Hopefully many of you were able to check out last weeks’ post, which is the Part 1 of this series on Teens and Motivation. If not, click here to read it!
Today, I am going to focus on the building blocks of motivation that I briefly mentioned last week and that were discussed at length in my talk at Halstrom last Thursday!
Often, when I talk about pulling back as parents, this can be confused with just not being as involved. I would actually encourage parents to be super connected with their teens. Ask them how things are going, make a special weekly date with them (it might need to involve some sort of treat for them to really want to do it at this point), plan separate vacations, but find ways to connect. Whatever they are “into,” try to find some common ground there and spend time talking about it.
The really cool part about the teen years is that parents can stop being so parent-like, most of the time. Chat with your teens, share more with them about your life and who you are, and above all, try not to lecture. At least not on a daily basis J Teens want to be heard and seen by the people who care about them, including you.
Have a little faith:
So first we connect and now we try to have faith. Faith that your teen can problem solve, can recover from mistakes, and can ultimately be successful. As parents, we need to project confidence in our teens and let them know we believe in them. Even when you are worried and feel like they are totally screwing up… find ways to let them know that they have it in them to succeed and figure it out. Be supportive but not overbearing when they make a mistake. Try not to jump in and fix it for them but offer help if they would like it. And if they don’t take your offer, let them know that you have full confidence they will figure out a good solution by saying things like, “I know you can do it,” “I know you will be able to figure this out.”
Let them make mistakes!
This is a tough one… especially with all of the pressure that parents and teens are feeling these days. Teens talk to me all the time about the pressures of school and of the future. They are feeling as though every single decision they make now will adversely impact them in the future. Unfortunately, parents are often feeling that way too. When parents and I talk about ways they can pull back, save their kids less, and let them make mistakes SO many issues come up for them. But, it’s their junior year and if they get a bad grade, they won’t get into college. But, if they fail now, they will feel bad, like a failure, try less hard later in life. But, I just can’t bear to see them hurting. The list goes on and on.
These are serious concerns by very loving, involved parents and while I hear them and understand them, these concerns let me know that parents are approaching their teen differently than I would recommend. These parents are approaching their teens as fragile, as people one step away from something amazing or terrible, and as images of their own success as parents. It is so hard for parents to separate their identity sometimes from their kids or teens successes and failures and often it is their own fear of failure or need to protect their teen from every possible negative outcome that drives this way of thinking. And while that is understandable, it is not helpful. If parents care more about the outcomes than their teens, the teen will not learn the needed lesson of a mistake.
For most parents to be okay letting their teen make a mistake, we have to really look at what mistakes or failures are. They are an opportunity to learn and to grow. They are an opportunity to be disappointed in your choices and to choose to make better ones. Not only is it impossible for a person to avoid mistakes or for a parent to protect their child/teen from pain or failure, it is not helpful. I would like to repeat that, it is impossible to avoid mistakes or to protect your child/teen from pain or failure. And, if you try to do so, you prevent your teen from learning valuable lessons. Unfortunately, they need to screw up so that they can learn and grow into responsible adults. We can help them through this by connecting, believing in them, and not making it about us.
Consequences are still important:
Even though we are focused on connection and believing in your teen, consequences still need to be given and followed through on by parents when the teen does make mistakes. As we all know, there are no free passes in our world. If you show up late to work too many times, you are most likely going to be fired. So, we need to avoid giving our teens free passes too. If they screw up and break the rules, a consequences needs to be given.
The best way to approach consequences is as follows: First, make sure you and your teen are on the same page about expectations. Often this will involve a written list or agreement as this helps prevent “teenage amnesia.” Second, make sure your teen knows the consequences for their actions – it’s a great practice to include it on the list. Third, when they mess up, discuss it gently with them. If you are instantly angry about it, try to take some time to calm down so that you can approach them from a more neutral place. This way, you can try to get more information about what happened. When parents yell, kids and teens all shut down and stop talking because they think it is the best way to avoid getting in more trouble. So, being calm and talking with them about it will get you much more information. Fourth, while talking with them about the situation, whatever the mistake is, try to brainstorm ways to avoid such a problem in the future. If it is a low grade, perhaps you can offer support in terms of tutoring or going over homework or test information together. Fifth, discuss the consequence and you can even see what your teen would think is an appropriate consequence. Often, when teens feel that they are in control, understand the situation, and do not feel shamed or blamed, they can be really reasonable and understand that consequences are needed.
Quick Tip: Try not to lecture too much at this point. Teens learn best through actions, not long parent led lectures. This is hard, because so often you are likely to be trying to give them wisdom, support, and advice but if it comes off as a lecture, they will stop listening.
Listen and let them lead:
This is the last ingredient but one of the most important. Please listen to your teen. That’s it… just try to hear what they are saying. Try to see the people they really are, not the people you had hoped or wished they would be. All of the teens I work with are amazing in their own ways and universally, they just want to be heard and appreciated.
They also want autonomy over their choices. They want to choose the schools they apply to and decide who they are going to date and hang out with. It is so important that they have this autonomy as this is a building block of what will help in their motivation. If they make choices that do not work out, they then are more likely to own that choice rather than blame it on their parents. If you are trying to force a teen to do something, they will not own that choice or outcome.
That’s it for now! Thank you so much for reading and please stay tuned for our blog next week where we talk more specifically about how these parenting strategies support and tie into building Teen Motivation!
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