Promoting Your Teen’s Success in Life
By Lisa C. Greene
I walked into the family room for the third time today and what did I see? My teenager lounging on the couch, watching a movie. Certainly there must be something he could be doing with his time that would be more productive. There are plenty of chores to be done around the house! In his “defense”, he is a straight A student, almost an Eagle Scout, involved in sports, and it was a busy week. I guess I’ll cut him some slack…this time….
This is a universal issue. A common challenge with teenagers is a lack of initiative or motivation to do more than what is required of them. And when teenagers are achieving below their ability level, it can be especially challenging for parents to know what to do about it. If parents push too hard, they are often met with resistance and rebellion. Letting it go, giving up, and doing nothing is not an effective option either.
In the area of academic achievement, studies have found two general approaches that are helpful (Brooks, 2011, p. 352):
1. Regularly monitoring schoolwork with progress reports and giving positive consequences such as extra privileges and rewards can make a difference.
With our kids, we have always encouraged good grades by giving extra privileges. As long as they maintain an overall B+ average, we pull them out of school once or twice a year for a special family day like snow skiing or an amusement park or whatever they are in to at the time. So far, both kids are A-students and we enjoy these little mini-vacations together without the crowds that are typical on weekends and holidays.
2. Another strategy is to help teens improve their study skills, their academic skills, and their social skills.
• Improving study skills include helping your teen get organized and setting structures in place to encourage good study habits. Teens can also learn specific study skill techniques such as speed reading, memorization helps, etc.
• Parents can help teens improve their academic skills with tutoring, peer-to-peer mentoring, and online educational helps such as Khan Academy (www.khanacademy.org) or iTunes University.
Both of our kids like Khan Academy and during the summer break, we get grade-level workbooks for them to do. We put a fun reward system in to place to help motivate them to complete it. This helps them stay current with their skills through the summer months. We also have a required reading list from the school so that also helps.
• Learning social skills is an important part of helping teens succeed. Social skills programs can be instrumental in helping teenagers become confident with their peers as well as decrease the presence of aggressive, disruptive behaviors that may drive others away, cause social stigma, and even set your child up for bullying.
We sent both of our children to an “etiquette class” (much to their chagrin) but they learned a lot. When they don’t use their manners, my husband and I have fun teasing them about doing another class. Of course, that shapes them right up…
Learning how to manage emotions is critical. “In one study, aggressive boys who were emotionally volatile – irritating, disruptive, and inattentive to others -- have far more problems with peers than do boys who were only aggressive. Thus, these boys must learn to control over-reactivity and attend to others’ needs. Anger management and communication skills programs can help here.” (Brooks, 2011, p. 349)
Parents can also successfully use natural and logical consequences to help teens learn the impact of their poor choices. Parents can logically link poor academic performance to increased video/ computer usage so an effective consequence is to limit screen time until grades improve. Social activities can also be limited so that the teen has more time to study.
A word of warning: Wise parents do not take away everything that matters to a teen to try to force him or her into compliance. This can increase rebellion and/or a sense of hopelessness. Negative consequences should only be used after problem-solving conversations and the other measures suggested have been tried. Professional guidance is recommended if improvement is not made. Depression, which can be present in 10-15% of children and adolescents (and may be higher in the presence of chronic illness), can be a factor.
Hope and a sense of purpose are also powerful motivators. Research has shown that a sense of purpose in life will give teenagers a sense of vitality, motivation, and direction. A sense of purpose is “a commitment to a longer-term goal, an ultimate concern that gives life meaning and guides behavior.” (Brooks, 2011, p. 352)
Researcher William Damon discusses the parenting actions that encourage a sense of purpose (Brooks, 2011, p. 352-353):
• have conversations about your child's interests and activities and support them
• listen and pay attention to what arouses your child's interests and support them
• talk about your own goals and purpose at work
• talk about the practicalities of accomplishing goals and projects
• connect your child with mentors in the community
• support your child's resourceful problem solving skills and reasonable risk taking to achieve goals
• model and support a positive outlook
• help children develop a “feeling of agency” (or a sense of control) linked to responsibility.
As parents, we can accomplish much in the simple, day-to-day conversations we have with our children. Just driving down the road can be a time of bonding and teaching. We can take the time to notice the sparkle in our child's eyes and excitement about a particular subject. We can answer their (sometimes endless) questions and move conversations deeper. We can teach, encourage, and empower them. We can provide the structure, resources, and support to help them reach their goals. And we can give them the message that they are capable and they can do it.
This information applies across the board to all teenagers. When children have medical issues, it is even more important that parents are purposeful in supporting their child’s hopes and dreams.
Reference: Brooks, J. (2011). The process of parenting (8th ed). Mountain View, CA: Mayfield
Lisa C. Greene, BS CCP
Lisa is a national public speaker, writer, parent educator, and a mom of two children with cystic fibrosis. She is also the co-author with Foster Cline MD of the award-winning Love and Logic book “Parenting Children with Health Issues.” Lisa's mission is to help parents learn practical, easy-to-use tools to deal with the everyday challenges of raising kids. Her message is: "You can do it!"
For more information, see www.ParentingChildrenWithHealthIssues.com.