Close this search box.

Empowering Teens: Why Self-Advocacy Matters & How Adults Can Help

Written by Cameron O’Brien, ACC


It is critical to get adolescents accustomed to representing themselves and their interests. Parents and guardians can only act on the behalf of an adolescent for so long; knowing what you need and finding a way to get the need met is a crucial step towards adulthood.

What is Self-Advocacy, and Why Is It Important for Teens to Master?

Self-advocacy is speaking up for yourself and your needs.  People who self-advocate are more likely to thrive in school, work, and life. These skills can be developed at any age, but are particularly useful when harnessed in adolescence. Self-advocacy can enhance a teen’s burgeoning independence, confidence, and resilience. It empowers them to problem solve and use resources where needed.

Research on Self-Advocacy in Young People.

The concept of self-advocacy was born within the context of empowering students with disabilities. It revolved around identifying their needs, rights, and communicating effectively to have accommodations or necessary support met by institutions. However, self-advocacy is a skill that anyone can harness.

Most of the research around self-advocacy is conducted in relation to learning disabilities or special needs. Research demonstrates self-advocacy is linked to higher grade point averages and increased graduation rates in college students with disabilities. It is also a general indicator of the overall success of a student with a disability in college.

A lack in self-advocacy skills in students with disabilities is proven to hinder abilities to meet post-school goals, including higher education.

Three Ways to Help Your Teen Practice Self-Advocacy.

  1. Promote Self-Understanding

Knowing yourself is essential to being an effective self-advocate. Have your adolescent get familiar with their strengths, challenges, wants, needs, dreams, and goals. If your child does have a formal disability diagnosis, it is pivotal that they know their federally protected rights and accommodations. Encourage your adolescent’s introspection by asking them questions about themselves. Here’s a link to conversation starters you can use to jumpstart the exploration.

  1. Emphasize Communication

Discuss with your adolescent the importance of speaking up, whether it’s for themselves, or on the behalf of another person. Have your teen identify people in their life who they admire for their ability to speak out. Ask them questions around their willingness to say something in class, among peers, etc. Give them the safe space to practice self-advocacy at home, and share instances where you advocated for yourself or asked for help. Encourage your teen to identify their needs and communicate them to the household, instead of preemptively acting on their behalf.

  1. Identify Resources

One of the most crucial parts of self-advocacy is knowing to whom you should express your needs. Help your teen identify the resources available to them in school, at work, at home, in sports or activities, or in the community at large. Encourage them to form connections with those resources, so that they will be more comfortable calling on them for assistance in the future. Knowing what options are available is a critical part of strategizing and making decisions. If your teen is unsure about a resource, encourage them to do some research online, or to ask someone who may have a connection for more information.

If you want to learn more tips on how to help teens advocate for themselves, check out our accredited life coaching courses and programs.

Change the lives of youth. Starting today.