How Is Your Teen Wired?

Joe White & Larry Weeden,

Is your teen on the track to a meaningful future? Are you finding out what a joy it can be to help make the most of how God has wired him or her?

Many of us want to help our teens dream big, fulfilling, God-honoring dreams. But how do we do that?

The first step is to understand the great experiment known as your teen. In all of human history, there’s never been another person with your teen’s exact mix of God-given personality, talents, interests and spiritual gifts. As the two of you get to know that unique wiring through self-tests like the ones in the book Wired by God, you’ll start to see which kinds of dreams might make a good fit.

Let’s take a look at how to find out about your teen’s:

Your Teen's Basic Bent

Here are some questions you can use anytime to find out how God has wired your young person:

* “What really drives you?”
* “What’s the most fun you’ve ever had helping someone else?”
* “What dreams do you think God has given you?”
* “What can you do that most people can’t?”
* “What ability would you most like to develop? Why?”
* “If God hired you for a summer job, what would you hope it would be? Why?”

And this one from Doug Fields, a youth pastor: “If you could design a specific way to serve God and knew you wouldn’t fail, what would you do?”

Remember that your purpose is to listen and learn, to better understand and appreciate your teen’s uniqueness. This is not the time for lectures and advice. Figuratively speaking, you need to have big ears and a small mouth, tough skin and a tender heart.

Another way to learn by questioning is to talk with others in your teen’s life: teachers, youth group leaders, coaches, school counselors, Scout leaders, Sunday school teachers, parents of close friends. Ask what they’ve observed about your child’s likes and dislikes, interests and passions, abilities and aptitudes.

Often these people will confirm your own observations. Sometimes, though, they’ll describe a side of your teen that you hadn’t noticed — or offer an insight you’d overlooked.

Your Teen's Interests and Passions

Here’s a way to help your teen pinpoint his or her interests and natural abilities. It’s based on “The Vision Quest,” a tool developed by Tim Sanford, a counselor at Focus on the Family who works with a lot of young people.

Give your teen these instructions:

On a piece of paper, list the things you’ve done since the fourth grade. We’re talking about academics, sports, social events, the arts, student government, hobbies, interaction with family and friends, personal adventures, youth activities, socials, special events, camps, worship, leadership, volunteer work, mission trips, “helping out,” clubs, service projects, job duties, volunteer or assigned tasks, and chores.

You don’t have to compile your whole list at once. Allow two or three weeks, adding to it as new memories come to mind. If you don’t know whether to include something in the list, go ahead and put it down anyway.

Now give each activity a “positive” or a “negative” rating. How did it turn out? How did it affect you?

After several days, pull your worksheet out and think again about the events to which you gave a negative value. Look for patterns. For example, if events connected with mechanical things (fixing the car, building something, helping with props at the school play) consistently ended in disaster, you’re probably not the mechanical type.

Now move to the positive side of the worksheet. Ask yourself the questions below as you look over those events.

* “Is there a pattern or anything these events have in common?”
* “Are some of the activities things I’d like to pursue more?”
* “How can I begin doing more of these kinds of activities?”
* “What kinds of qualities, talents, character traits and skills do these activities require?”
* “Do I have some of those qualities and traits?”
* “Are any circumstances or events missing from my worksheet? If so, what are they, and why might they be missing?”
* “Are there any activities I’ve never done before, but I’d like to try?”

Your Teen's Spiritual Gifts

A spiritual gift isn’t a natural ability with which you’re born. It’s not an office, position or job you hold.

Spiritual gifts are abilities that allow you to perform specific tasks beyond the realm of human skill. They’re given to believers in Jesus Christ only, and they’re given as gifts — not as a result of your maturity level, prayer or education.

Whether all spiritual gifts mentioned in the Bible are still available today is a controversial issue. But it’s generally agreed that every Christian has at least one spiritual gift. It’s up to your teen to discover, develop and exercise his or hers. You can help.

Tell your teen that understanding one’s spiritual gifting has several phases. He can begin by praying to understand the gift(s) the Holy Spirit has already placed inside him. Explain that you don’t ask for a gift, you ask to be made aware of it.

Next, encourage your teen to learn by doing. Help her get involved in situations where she has to depend on God’s Spirit to get something done. Let her work on projects inside and outside your church, getting ongoing, honest feedback from spiritually mature friends and leaders. Suggest that she ask your youth pastor, a coach or a teacher who knows her well what gifts that person sees in her.

There’s no “complete” list of spiritual gifts, but partial lists are found six times in the New Testament. You may want to read these passages with your teen:

* Romans 12:6-8
* 1 Corinthians 12:6-10
* 1 Corinthians 12:28
* 1 Corinthians 12:29-30
* Ephesians 4:11
* 1 Peter 4:11

This discovery process offers two benefits for both you and your teen. First, it’s one of the greatest “treasure hunts” you could ever embark upon. Second, it lets you steer your teen toward experiences that reveal and cultivate gifts that can be used for a lifetime.

Your Teen's Brain Preference

Your teen's brain has two separate but connected halves known as the left and right hemispheres. Each controls different ways of thinking and perceiving. Your teen uses both sides of her brain but has a preference for one over the other.

When you do something that's in line with your brain preference, it doesn't take a huge effort. But a task that requires using the other side of your brain makes it work 50 to 100 percent harder.

The left side of the brain handles sequential, logical, rational thought. Memorizing, spelling, vocabulary, language and mathematical formulas come easily to it. So do following rules and making decisions based on logic, proof, and facts.

The right side of the brain, meanwhile, is in charge of creativity and feelings. While the left side takes bits of information and arranges them in a logical order, the right side entertains random thought patterns.

What does all this mean for your teen's future? It means she'd better take her brain preference into account as she considers the kind of work she'll do and where she'll do it.

Whether she's at work or in school, her brain will want to stay on the side where it functions most naturally. Forcing herself to use the "other" side of her brain all the time can lead to headaches, fatigue, burnout and frequent illnesses - not to mention procrastination, frustration, mistakes, poor concentration, moodiness, memory problems and a pretty low view of herself.

As your teen thinks about what classes to take, remember that subjects like these may be easier for left-brained people: math (algebra, statistics or calculus), history, civics, reading, technical writing, research, electrical engineering, public speaking, debate team, typing, accounting and bookkeeping.

In which career fields do you find more left-brained people? Corporate presidents, chief financial officers, lawyers, physicians, accountants, bookkeepers, auditors, dentists, electrical and electronic engineers, assembly-line workers, managers and supervisors of all types, operating room and intensive care nurses, mechanics and machinists.

On the other hand - or hemisphere - which subjects in school may be easier for right-brained people? Math (geometry, trigonometry), biology, music, creative writing, foreign languages, drama, dance, choreography, chemistry, physics, art, design, philosophy, sociology and cultural anthropology.

In which career fields do you find more right-brained people? Consultants of all types, philosophers, emergency room physicians, psychiatrists, artists, writers, entertainers, musicians, composers, elementary and high school teachers and coaches, actors, dancers, designers, interior decorators, counselors, chaplains, public relations and marketing people, pediatricians and pediatric nurses.

Your Teen: Extrovert or Introvert?

Being extroverted or introverted isn’t a matter of whether your teen “likes people” or “doesn’t like people.” It’s about where he goes to get energy and where he focuses most of his concentration. Introverts find energy in their inner world of ideas, so they require less from the outside world. Extroverts find their energy in things and people; pulled by this outer life of action and interaction, they spend less time with thoughts and concepts.

Can you have both “innie” and “outie” traits? Sure.

Is it better to be an innie or an outie? Neither. Both have their strengths and weaknesses.

If your teen is more of an extrovert, he tends to like action and gets along well in social settings. He’s likely to be an optimist. He gets bored or impatient with slow jobs and slow people, enjoys talking on the phone, and is generally confident and relaxed. He tends to work well under pressure, like when he takes tests.

What jobs do extroverts tend to like? Look for those that provide lots of activity, variety and stimulating input. Your teen probably will do best where he has plenty of interaction with people, many things going on at the same time, and deadlines to meet. Extroverts also enjoy jobs that let them turn ideas into reality.

In which career fields do we find more-extroverted people? Here are some: marketing, restaurant managers and workers, actors, salespeople and sales managers, dental hygienists, bank and office managers, religious and personal service workers, hairdressers and cosmetologists, self-employed business people, and teachers.

If your teen is more introverted, she tends to focus her energies inward; she’s energized by times when she can be alone to ponder her thoughts, let her mind wander. She needs time to reflect before taking action. She’s always asking questions (though not always out loud), tends to be more negative than positive in her outlook, and may get tagged as a pessimist. She tends not to work so well under the pressure of exams.

What kinds of jobs work well for introverts? Consider those that would allow your teen to work alone for much of the time, and where the stimulation level is low. She’ll probably do best where she can have her own quiet space and work at her own pace. She may prefer an environment with fewer deadlines, one that lets her think up ideas and overcome the challenges that stand in the way of their becoming reality.

In which career fields do we find more-introverted people? Electrical and electronic engineers, chemists and other scientists, librarians, archivists and curators, mechanics and other repair people, lawyers, computer programmers, physicians, health technicians, priests and monks, and college professors.

Your Teen's Sensory Preference

Experts have defined three sensory systems through which people tend to “take in” the world: visual (seeing), auditory (hearing) and kinesthetic (touch, taste, smell). Your teen has a sensory preference, too. It has a big influence on whether he’s succeeding or struggling in school — and on the kind of career that may fit him in the future.

Sensory preference refers to the type of sensory input that registers most quickly in one’s brain. Unimpaired, we’re able to use all the senses. But each of us tends to rely on sight, sound or touch for more of our “data collecting” than on our other senses. We feel most comfortable and understood when we get data through our preferred system — visual, auditory or kinesthetic.

Which of the three senses is best? None. All have their place. We can become competent in any of the three senses — but we still have a natural preference for one.

Collecting information through your preferred system comes easily and energy efficiently. That’s why you tend to gravitate toward, and return to, environments that reward your sensory preference.

Being visual doesn’t mean you need to become a photographer; being auditory doesn’t mean you should be a professional musician; being kinesthetic doesn’t mean you must throw footballs or potter’s clay for a living. But knowing what type of sensory stimuli gets your attention most quickly can help you focus on activities and situations that match your preference. It can also help you to understand why you feel more comfortable in some environments and less comfortable in others.

Auditory people tend to prefer careers that let them use their ability to listen and talk. In which fields do we find them? Here are some examples: musicians, singers, instrumentalists, psychotherapists, counselors, speech therapists, talk-show hosts, public speakers, radio broadcasters, telephone communicators, and foreign language translators.

Visual people tend to gravitate toward careers that allow them to use their sensitivity to appearance — both in absorbing information and in expressing themselves. They usually excel at tasks that require “eagle eyes.”

In which career fields do we find visual people? Here are some examples: airline pilots, firefighters, sharpshooters, marksmen, TV or movie entertainers, designers, models, sign-language translators, and air traffic controllers.

Kinesthetic people tend to select careers that allow them to express themselves in physical ways and in tasks that require “the right touch.”

In which career fields do we find kinesthetic people? Here are examples: athletes, dancers, surgeons, therapists (physical, occupational, or massage), computer programmers, artists (painting, pottery, sculpting), sign-language translators, mechanics, machinists, chefs, and cooks.

Putting the Puzzle Together

Experts say it’s best to structure your life so that about 70 percent of your waking hours are spent in areas where your preferences naturally lie. Life is much more than a career, of course, but since a job takes up a large part of those waking hours — working and thinking about work — your teen will be much happier if her career fits her preferences.

Even within a career field, it’s good to look for a niche that fits your teen best. For instance, pediatrics is normally better for a right-brained nurse, while the intensive care unit usually will be a better fit for a left-brained nurse.

If your teen chooses a career that doesn’t match her brain preference, she’ll need to make up for it in other areas of her life. If right-brained Kevin’s job requires him to manage, schedule and make decisions, he’ll want to allow plenty of time for walks in the park, journal writing and singing on the church worship team. These activities will give relief from the brain strain he feels at work.

If your teen is left-brained and extroverted, look into careers that involve negotiating, leadership, goal setting and decision making, management, mechanics or repair.

If your teen is right-brained and extroverted, consider careers that involve troubleshooting, entrepreneuring, self-directed activity (consultant, small business owner, truck driver), marketing, public relations, teaching or counseling.

If your teen is left-brained and introverted, explore fields that involve researching, diagnosing, accounting, bookkeeping, engineering and following detailed instructions accurately.

And if your teen is right-brained and introverted, check out occupations that involve computer programming, acting, music, composing, guiding, counseling, pastoral activities, self-directed work situations (resource specialist or consulting), or designing new things.

Here are three steps counselor Tim Sanford recommends to a teen piecing together her personal puzzle:

1. Observe and become aware of who you are. Psalm 139:14 says, “I will praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Do you really believe God values you and has created you with unique abilities?
2. Evaluate yourself honestly. Psalm 139:23-24 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there be any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Have you asked God to show you your weaknesses as well as your strengths?
3. Get honest feedback from others. According to Proverbs 11:14, “In a multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14, KJV). How many “counselors” (parents, friends, pastors, teachers, etc.) have you asked for help in figuring out your future? Are you open to hearing things from them that make you a little uncomfortable? Or do you listen only to people who agree with you?

Following these three steps will help your teen develop mentally, physically, socially and spiritually (see Luke 2:52) into the person God has designed him or her to become.

Helping Your Teen Narrow the Career Field

Many young people have yet to zero in on a specific dream for the future. One of the simplest — and most effective — ways to help is to encourage them to try a wide variety of activities:

* Does your son think he’d like to play the guitar? Rent an instrument, get him some lessons and encourage him to work at it for at least six months.
* Does your daughter like to run? Buy her some good shoes and shorts, and encourage her to go out for the cross country team.
* Does your son think he might like to work with children, maybe even become a teacher? Encourage him to volunteer with a Sunday school class at your church.
* Does the medical profession appeal to your daughter? Encourage her to volunteer at a local hospital and to interview your family doctor about “what it’s really like.”

Some of these efforts won’t go so well, but that’s okay. Your child may learn which interests not to pursue — an invaluable lesson. Other efforts will show promise, meriting further study and practice. Sooner or later, one may prove to be the most enjoyable and natural fit in the world.

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