Discovering and using strengths is a path to teen thriving.
Teens have superpowers. Need evidence?
Consider Malala Yousafzai. At just 15, she defied the Taliban by insisting on her (and all girls’) right to go to school. The Taliban shot her in the head, and she survived. Then, she strode right back into the classroom and the public eye to promote equal access to education for all. At 17, she became the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner ever. Her superpowers: bravery, a thirst for learning, perseverance, and a passion for justice.
Malala’s superpowers are on display for the world to see. But each teen has his or her very own set (even if they’re hidden under a Peter Parker hoodie for the moment). What are these superpowers? They’re the strengths of character that form the foundation of a person’s unique impact on this world.
Teens set the stage for thriving when they discover and use their strengths.
Using strengths to thrive is a keystone of positive psychology. Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson, founders of the field, identified 24 universally valued strengths—including hope, zest, and kindness—that form the pillars of thriving. According to Seligman’s model of flourishing, individuals who discover and use their strengths are taking active steps to generate the 5 components of well-being in their lives: positive emotions, engagement, achievement, good relationships, and meaning. Put simply, teens can use their strengths to feel good, do good, do well, and connect both with others and a greater purpose.
Research backs up the link between strengths and well-being for teens, and even shows that strengths can give teens an academic advantage in school. What’s more, some studies suggest that cultivating strengths may have a bigger payoff for personal growth and well-being than “fixing” weaknesses.
How do teens discover and build their strengths?
Like muscles, strengths of character can be enhanced over time with attention and effort. And, compared to adults, teens’ efforts to grow their strengths might be especially effective. That’s because teens’ brains are remarkably plastic. This malleability makes the teen years a perfect time to learn and build positive habits that can last a lifetime.
At iThrive, we encourage teens to take charge of their well-being by finding opportunities in both the real and virtual worlds to practice habits that align with the strengths of positive psychology.
Here are 3 things teens can do right now to reveal and strengthen their superpowers:
1. Be curious.
Exploring different identities and possible future selves is a key part of teens’ development. Make strengths a part of that exploration. Teens can take the free VIA Youth Survey to discover their signature strengths. Once those are tallied up, teens can ask themselves: Where did my strengths come from? How and where can I use them more often? How far can I take them?
2. Adopt a growth mindset.
How far can teens take their strengths? Time will tell for each individual. But teens are likely to feel motivated to grow their strengths if they believe their abilities can be stretched and magnified through effort. Teens who think in this optimistic and expansive way are practicing what Carol Dweck calls growth mindset, a state of mind that has established links to achievement and resilience among youth. One way to cultivate a growth mindset is to frame failures as opportunities to learn.
Play expert, Stuart Brown, argues that humans of all ages are built to play and learn important skills through play. For teens, video games are one socially acceptable way to incorporate playfulness regularly into their lives (Related: Why Do Teens Play Video Games?). And through this type of play, teens stand to improve their self-awareness. Video games prompt players to constantly reflect on their skills and strengths in order to assess their readiness to take on the challenges at hand. Many video games also offer the opportunity to try on a range of identities and roles. Does a particular teen gravitate towards embodying the healer, the warrior, the builder, the explorer? These tendencies may uncover strengths that teens can explore further in their offline worlds.
Have video games ever helped you identify one of your signature strengths? Tell us about it!