Help your teenager develop their strengths

When we actively use our strengths we are likely to be happier, more engaged in our work and experience a better quality of life. Helping your teen to understand and build on their strengths will give them the tools to face challenges and create more positive outcomes for themselves.

girl and mother in casual clothes sitting on bed talking

Take the VIA (Values in Action) Survey to understand your teen’s strengths

Over one million people have taken this unique survey developed by Professor Martin Seligman and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania.

The VIA Survey identifies 24 different character strengths, all of them positive. It ranks the strengths in order, with the strengths that come most naturally to your teenager at the top. The strengths that rank lower are the ones that they are likely to find more challenging.

Research shows that people who are actively aware of their strengths are nine times more likely to flourish. Get your teen to take the Via Survey – and think about taking it yourself – and then use the following tips to help them develop their strengths further.

Focus on developing natural strengths first

Research shows that people who use the strengths that come most naturally to them are three times more likely to experience a great quality of life. They are also six times more likely to be engaged in and enjoy their work.

After you’ve both completed the survey, have a look at the strengths that come most naturally to you both. Have a chat about how you can both play to these and use them even more in your lives using the questions below. Try and do some thinking beforehand so you have examples up your sleeve!

  • How are you already using and benefiting from your natural strengths?

  • What other areas of your life could benefit from using these same strengths?

  • What could they take up or do more of that would help them develop these strengths?

Work on new strengths that your teen would like to develop

Although some strengths come more naturally than others, we’re all capable of learning and developing new ones.

In your chat about the survey results ask if there are there any strengths they admire in others – family, friends, role models – that they would like to build on in themselves? There are 6 different classifications that group the 24 character strengths together. Here are some tips on how to work on each area identified in the VIA Survey.


  • Encourage them to develop their imagination. They could try writing a short story, playing Dungeons and Dragons, or just making time to gaze out the window and daydream.

  • Make it enjoyable for them to increase their knowledge. Each day you could learn the meaning of a weird new word together.

  • Help them to acquire more wisdom. Find inspiring video documentaries or true-life stories of people who faced great challenges and came though that you can watch together and talk about .


  • Help them to practise handling conflicts. Which kinds of conflict do they usually avoid? Rehearse with them what they could say, and how they would say it, in those situations.

  • Help them to be true to themselves and to follow through when they say they’ll do something. For instance, when a friend asks for their opinion on an outfit, or an idea for a group hang, encourage them to give honest feedback. And, to help them follow through on time-sensitive things, get them in the habit of putting reminders in a planner or calendar.


  • Encourage them to behave compassionately. Suggest small, unexpected things they can do for others, and talk to them about how smiling at people can lift everyone’s spirits.

  • Help them to notice emotions more. You could get them to write down five emotions they’ve experienced each day, and talk with them about how each day is different.


  • Help them to seek inspiration. Point them to a biography or video of a famous person you think they’ll identify with. Suggest that they think of ways they can use what that person did and apply it in their own life.

  • Encourage them to volunteer their services. Find a charity they like and support them to work with that charity to achieve a goal.


  • Help them to put themselves in another person’s shoes. When they fall out with a friend, encourage them to think about what happened from their friend’s point of view – for instance, what might have made them do or say what they did?

  • Encourage them to listen more than they talk. Suggest that in conversations they ask questions of the other person, rather than talk about themselves.


  • Suggest that they make a note of the things they see that they find beautiful or interesting. Encourage them to post something – natural or human-made – to Instagram every day and say what they find beautiful about it.

  • Help them to see the positive side of people, places and things. Get in the habit of asking them to tell you about the things, little and big, that went right that day that they are happy about and thankful for.

  • Help them to see the funny side of life by pointing out the humour in everyday situations. At family dinner, get everyone to share something funny that happened to them or to tell their fave lame joke.

Working on your strengths together is a great opportunity for you and your teenager to connect. Plus, building strengths can make people better at managing problems and relationships, more confident, less stressed and overall, happier in life.