Twelve Talks to

Have With Teens


Identity development is a central task of adolescent development. Who am I? How do I fit in? What is my role? What do I believe in? These are all key questions adolescents are asking themselves. Important dimensions of identity formation include race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. Talking to an adult they trust can help youth form a positive sense of personal identity.

  • During adolescence, teens are much more self-conscious about their changing identities than at any other stage in their lives.


  • Adolescence is usually the first time a person considers many of the dimensions of their own identity, including:

    • Family 

    • Culture 

    • Race & Ethnicity

    • Sexuality

    • Gender

    • Faith

    • Social 

  • Part of developing a strong sense of self is questioning values (including faith, politics, sexuality or dating expectations), setting educational goals, use of alcohol and drugs and much more. It's normal for parents and caregivers to struggle with balancing setting healthy boundaries with empowering them to develop their own set of values and sense of self.

  • Many teens use their body as a form of self-expression, which can include how they dress and use make-up, hairstyles or hair colors, jewelry, accessories, piercings and tattoos. In some cases, these choices will challenge social or gender norms. While it's totally normal for parents and caregivers to sometimes find these experiments surprising and confusing, keeping your emotions in check in order to have a conversation about what the change means to your teen — and remaining curious about why they are expressing themselves that way — can help you and your teen better understand their identity.


  • Adults can support teens’ development of a positive sense of self by encouraging on-going discussions and providing consistent support as they explore who they are and who they will become.

How to start a conversation

  • Use the protests, outrage over George Floyd’s murder, and discussions on racial injustice to start an in-depth conversation about how racism exists in our community.

  • June is Pride Month, which is a great conversation starter to discuss gender and sexual orientation. Ask them what they think of the posts on Instagram about stereotypes @jeffco_ctc. Another conversation could be about the recent Supreme Court decision clarifying that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 extends to LGBTQ+ people.

  • Ask your teen open-ended questions, perhaps including questions such as:

    • I was just reading about “identity.” I’m curious about what you think people mean by identity?

    • What do you think has the biggest effect on how you see yourself? What about how other people perceive you?

    • What do you wish I knew about you? 

    • What do you wish I understood better about you?

    • If there was one thing I could be more supportive about in your life, what would that be?

    • How do people react to you or your friends in a way that you think is based on stereotypes?


  • Tell your teen your stories about your family, your experiences, your history, challenges you faced, a time you stood up for yourself, etc. Ask to hear their stories.


  • Role models can help teens imagine different roles or options for their future selves. You could ask open ended questions about who they see as role models. Ask what about the role model is appealing to them and why.

Quick tips

  • Exploring who you are and what you value can be extremely stressful and anxiety provoking. One option is to help your teen (and you!) find coping strategies that work for you.

  • If your teen shares an identity you didn't expect or may not support, try very hard to react calmly and just listen. If your initial reaction is negative, try to delay a discussion until you feel calmer.

  • Be open to your teen seeing things differently than you do. Whenever possible, role model having curiosity about opinions that are different from your own.


  • Build relationships with people who have different identities from your own. Ask open ended questions, in a way that is respectful, to learn more about how they experience the world. 


  • Key phrases to keep your teen talking about identity issues might include: “Tell me more.”; “I hear you.”; “What else?” 


  • When your teen opens up to you, point out their courage and thank your teen for trusting you enough to share with you.

  • A great way to start a conversation is to watch movies or shows with your teen that explore issues about race, religion, gender, sexual identity, etc. Then, talk about what you both thought. Some ideas are: 

Things to do

  • Suggest that you and your teen both take a personality exercise. A few options include: 

    • 5 Love Languages quiz: This quick quiz provides insights into the ways individuals most appreciate others demonstrating love. If your teen takes the quiz, the results may give you ideas for letting your teen know how much you love them.

    • The Social Identity Wheel worksheet that prompts youth to fill in various social identities (such as race, gender, sex, ability disability, sexual orientation, etc.) and further categorize those identities based on which matter most in their self-perception and which matter most in others’ perception of them.

    • The Personal Identity Wheel is a worksheet that prompts youth to list adjectives they would use to describe themselves, the skills they have, favorite books, hobbies, etc. Unlike the Social Identity Wheel, this worksheet doesn’t emphasize perception or context.



  • American Academy of Pediatrics article on Gender Identity Development in Children discusses promoting healthy gender development in children. It helps to understand gender identity and how it forms.


Recommended Resource


From Youth Celebrate Diversity

Other Recommended Resources

  • In this webinar, the Trevor Project introduces adults to LGBTQ+ terminologies, to understanding the increased risk of suicide among LGBTQ+ identifying youth, and to learning best practices on supporting LGBTQ+ youth, in general, as well as when they are having thoughts of suicide.

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* Healthy Kids Colorado Survey 2019, Jefferson County data; **Jefferson County CTC Youth Town Hall data 2019 & 2020.


This project was created by the Jefferson County Communities That Care coalition and is housed within Jefferson County Public HealthThis resource was developed with funding from a Communities That Care grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, a grant from Community First Foundation and a Drug-Free Communities grant from the Office of National Drug Control Policy and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The views, policies and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the grant providers.