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Motivating Teens for Success

Published on: December 30, 2013

successful-student-teen-girl-thumbs-upAs school starts, often so do the parent-teen struggles. Perhaps yours were even pervasive through the summer as your teen spent time playing video games and watching TV, instead of paying attention to the things YOU thought he or she should be doing.

But with school starting, parents often struggle to give teens enough personal responsibility to grow and become more independent, while also ensuring they are getting their schoolwork done and keeping their grades top of mind. Monumental battles can result as you try to motivate your teenager to do what is right.

Motivating teens and preparing them for success takes finesse and forethought. No longer can you tell your teen what to do and expect it to happen. Instead there is a need to help an adolescent understand the importance of his or her actions or inactions.

It’s important to understand a couple of things about the teen brain. First, until about age 24 the pre-frontal cortex is not yet fully developed. This is the area that controls risk assessment, impulses, emotion regulation and decision making. Second, the teen brain perceives rewards more intensely and seeks out social rewards more commonly. Knowing this can help you better understand how your teen is thinking.

It’s also important to understand that as parents, we are developing, too. According to Ellen Galinsky’s six parental stages, adolescence is a time when parents struggle with supporting and ensuring their child’s safety while giving up enough control to help their teen become more independent and prepared for adulthood. Galinsky is an acclaimed child development researcher and author as well as co-founder of the Families and Work Institute in New York.

With all of these intricate and complex issues, how can parents motivate teens to be successful in school, jobs, extracurricular activities and life in general? Following are some tips from Youth Eastside Services’ parent coach Jennifer Watanabe:

First, be sure your teen feels loved unconditionally — no matter his or her behavior. Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting says, “When your child seems to deserve affection least, that’s when they need it most.”

Parents need to develop skills to be encouraging, using such phrases as: “I appreciate your help… I noticed you worked hard… I know you can do it,” and more.

It helps to remember that your teen is growing up, not grown up. Look at mistakes as learning opportunities.

Ask what your teen is learning about being respectful, caring for others, solving problems and cooperating.

Work on having a good relationship with your teen where there is mutual respect, good listening and efforts to understand each other. If your relationship is not in a good place, work to make it better. There are many internet resources on developing positive relationships with teens and counselors can also help.

Lastly, you need to empower your teen to make good decisions and discover just how capable he or she is.

Finally, facilitating resilience in your teen will aid in better decision making and a healthy sense of self. Help your child make friends; engage teens in age-appropriate volunteer activities; maintain a daily routine; and help kids set attainable goals with steps to achieve them. You can also teach your child ways to take a break from stress or worrying through creative activities like music or art, or other things he or she enjoys.

There are many books and classes available to help parents manage the teen years, including Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen and Wise-Minded Parenting by Laura S. Kastner, Ph.D. YES offers a number of teen parenting classes as do other ParentMap partners. Individual parent coaching may also be helpful. There are a several parent coaches, including Jennifer Watanabe at YES, who talk one-to-one with parents to problem-solve issues in their home. For a directory of local coaches, visit the Parent Coaching Institute.

Patti Skelton-McGougan is Executive Director of Youth Eastside Services . YES is a nonprofit organization and a leading provider of youth counseling and substance abuse services in the region. Since 1968, YES has been a lifeline for kids and families, offering treatment, education and prevention services to help youth become healthy, confident and self-reliant and families to become strong, supportive and loving. YES accepts insurance or Medicaid and offers a sliding scale with no one turned away due to inability to pay.

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