Teens are by nature idealistic thinkers who desire meaning and purpose. They have begun looking around to see what others think and then to evaluate those ideas.
What does TV and popular culture tell us is the main goal of life? What do parents tell us is the main goal of life? What does their church-mosque-temple-etc. tell them is the main goal of life?
Most often, messages about purpose and meaning are not directly stated.
For instance, no TV show or movie I’m aware of says, “The main goal of life is romantic love.” But many make that statement indirectly.
Parents may say all manner of things, and their actions may or may not back up those stated beliefs: “Do as I say, not as I do.”
Saying one thing but meaning something else
Likewise, religious organizations may state one thing but indirectly communicate another. For example, the Westminster catechism (a common creed in Protestant circles) says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Yet a church that subscribes to this confession of faith may inadvertently communicate that the main purpose of life is to live a certain lifestyle by a certain set of rules.
Whether mixed messages come from religious institutions, parents, or popular culture, teens are adept at picking up on them quickly.
King Solomon’s great experiment
Try this reading assignment: You and a teen in your life agree to read the book of Ecclesiastes. Taken from ancient sacred writings, it records King Solomon’s great experiment to find meaning in life.
He tried riches, sexual gratification, great projects, education, and other routes to see what activities bring meaning and purpose in this life and what is meaningless—what Solomon calls “a chasing after the wind.”
It’s not a long reading assignment and can lead to some great discussions.
Tweetable: King Solomon’s great experiment to find meaning in life can lead to some great discussions with teens. Click to Tweet
Small children (ages 2 and 3) have a strong desire to help and imitate adult work. With their limited verbal vocabulary, they express interest in the only way they are able.
The window of opportunity doesn’t last forever, and many adults miss it.
Some want to wait until the child is competent to do the dishes before letting them help. Will it take longer than if you did it yourself? Absolutely. You’ll definitely have to re-wash those dishes later when the child isn’t looking. Will they break something? Very likely, although you can pull out the breakables beforehand and let them wash pans and plasticware and spoons.
Other adults miss the cues because the child is not asking to help, but when offered a rag and shown how to wipe dust off furniture, children participate with gusto.Toy manufacturers produce all kinds of household machinery, which make great gift ideas for relatives looking for something at birthday time.
The point isn’t getting the dishes done or the furniture clean.
It’s helping the child learn, gain confidence and find contentment in working independently.
It is another way that we nourish a child’s mental, physical and spiritual self all at once.
Tweetable: Toddlers gain confidence and find contentment when we let them work, though we have to re-do it later. Click To Tweet
I could be in this video. One of my grandfathers had Tourette’s Syndrome, the other grandfather had an undiagnosed movement disorder manifesting in physical and vocal tics. The onset of my tics was somewhere around age 5 or 6.
Other children would pull away from me, stare at me, laugh at me.
My lonely heart provoked me to try suppressing “the jerks,” as I called the jerky, persistent tics. Each new elementary school I entered (and there were 5 of them) brought new resolve to ignore the urges, quiet the sounds and hide the tics, to no avail. Finally, when I was ten years old, something happened and I don’t know what it was, but I was able to resist the urges. At first, I resisted only at school but gave in to them at home. Then, even the urges quieted and the struggle faded into the background of my life.
Partly as a result of this experience, I am mindful of how adversity has a profound impact on our life purpose.
I experienced adversity through ridicule and shunning for five of my early years. Therefore, I (unconsciously) made it my mission to find as many ways to connect as a little girl ever could. And I succeeded. Years ago, I did a Strengthsfinder assessment and my Number One strength is Connectedness.
I find meaning in life by building bridges.
In Child-Centered Spirituality, Connectedness appears in my desire to guide adults as they assist children in integrating all the “parts” of themselves–spirit, body, mind, emotions. In order to do that I draw upon the wisdom of many because I need other people. There’s a lot I don’t know.
Connectedness shows up in Spiritual Direction appointments when people ask me to facilitate their connection with the divine. It’s there when I lead support groups that provide an environment for people to connect with each other for strength, hope and experience. And so on.
From this painful chapter of my young life flows a perspective that I can share with you for the children in your life.
- Children have a limited vocabulary, but they feel and suffer just as adults do.
- A child’s adversity possesses glorious purpose.
- Difficulties in our earlier years often propel us to ultimately accomplish much good.
- After a time of processing childhood adversity with a trusted person (counselor, mentor, relative), some adolescents experience a mid-course attitude correction that redirects them away from negative consequences and points them in positive directions.
Tweetable: Look here for a perspective of childhood adversity to share with the children in your life. Click to Tweet
The more they act out of their motivated abilities pattern*, the greater is a teenager’s satisfaction that they are using their life for its intended purpose –the purpose that they define, based upon the abilities, talents, skills, and temperament they see in themselves.
This exercise from the previous post gives teens in your life some concrete data about who they are: see this link: Guided questions motivational patterns.
They choose eight achievements from the data gathered from the questions.
These should be achievements that are the most important to them. For each item, they write:
- how you got involved in it
- the details of what you actually did
- what was specifically enjoyable or satisfying to you
Look for the pattern
- See the clear, strong connection between who you are and what you have done.
- According to Miller and Mattson, the motivational pattern might be something like
- improve/make better
- meet needs/fulfill expectations
- be in charge/command
Knowing this, teens can now ask themselves: In what careers or environments will I be free to move in my motivated pattern? What educational path will best take me there?
“Isn’t that just like you?”
And so it is that we find the child acquiring his first scooter car when he is 4, his first bicycle at 8, his first car at 16, and his first house at age 30 is still acquiring money or material things at age 60.
The child defending her sister against a bully at age 9 is preoccupied at age 28 with her ministry to people facing personal tragedy or death and is making friends with former gang members at age 45.
Maybe what teens should do with their lives can be found, in large part, within what they have been doing all along.
* Go here for a more detailed description.
Tweetable: Maybe what teens should do with their lives can be found within what they’ve been doing all along. Click to Tweet
Some teens can do anything—they get good grades, are excellent athletes, and are involved with music, drama, editing yearbooks. They can do anything but do not know what to do with their lives. — Miller and Mattson
Miller and Mattson continue, “Hidden behind their multiple interests is the consistency of a particular way of working and playing, a motivational pattern.”
A teen’s motivational pattern unlocks the door to a career they will love.
Extensive research leads to the conclusion that consistent motivational patterns emerge “in rudimentary form by age 10 and are fully fleshed out in mid-teens.” Further, the motivational pattern remains consistent throughout a person’s life.
A poignant example
Kayla Jean Mueller was an American human rights activist and humanitarian aid worker. She was taken captive in August 2013 in Aleppo, Syria, while leaving a Doctors Without Borders hospital and died earlier this year in Syria at age 26.
When she was 22 she wrote to her parents: “Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love. I find God in suffering. I’ve known for some time what my life’s work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering.”
The more teens act out of their motivated pattern, the greater is their own satisfaction that they are using their life for its intended purpose –the purpose that they define, based upon the abilities, talents, skills, and temperament they see in themselves. Here’s an exercise you can give to the teens in your life. To get started, see this link: Guided questions motivational patterns.
Next week : A second exercise to help teens pull out their work pattern from the data they recorded.
Tweetable: Six questions help teens identify patterns in their most satisfyingly consistent way of work and play. Click to Tweet