January 05, 2015 —

When you think of the word “teen,” what is the first thing that comes to mind? Reckless? Naïve? Incorrigible? I hope not, but I know that some of us think “teen” and roll our eyes, automatically assuming the worst. The truth is, we shouldn’t jump to this conclusion so quickly; in fact, while teens may make mistakes from time to time, the truth of the matter is that they do a lot of good things, too. And as parents, it’s our job to not only recognize these positive behaviors, but encourage them whenever we can. How can you promote your teen’s pro-social behaviors? Teens use a natural model, which I call the EPIC Model, to learn and connect positively with others. Looking to better understand your teen’s behaviors? Start by familiarizing yourself with the EPIC Model—and then, try using it yourself.

Explore
Teens are curious and explorative by nature. Pay attention to new discoveries your child is making. Ask about new interests or activities that catch their attention. Most importantly, support and encourage exploration as this will lead to your teen engaging in activities that help them discover their skills and interests, all leading towards living a more meaningful life.

Play
Teens are playful and like having fun with others. As your child grows up, the way he or she plays grows up, too. What does your son do for fun? What are your daughter’s favorite hobbies? It may appear different than it did when they were toddlers, but these activities still count as play. Play allows teens to test their skills, connect with others and practice conflict resolution—a vital life skill. Resolving conflict usually entails finding common ground, and when teens play, they find ways to reach an agreement since the mutual interest is to continue having fun. Practicing conflict resolution through play helps teens be open and creative in finding shared interests to resolve problems in other contexts.

Inspire
Who does your son admire? What celebrity is hanging on your daughter’s wall? Teens are constantly looking for role models and sources of inspiration. Believe it or not, like you, teens want to figure out life and their place in it. They look to others for guidance, which is why their peers – and you – are so important. However, inspiration is not limited to people. Events, personal experiences, media, nature, dreams and random ideas can all be catalysts in moving your teen forward in his or her development. Think about a moment that was personally inspiring to you. Be more inspired by your teen, and your teen will more likely be inspired by you.

Connect
How many text messages does your teen send in a day? How is your son connecting fully (physically, intellectually, emotionally and intuitively) with himself, family members, peers and the community? What social, political or environmental matters are important to your teen? In addition to connecting with others, teens are also trying to determine who they are and what life they want to live. These existential questions begin in adolescence, but certainly do not end there. Seek connection with your teen as he or she embarks on this journey.

If you want to promote pro-social behaviors, think about how your teen uses the EPIC Model. Pay attention to – and encourage – your daughter when she is doing something positive. Talk to your teen about what matters to him. The more we can recognize teens for their good behavior, the more likely we are to give them the credit they deserve instead of automatically diminishing their value.

Jean-Pierre Kallanian, EdM, has worked with hundreds of adolescents from diverse backgrounds in secure and residential programs in the Massachusetts juvenile justice system. He has seen and dealt with just about every teenage situation including runaways, gangs, assaultive behaviors, substance abuse, mental health, and self-harm. Kallanian has led and advised staff on forming effective working relationships with some of the state’s most difficult youth, many of whom were guilty of serious and violent offenses and had traumatic histories of abuse and neglect. He also has personal experience raising two teenage boys. Additionally, Kallanian has spoken internationally, advocating for the rights of youth in conflict with the law and their social reintegration. He is available to support schools and organizations interested in improving services to young people. For more information go to www.epiconsulting.org. Follow him on Twitter @jpkallanian. If you would like to learn more about this topic and have a peek at his book What You Can Learn From Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth please visit www.whatyoucanlearn.com and www.facebook.com/whatyoucanlearn.