Roots give us strength and purpose
My daughter’s spreading her wings by living in Guatemala for four months before graduating from college. As she’s learning to soar in new and faraway places, we’re learning how important it is to develop roots.
Teens need roots to build their identity. Identities develop in early adolescence as kids separate from parents and gravitate towards peers. They’re trying to figure out who they are. Between ten and twenty, kids learn about themselves and how they relate to others.
Like mighty oak trees, good root systems provide strength, stability and longevity for teens. Roots systems include family, community, and connecting to a broader circle of loving, caring people. When kids establish roots, they know they belong.
When identity and belonging are absent in a teen’s life, they seek places and people where they can find it. They might establish roots in unhealthy peer groups or lifestyles. With families more mobile and busy in a fast-faced society, how can you help your teen develop roots?
- Don’t compromise or minimize the import role family has in a teen’s life. Family is the primary source of root-building. Whether you’re a nuclear family, blended family, or single-parent family, make family time and relationships a priority. Family relationships influence a child’s perception of identity and belonging outside the family.
- Create simple family traditions and talk about them. Passing on traditions or customs from extended family members or past generations grows a child’s identity with history, culture, and people. Sharing your own childhood stories about why you do something creates and builds tradition. Kids love feeling connected to things outside of their immediate world. Is there a certain tool or household item your mom or dad used? Tell the story behind it. It’s a simple task, but it builds roots.
- Tell teens your childhood stories, or stories of their grandparents and great-grandparents. Family stories are important in root building, especially for kids who are missing a parent through death, divorce, absentee parenting, addiction, jail or abandonment. Your family history is important in developing roots, belonging, and identity for a child who doesn’t know much about the other parent.
- Engage in the community. If you’ve lived in a community or neighborhood for a long time, you’re probably plugged into it. Or are you? As teens become adults, community is part of their history even if you don’t live there anymore. Are you involved in school events, connected with a faith community or other family-oriented community agencies? Has your teen developed relationships in your neighborhood or community? If not, get involved in 2014 in developing community relationships with your kids.
- Help your teen belong to groups that are healthy and affirming. While family is the primary source of identity development, social and peer groups are more important as teens seek to belong. Kids develop self-esteem and confidence when they’re part of groups that provide social acceptance. By helping them develop healthy and appropriate groups to be a part of, they avoid the pain of superficial peer groups. Sport teams, music groups, Boys and Girl clubs, youth groups or school activities foster a teen’s interests and confidence while building both community and personal roots for a child.
Take a few moments this year to be mindful about developing roots for your teen or tween. What are ways you’re already building roots for them?
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