Tips

Give and You Shall Receive

How to help teenagers help themselves

September 15, 2019

Sometimes giving advice to my teenage daughters feels like shouting into
the wind.

Did you know that you’d be able to concentrate better if you got more sleep?

If you put your keys in the same place every day, you’d be less likely to lose them!

Try making a to-do list at the start of the weekend. It will help you manage your time.

Shouting into the wind is, of course, part of the job description for parents, teachers, and anyone else who genuinely cares for the well-being of young people. After all, there are some things we know that they don’t.

But very often, the advice we’re dispensing is nothing new. My daughters
have already been told countless times—by me, their dad, and who knows who else—that they should go to bed earlier, establish routines to stay organized, and plan ahead.

In other words, many young people know what’s best, yet fail to act accordingly.

A few years ago, after working by my side on many failed interventions, a brilliant graduate student named Lauren Eskreis-Winkler came up with an entirely different idea: “What if, instead of telling kids what to do, we asked them to give advice to younger students?”

Lauren soon set to work on interventions that were much simpler than anything we’d done before. When young people are gently prompted to give advice to others, their own motivation and confidence improve.

In one recent study, Lauren and her collaborators found that high school students who were asked to give younger peers advice on study strategies
 and other ways to succeed academically—an activity that took only eight minutes—improved their own report card grades that marking period.

Don’t underestimate the power of kids mentoring kids. Young people are wiser than we think, and both sides may benefit.

Do ask the young people in your life to give advice to others: “Your sister is a little stressed out about final exams. What can she do to manage that?” “I know some people feel worse about themselves after scrolling through their Instagram feed. What do you think they should do to feel better?” In other words, instead of shouting into the wind, listen.

With grit and gratitude,
Angela

About the author

Angela Duckworth is a a co-founder of Character Lab, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and the author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.