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Your Teen’s Sensory Preference

By Focus on the Family
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Sensory preference has a big influence on success or failure in school and in the choice of a career.

Experts have defined three sensory systems through which people tend to “take in” the world: visual (seeing), auditory (hearing) and kinesthetic (touch, taste, smell). Your teen has a sensory preference, too. It has a big influence on whether he’s succeeding or struggling in school — and on the kind of career that may fit him in the future.

Sensory preference refers to the type of sensory input that registers most quickly in one’s brain. Unimpaired, we’re able to use all the senses. But each of us tends to rely on sight, sound or touch for more of our “data collecting” than on our other senses. We feel most comfortable and understood when we get data through our preferred system — visual, auditory or kinesthetic.

Which of the three senses is best? None. All have their place. We can become competent in any of the three senses — but we still have a natural preference for one.

Collecting information through your preferred system comes easily and energy efficiently. That’s why you tend to gravitate toward, and return to, environments that reward your sensory preference.

Being visual doesn’t mean you need to become a photographer; being auditory doesn’t mean you should be a professional musician; being kinesthetic doesn’t mean you must throw footballs or potter’s clay for a living. But knowing what type of sensory stimuli gets your attention most quickly can help you focus on activities and situations that match your preference. It can also help you to understand why you feel more comfortable in some environments and less comfortable in others.

Auditory people tend to prefer careers that let them use their ability to listen and talk. In which fields do we find them? Here are some examples: musicians, singers, instrumentalists, psychotherapists, counselors, speech therapists, talk-show hosts, public speakers, radio broadcasters, telephone communicators, and foreign language translators.

Visual people tend to gravitate toward careers that allow them to use their sensitivity to appearance — both in absorbing information and in expressing themselves. They usually excel at tasks that require “eagle eyes.”

In which career fields do we find visual people? Here are some examples: airline pilots, firefighters, sharpshooters, marksmen, TV or movie entertainers, designers, models, sign-language translators, and air traffic controllers.

Kinesthetic people tend to select careers that allow them to express themselves in physical ways and in tasks that require “the right touch.”

In which career fields do we find kinesthetic people? Here are examples: athletes, dancers, surgeons, therapists (physical, occupational, or massage), computer programmers, artists (painting, pottery, sculpting), sign-language translators, mechanics, machinists, chefs, and cooks.

Putting the Puzzle Together

Experts say it’s best to structure your life so that about 70 percent of your waking hours are spent in areas where your preferences naturally lie. Life is much more than a career, of course, but since a job takes up a large part of those waking hours — working and thinking about work — your teen will be much happier if her career fits her preferences.

Even within a career field, it’s good to look for a niche that fits your teen best.

Even within a career field, it’s good to look for a niche that fits your teen best. For instance, pediatrics is normally better for a right-brained nurse, while the intensive care unit usually will be a better fit for a left-brained nurse.

If your teen chooses a career that doesn’t match her brain preference, she’ll need to make up for it in other areas of her life. If right-brained Kevin’s job requires him to manage, schedule and make decisions, he’ll want to allow plenty of time for walks in the park, journal writing and singing on the church worship team. These activities will give relief from the brain strain he feels at work.

If your teen is left-brained and extroverted, look into careers that involve negotiating, leadership, goal setting and decision making, management, mechanics or repair.

If your teen is right-brained and extroverted, consider careers that involve troubleshooting, entrepreneuring, self-directed activity (consultant, small business owner, truck driver), marketing, public relations, teaching or counseling.

If your teen is left-brained and introverted, explore fields that involve researching, diagnosing, accounting, bookkeeping, engineering and following detailed instructions accurately.

And if your teen is right-brained and introverted, check out occupations that involve computer programming, acting, music, composing, guiding, counseling, pastoral activities, self-directed work situations (resource specialist or consulting), or designing new things.

Here are three steps counselor Tim Sanford recommends to a teen piecing together her personal puzzle:

  1. Observe and become aware of who you are. Psalm 139:14 says, “I will praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Do you really believe God values you and has created you with unique abilities?
  2. Evaluate yourself honestly. Psalm 139:23-24 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there be any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Have you asked God to show you your weaknesses as well as your strengths?
  3. Get honest feedback from others. According to Proverbs 11:14, “In a multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14, KJV). How many “counselors” (parents, friends, pastors, teachers, etc.) have you asked for help in figuring out your future? Are you open to hearing things from them that make you a little uncomfortable? Or do you listen only to people who agree with you?

Following these three steps will help your teen develop mentally, physically, socially and spiritually (see Luke 2:52) into the person God has designed him or her to become.

Helping Your Teen Narrow the Career Field

Many young people have yet to zero in on a specific dream for the future. One of the simplest — and most effective — ways to help is to encourage them to try a wide variety of activities:

  • Does your son think he’d like to play the guitar? Rent an instrument, get him some lessons and encourage him to work at it for at least six months.
  • Does your daughter like to run? Buy her some good shoes and shorts, and encourage her to go out for the cross country team.
  • Does your son think he might like to work with children, maybe even become a teacher? Encourage him to volunteer with a Sunday school class at your church.
  • Does the medical profession appeal to your daughter? Encourage her to volunteer at a local hospital and to interview your family doctor about “what it’s really like.”

Some of these efforts won’t go so well, but that’s okay. Your child may learn which interests not to pursue — an invaluable lesson. Other efforts will show promise, meriting further study and practice. Sooner or later, one may prove to be the most enjoyable and natural fit in the world.

Adapted from Wired by God: Empowering Your Teen for a Life of Passion and Purpose by Joe White with Larry Weeden, Copyright © 2004, Tyndale House Publishers. Used by permission.

Thanks to Dr. Arlene Taylor and counselor Tim Sanford for their contributions to this article.


Understand How to Respect and Love your Son Well

Why doesn’t my son listen to me? Have you ever asked that question? The truth is, how you see your son and talk to him has a significant effect on how he thinks and acts. That’s why we want to help you. In fact, we’ve created a free five-part video series called “Recognizing Your Son’s Need for Respect” that will help you understand how showing respect, rather than shaming and badgering, will serve to motivate and guide your son.
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