In the teen years identity is really important; every teen wants to know who they are and how they fit in. Every teen has a story, but who they are in the story can provide a lot of insight as to why they think, feel, behave and interpret things the way they do.
To understand how roles influence young people, we must make the connection between who they are and what they do. If, for instance, a teenage girl decides she is a vegetarian, it only becomes true if she stops eating meat and changes her diet. Likewise, if a teenage boy decides he is an artist, he would spend his free time painting or drawing. Once teens decide who they are, it’s what they do that supports the role.
Why Roles Matter
If we understand that roles influence behavior, what happens then if a teen decides she is a perfectionist, failure, bully or victim? (These four are for illustration; there are many roles.) If a teen sees herself as a victim, what would she have to DO to make it true? If she believes she is a perfectionist, how would she ACT?
At first glance young people might not be aware of the roles they play. Even if they are aware, they might not recognize the limits some roles impose. Here is a simple exercise you can use to start a conversation about roles, how they influence behavior, and why they might interfere with a teen’s ability to realize his or her full potential.
Try these three steps for better understanding the role(s) of an adolescent:
1. WHERE are they in each role (context matters)? For example, “At home, I am _________, at school I am __________, and with friends I am _________.”
2. Pick one role/place to start. If they give an example of being a son at home, encourage them to look at the role inside the role: What kind of son are you? Are you the same son with both parents? Are you the only son in your home?
3. Help them write a “job description” for the role they wish to examine. Prompts might include something like, “If you were hiring this overachiever, peacemaker or failure (using the role the youngster identified), what traits, experience and skills would you be looking for? Important: Encourage them to be very specific.
Keep It Going
Keep the job description strategy going by asking questions that dig a little deeper. This helps the teen to better understand why they might want to eliminate a role. Here are a few sample questions:
What are your thoughts or feelings about this role(s)? What limitations could the role place on you?
What do you gain by playing this role(s)?
(Examples could include avoidance, control, recognition, self-pity, relevance and motivation.)
How do you BEHAVE or ACT in order to reinforce or support this role or belief?
This could include (but not be limited to) responses to others, participation in activities, ways they treat themselves and others, places they choose to go to or avoid, and assumptions and conclusions they make.
Turning Down the Part
There is no shorting of roles a teen can play; some are inspiring and some are limiting. At first glance it’s not always clear which role is which. When a youngster takes a hard look at a job description and its requirements, let them know they are always empowered to turn down the part.