It’s the question a mother asked me after reading my previous post “Raising phenomenal kids who are self-motivated”. Really, what should parents do when their high school teens haven’t shown any interest or talents in any field?

Michelle commented more than once that she was going to business school because she wasn’t good at anything. I told her it wasn’t true. She is a wonderful writer and good friend to many. Michelle doesn’t want to major in English and therefore dismisses her writing skill as a talent. But my assurance has turned her focus to her strengths instead of weaknesses. Developing characters and virtues in your child is as important as building skills. So as parents, we should be mindful of validating and admiring our teens’ virtuous qualities such as generosity and kindness, which can lead to meaningful careers and fulfilled life. Be creative in cultivating their interests and passions. If your teenager is concerned about environmental pollution, encourage her to form a club at school to discuss the issues and solutions with like-minded peers. Commenting on how nicely your daughter is wearing her makeup or hair will surely put a smile on her face. Asking her to beautify you demonstrates your admiration for her taste.

The fact is everyone is special and unique in some way. In this light, parents are more likely to recognize their children’s strengths and hidden abilities. Again we need to be open-minded and adjust our deeply rooted expectations. If you expect your teen to ace in every subject, play varsity level sports, be musically talented and socially active, you’ll be get disappointed very quickly. Granted, there are kids like that (I have seen them among Jane and Michelle’s friends), but they are few and far in between. You don’t have to tell your children that they’ve failed to live up to your expectations, they know it and can feel it from your tone of voice and your body language. Some will stop trying because they are afraid of disappointing you or themselves again. So if they get a ‘C’ on a test, it’s because they didn’t study not because they weren’t smart.

I met this wonderful lady from the Writers and Poets Group. She told me one day when we were having lunch that her son died at the age of fourteen. I asked her how anyone could get over the tragedy of losing a child. “Poetry. I’ve written a lot of poems over the years.” She replied.

We still have our kids who are beautiful, healthy and have a bright future ahead of them. The adolescent years are turbulent but like everything else will pass. We the parents have to quit being the judges and start being our teens’ allies and advocates. They live in a world that constantly tells them that they aren’t smart enough, pretty enough, skinny enough or manly enough to make it, if our message is also “you disappoint me,” they have no place to turn but their friends and the virtue world behind the computer screen. And we all know it can be a dangerous place.

If things don’t come together for your teens in high school, it’s not the end of the world. There is life beyond that. If I can find a passion for reading and a gift for writing in my middle age, anything is possible. We need to give them the time and space to figure out who they are and what they want to do with their lives. If our love is constant and our acceptance is unconditional, they will accomplish that task either on their own or with our input.

Remember teens act irrationally because their prefrontal cortex (the anterior part of the frontal lobes of the brain) that is responsible for planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making and moderating social behavior are under extensive remodeling during the adolescent years, although other parts of the brain that are essential for survival have been well developed. If they bounce off the wall because of a nonchalant comment (in your mind) you carelessly made, don’t take it personally. We don’t have to agree with them on everything, but how and when we voice our opinion or concern will lead to drastically different reactions. Timing is everything especially with teens. Their hearing receptors immediately switch off when you start lecturing them.

If your son or daughter hasn’t turned into that all-star child of your dream, you need to let go of your definition of success either as a parent or as your child. Treasure and embrace them with open arms, open-mind and a big-heart and they’ll be drawn to you again.