For Teens, the Road to Success is Paved with Self-Discovery

The old adage “Know thyself” is long famous as good advice, usually given to adults. So is another, “To thine own self be true.” But how do teens, in the midst of self-discovery — often a confusing, overwhelming, or lonely time — learn about themselves, discern goals and values, and begin to move forward with confidence?

And equally important, as students return to school and the daily reality of epidemic cheating and bullying among their peers, how do teens continue to be themselves and persevere with their hopes and dreams when they encounter a lack of support, or even derision?

“The greatest gift that parents and the schools can give is that of helping kids to become their authentic selves — and the courage to remain true to themselves,” says parenting expert and author Malcolm Gauld.

Gauld and his wife Laura are the authors of the parenting book, “The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have,” as well as “The Biggest Job” parenting seminars, both rooted in what the Gaulds identify as the 10 Priorities. These priorities, including “Attitude over Aptitude” “Truth over Harmony,” and “Principles over Rules,” are the foundation of the character education program the Gaulds deliver at the network of public and private schools they lead.

With an interest in distilling a program that all parents could work with their teens, and rooted in the same principles, they created a program called “Know Yourself, Be Yourself.”

“We encourage parents to use a positive approach to learn what really reaches their teenagers and connects them to the desire and passion to pursue their best.”

The purpose of the “Know Yourself” workshop is to help students understand how to take risks to discover more about themselves, and to help them find the courage to be themselves, even when others may not support them – a common scenario among teens. Parents may do this program at home with their teens, and now is a great time as they prepare to return to school.

There are three tenets of the program:

  1. We are all unique and we all want to be somebody.
  2. It takes courage to be ourselves.
  3. We need the support and challenge of others to find our uniqueness and to know who we truly are.

“These are themes that develop in adolescence, but remain with us through life,” says Laura Gauld.

As they work the sessions, teens are invited to talk about each of the above points, explain them, define them, and perhaps share a personal example of how they have struggled with this.

They are invited to participate in interactive, often fun exercises, including The Human Knot, and important “Public Self / Private Self” exercises. There is also an essential session on labeling one another, or how students are boxed into categories — the smart one, the dumb one, the fat one, the bully, the one who is creative, or angry, athletic, responsible or irresponsible, etc. — another challenge for teens, and indeed for their parents as well.

Alyssa Thomas, a junior from Washington state:
“It has been an amazing experience to take the time to learn more about myself. I feel like I know who I am and what I stand for. I know I can have flaws and I’m okay with that because I know I can do something about them if I choose. One thing that helps is being in a place where I can talk about my struggles and how I feel, rather than hold everything in, and get feedback from people who care about me. I can’t really understand myself by myself.”

Finally, teens are invited to create declarations about themselves, answering two specific questions:

  1. What dreams do I have for my future?
  2. What do I want to stand for as a person?

“These are guiding principles that will help teens to form their goals, as well as the journey of achieving them,” says Malcolm. “And a process of self-discovery,” says supported by their family, better prepares them for school, and indeed for life.”

Robert Outerbridge, a senior:
“As I begin to understand more about who I am, and accept myself, I develop more confidence and feel as though I make better decisions about
my life.”

Go to Part I