despondent patients find relief when they are given permission to appropriately vent their anger and frustration.

•  Reject the victim mentality. Many young people struggle at times with feeling like victims. That especially can be the case for those growing up in poverty. In truth, they often are victimized. They may live in a dangerous neighbourhood with highly stressed and single-parent families, and every day they are confronted with the harsh realities of poverty. The challenge is for young people to separate their experience of literally being a victim from the tendency to develop a victim mentality. They can’t control the former, but they can control the latter.

•  Value humour. Adolescents are turned off by sarcasm from adults, but they have a great appreciation for humour. If a mentor and a student can start poking fun at each other, the friendly teasing can lead to a closer and more trusting relationship. Learning to laugh at oneself is an important skill for us all.

Linda Mornell is the founder of Summer Search, a nonprofit organization which provides disadvantaged young people with life-changing and challenging summer opportunities. For more information visit

Tags: advice, Teens

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