Everyone has talents. No one is good at everything, but everyone is good at something and can improve the talents and gifts they have. Youth especially need to feel successful at something. Those who do are less likely to use alcohol or drugs or exhibit other negative behavior to fit in or feel worthwhile. If they do experiment out of curiosity, youth who feel successful in some way are less likely to continue the behavior and develop more serious problems. Talents or gifts include the obvious things -- getting good grades, having musical ability or being a good athlete. But being a good listener, being persistent or being friendly are also gifts. Parents and teachers may need to be talent scouts to see the less obvious gifts and help youth see and appreciate their own abilities. Consider these tips to help youth discover their talents. • Provide them with opportunities to pursue their interests and discover their unique abilities. Lessons, clubs, extra-curricular activities, field trips or structured youth activities can provide opportunities that spark talents.

• Recognize and praise them for their efforts. Whether they excel in a particular activity or not, youth should be praised for trying. Trying takes courage.

• Avoid comparisons with others whose gifts are different. Celebrate the unique talents of each child. Point out the less obvious gifts, such as being good with animals or being sensitive to other people's feelings.

• Give them opportunities to contribute using their talents. Being recognized for useful and worthwhile contributions helps youth feel important. If youth can fit in by doing positive things, there will be less need for them to find their niche doing negative things.

• Help them know the difference between self-esteem and selfishness. Often youth may feel they don’t have enough self-esteem to try something new or share the talents they have. It is important to remember that self-esteem can often be confused with self-centeredness or selfishness. In that sense, self-esteem doesn't necessarily lead to good behavior. Many criminals or juvenile delinquents have high self esteem. On the other hand, there are many people who have accomplished much in the world who didn't necessarily have high self-esteem. For example, Abraham Lincoln didn’t have high self-esteem in the way we think of it today, and yet his talents and abilities positively affected the course of history. Youth develop a true sense of self-worth from the things they give rather than from the things they get. Helping them develop their gifts and providing them with opportunities to contribute to the good of others through using those gifts builds self-worth. It also lays the foundation for being a lifelong contributing member of society. Visit http://extension.usu.edu/cooperative/aska/ to see other Ask A Specialist columns.


By: Tom Lee - Nov. 1, 2003