Tony’s parents are worried about him. Socially he gets along well with people, but academically he just got by last year. He’s starting his junior year, and his parents have tried to tell him how important this year’s grades will be when he’s applies to colleges next year.
There was lots of tension between Tony and his parents when grades came out last year. His mom and dad kept asking Tony if he’d gotten his homework done, but he’d just mumble some vague reply about having it under control. Tony found his parent’s efforts annoying, even.
Tony’s parents might be better off talking to him about his long-term goals. While he says he wants to go to college, he doesn’t have any real ideas about what he might like to study or what kind of career he’d enjoy. Because he lacks clarity about the life he’d eventually like to have, he doesn’t connect the present to the future. No wonder he’s focused primarily on satisfying his immediate desires.
How can parents motivate their teenagers? One method proven effective is having discussions that lead the young person to discovering what talents, interests, and strengths they possess. Parents can initiate a series of constructive conversations about potential areas in which their offspring might find success and satisfaction. These crucial questions are designed to expand an adolescent’s perceptions:
- What activities do you enjoy doing every day?
- What do you daydream about doing?
- What have you done that’s made you feel successful?
- When have people told you that you have a gift for doing something?
- What’s gotten you recognition or awards?
- When have you found yourself helping others?
- When do you feel proud of yourself?
- What subjects do you find most interesting?
- What have you been able learn quickly and easily?
- What is it that you’d like to learn to do even better?
- What do you seem to have a natural talent for doing?
- What activities outside of school do you find most satisfying?
- What do you get excited about doing?
By paying attention to how different activities generate positive feelings, Tony can begin to figure out what he might enjoy doing as a career. The goal would be for Tony to identify at least three areas in which he can make statements such as: “I feel I’m at my best when…” “What I like to do the most is…” “What I’m naturally good at doing is…”
Presently Tony’s life is pretty good. His parents buy him the clothes he likes, and he gets most everything he wants with minimal effort on his part. His lifestyle is based on how successful his parents are, not on how hard he works. So Tony has no idea about what kind to income it takes to support the lifestyle to which he’s accustomed, or what level of education is required to have professional careers like his parents.
Another method for motivating Tony would be for his parents to begin to asking their son a series of questions that would – over the next few months – engage him in conversations about his desired lifestyle:
- What kind of car would you like to drive when you’re out of college?
- What kind of place would you like to live in when you’re on your own?
- What kind of activities would you like to do for fun as an adult?
- How much do you think all of this will cost?
The parents can sit with their son to do some computer fact checks to find out how much his fancy car, nice condo, and fun outings will cost. They can discuss expenses for food, auto insurance, and other necessities. They can also look at the job ads to give him a reality check about what untrained jobs versus professional positions actually pay. In this way they can help Tony see the gap between his dreams and the reality of how much he can realistically earn without having a good education and a well-paid job.
Assisting Tony to see the importance of having a successful career will help him link his choices now with the outcomes he’ll achieve later. The parents can help Tony overcome his anxiety about the future by sharing their belief that he’s capable of developing his natural talents by acquiring the knowledge and skills necessary to build the life he desires.