Teach Your Teen to Have a Growth Mindset: Why it Matters and Powerful Strategies that Work

by Nancy Reynolds

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It’s been said that when our kids have a growth mindset they view their failures as learning curves, obstacles in their path as opportunities, and they consider themselves a creative work in progress.

But tell that to a frustrated teenage boy who’s sitting at the kitchen table after school trying to comprehend his math homework and none of it seems to make sense or to a teenage girl who practiced for months to make the high school lacrosse team only to get the disappointing news that she wasn’t selected. 

To a teenager who’s struggling in virtually any area of their life, it can be difficult to view life’s challenges, setbacks and failures as opportunities to learn or stepping stones to grow.

So how do we instill and nurture a “can-do” attitude in our teens? How do we encourage them to climb mountains they never thought possible, be brave even in the toughest of storms, bounce back with mental toughness, and ride the tumultuous waves of life with resilience and buoyancy?

It all begins with a growth mindset…

Teach Growth Mindset to Your Teen: Why it Matters and Powerful Strategies that Work

What is a Growth Mindset?

The concept of growth mindset was developed by psychologist, Stanford professor and author of the bestselling book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck, who became interested in students’ attitudes about failure.

Dweck and her colleagues noticed that some students rebounded while other students seemed devastated by even the smallest setback.

What they found is that people typically adopt two types of mindsets: “fixed” and “growth.” 

“In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence, skills, abilities or talents, are simply fixed traits. They believe that talent alone creates success. Whereas, people with a more persistent growth mindset believe that they can substantially change their intelligence, skills, abilities, and talents with effort.”

Dweck goes on to say that people with fixed mindsets are notorious for saying things like, “I can’t.” “I’ll never be good enough” and “I failed, so there’s no use in trying again.”

In our teen’s life, it might sound something like, “I’ll never learn Algebra, it’s just too hard,” “I would have passed that test if I was smarter,” or “No matter how hard I try, I’ll never make the team – I’m just not good enough.”

But according to Dweck, they can learn, they can get smarter and they can get better and more adept at practically anything they set their mind to because nothing is fixed unless our kids allow themselves to believe that – not their abilities or talents, not their skills or intelligence. Their potential rests completely and fully in their hands.

How to Help Your Teen Foster a Growth Mindset

#1 Teach Them Words Like “Neuroplasticity”

Our teens may not realize it, but their brain is composed of 86 billion neurons. While it was once widely believed that the creation of neurons stopped shortly after birth, experts have now determined that the brain possesses the remarkable ability to modify, change and adapt to its environment throughout life. It can reorganize pathways, make new connections and, in some cases, create new neurons – called neuroplasticity, or brain plasticity.

What does that mean for our teens? According to Stanford University, it means that our teens’ ability to learn is not fixed. In other words, their ability to learn can be dramatically changed by effort.

One study showed that kids who read and learned about their brain and how it changes and grows in response to challenges were far more likely to persevere when they did fail because they didn’t view those failures as permanent. They learned that they held the power to control outcomes in their life based on the effort they were willing to put forth.

#2 Instill the Word “Yet” in Their Vocabulary

The next time your child comes to you and complains that they’re not good at soccer, that they’ll never understand their AP History homework or that it’s no use, they’ll never be able to play the piano well, tell them:

“You’re not good at soccer yet.”

“You don’t understand your AP History homework yet.”

“You’re not able to play the piano well yet.”

Encouraging your teen to integrate the word “yet” into their vocabulary will help remind them that with time, effort, and perhaps a heaping spoonful of tenacity, they can overcome anything and reach their goals.

#3 Foster Grit

Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania, former seventh-grade math teacher, and author of the bestselling book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, says that having grit is a powerful predictor of both academic and professional success.

‘“Grit is passion, perseverance for long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your goals day in and day out and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

The next time your teen wants to cave in or give up altogether, encourage them to keep going, keep trying and keep their eye on the prize. It’s that “stick-to-itiveness,” that grit, that will set them apart from the rest and ultimately help them reach their goals.

#4  Praise Pliable Efforts

We’ve all read about the importance of acknowledging and praising our kids’ efforts. But when we’re fostering a growth mindset in our teens, it goes a bit deeper than that. It’s about praising our kids for their pliable efforts – i.e., efforts that can be manipulated and influenced by their efforts.

Their persistence in the face of difficulty, their hard work even when they felt like giving up, their ambition to try something new even when they were scared, their determination and progress in school, in sports, or at their job – by praising their pliable efforts, not only will you be acknowledging and applauding efforts that they have full control over, you will also be subtly encouraging them to repeat the behavior by instilling confidence.

#5 Write Down Ambitions, Goals, Dreams

Ambitions, goals and dreams – every teen has them (even if they don’t admit it or perhaps even realize it). But no amount of wishing, wanting or dreaming will help them reach their goal(s) – at least without some pre-planning.

Experts agree that even our teen’s most audacious goals have a serious shot of being attained, providing they write them down.

According to one study conducted by Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at the Dominican University of California, people who write their goals down are 42 percent more likely to achieve them. Plus, it can help make our kids’ ambitions, goals and dreams far more concrete and help them stay motivated and focused.

#6 Take on Challenges

Elbert Hubbard once said, “The greatest mistake you can make in life is to continually fear you will make a mistake.” And, considering the teenage years are oftentimes when self-assurance is low, putting themselves out there and risking failure isn’t easy for most teens.

It’s all about baby steps. It’s about shattering the negative self-talk that prevents them from taking that next step and finding the courage to take on challenges despite the fact that they might fail miserably.

To me, fearless is not the absence of fear. To me, fearless is living in spite of those things that scare you to death,”  ~Taylor Swift

#7 Focus on the Journey, Not the Destination

Fueled in part by social media, friends, the culture we live in, and, well… being young, teenagers are notorious for focusing on the final destination. “When I get to college, I’ll be able to call all the shots in my life.” “When I get my own car, I won’t have to constantly bug my parents to drive me everywhere.” “When… when… when.”

What they don’t realize is that the slow and steady progress that they’re making day in and day out is where most of life’s lessons are. Their journey is where the amazing transformations are happening in their life. By being appreciative and mindful of where they are, how far they’ve come, and where they’re headed, they’ll learn to fall in love with the process of life – the ups, the downs, the challenges, and the triumphs.

#8 Pay Attention to Your Mindset, Parents

Whether we realize it or not our kids are watching everything we say and do. We may not think they’re noticing; we may not think they’re taking it all in and filing it away, but they are. Be mindful of your own words and actions and do your best to foster a growth mindset in your own life. Your kids are far more likely to model your behavior than they are to listen to your words or lectures.

It might take some work, but teenagers stand to gain a lot by adopting a growth mindset and putting the processes into action. The intentional effort of viewing the glass as half full and focusing on their own goals, journey, and life will give them a richer sense of who they are, what they stand for, and how they want to move forward in life.

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re probably right.” ~ Henry Ford

Resources for this article include:

If you enjoyed, “Teach Growth Mindset to Your Teen: Why it Matters and Powerful Strategies that Work,” you might also enjoy reading:

Are You Raising a Child with Enough Grit to Succeed? 5 Signs to Tell Plus 4 Ways to Develop It

Mentally Strong Teenagers Have Parents Who Refuse to Do These Things

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Laura July 17, 2022 - 4:19 pm

I absolutely love this post. As a high school math teacher I am often faced with students who have already decided whether or not they are “good at math”. I find their parents feel the same way. It is difficult to have students start each year fresh, when their parents are also having trouble starting fresh. Students who have struggled in the past do not have to struggle moving forward. In the same respect, students who have always done well may not. I need parents to stop giving their kids permission to be “bad at math” and to stop blaming teachers because their child “was good at math until now.” I want students to walk in open and I need parental support to do that. This post will be in my classroom at the beginning of the year. Thank you.

Nancy Reynolds July 17, 2022 - 6:34 pm

Thank you so much for your insight. As a teacher, I’m sure it can be heartbreaking to see students “give up” not realizing that they really DO have the power to change their abilities and they really CAN be good at math, science, language arts or anything else, providing they set their mind to it. I wish school and college administrators would pass along this vital message to their students so they wouldn’t lose hope. The brain is magnificent – totally pliable! Thank you, again, for sharing your thoughts! I hope your students are encouraged when reading this post!


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