Teens and Identity [Guest Post]

Josh Shipp here to talk to you about the #1 issue that teens are dealing with, right now….yep, right now; this very day, hour and minute.

Every adolescent in your home, in your classroom, on your sports team—everywhere—all over the world—is dealing with this issue. And EVERYTHING is at stake.

Don’t believe me? Let me put it like this: Is your teen acting up in school? Or rebelling at home? Maybe they’re lacking motivation, engaging in risky behaviors, or struggling with relationships. You see, nearly every stereotypical teenage “problem” is really just an expression of this #1 issue. Frankly, it all comes down to this: IDENTITY.

I get these questions all the time—from parents AND teens. Questions like this: “My teen is really struggling to find out who they are…” “My dad wants me to pursue business, but I don’t think that’s what I want…” “People call me a freak. How do I deal with being labeled?”

Why is this so important? Because identity is at the absolute core of me, you, teens—everyone on the planet—and shapes virtually every choice we make.

Why does one teen smoke and not another? Why does one teen get straight A’s and another one drop out? Why does one teen volunteer in his community and another refuse to even get a job? Answer? Identity. Who they are. Or—more accurately—it’s who they BELIEVE they are.

The  topic of identity is very, very personal for me. For me, I had a pretty rough childhood, which started to creep into my teenage years, which, frankly, at times were very, very miserable. You see, because of my past, growing up in foster care, the abuse, the neglect, the hurt that I experienced… I allowed that to label me. I allowed that to shape my identity and to shape the core of who I thought I was going to be in the future.

And then I let other outside influences shape ‘me’ as well, sometimes people negatively labeling me, and identifying me. I literally remember one point, this guy yelling at me, “Josh, you are just a punk, orphan, foster kid. That’s all you’re ever going to be. Nothing more. Nothing less.” I mean, it was literally those words…I can still remember how he sounded saying them. And sadly, in that moment, I let those words label me. I believed him. “Yeah, you know, I am a punk, orphan, foster kid. And I guess that’s all I’m ever gonna be. Nothing more. Nothing less.”

When my last set of foster parents sat me down and said “we don’t see you as a problem, we see you as an opportunity”, they gave me a different future.

Speaking to 1,000,000 kids over the last 10 years has taught me that the importance of that moment.  And once I saw myself as an opportunity…for learning, for good, for joy, for healing, for helping others…my behavior naturally aligned with who I really was.

How do you get through?  Well, I can tell you how I do it.

1) I Engage teens with humor, by listening…by really truly paying attention.  When a child really knows you’re paying attention and are 100% focused on them, the results can be radical (in a good way).

1) I Inspire teens with my story.  I break their pattern of thinking I’m another ‘boring speaker’ by talking about a very difficult past…and where I’m at now.  When I show them and share examples of people who have overcome incredible things, suddenly some of their ‘struggles’ are put into perspective.

3) I Empower teens with specific tools.  I give them ‘how to’ videos on my website for life skills.  I give them advice, I give them films that presents big issues in entertaining and fun ways.  So actively look for things you think can help them…but ASK them what they think.  If you buy them something ask them what they think before you mandate they read or watch it. It needs to entertain them and be something they aren’t embarrassed to share with friends.  Start by explaining you want to help and ask them for stuff they might consider watching or using…

Remember the #1 issue; it’s who they think they are that is responsible for the bad and the good behavior.  Practice engaging them and empower them to explore the ‘core’ of who they are.

// josh

Josh Shipp is a teen advice guru, a marathon runner and a guitar hero.  He gives thousands of teens advice through his website HeyJosh.com.  He has a television series “Jump Shipp” debuting this fall and a new book for teens coming out in 2010.  Josh will be releasing his first ever program for Teens & Parents on October 21st, 2009.  You can access his expertise for free at http://grownups.heyjosh.com/

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