Mark has been underperforming in high school. He failed a couple of his classes and got C’s in most others. However, he did get an A in his class on computers. His parents both have professional degrees, and they fear Mark is putting his future at risk.
Nothing they’ve tried has worked to motivate Mark. He’s gotten long lectures from his father. He’s seen the tears his mother sheds when she sees his grades and feels a terrible wave of sadness about what’s gone wrong with her smart young son who’s struggling.
Mark doesn’t seem to care. He shrugs his shoulders and mumbles something incomprehensible in response to his parents pointed questions. He spends a lot of time in his room, in part because he’s been grounded for so long. Mark’s parents have punished him in every possible way, but there hasn’t been any consequence that has motivated him to do his work. In fact, his behavior has gotten worse.
The problem between Mark and his parents is that their relationship has not evolved past the stage in which the child wants to please his parents. During the teenage years, adolescents want to please themselves. Sometimes they come to believe the only way to do that is to resist their parent’s control. These teens will do the opposite of what their parent’s want, which often happens when the young person is having difficulty defining their own identity.
Teenagers need to learn how to please themselves by experiencing success. And to succeed they need their parents influence in their lives because they lack the maturity to make consistently responsible choices.
The key mindset for parents is being influential, as opposed to controlling. That’s challenging when the adolescent lacks sufficient self-control. Parents naturally want to exert external control. But that’s very hard to do as their teen starts spending more and more time outside of the home. And as Mark’s parents are discovering, cutting adolescents off from their friends can induce depression.
So what’s the answer to the dilemma of dealing an underperforming adolescent? There are 7 strategies that are required to help an adolescent successfully launch into adulthood:
- Focus on developing strengths.
- Set mutually agreeable goals.
- Reinforce effort.
- Accept that teens will make good and bad choices.
- Celebrate progress.
- Learn lessons from setbacks.
- Remain optimistic about the eventual outcome.
Strengths are natural talents enhanced by knowledge and skill development. The first step in helping your teens to form a positive identity is to help them recognize their gifts – academic, athletic, social, and personal. What do they like to do? What are they good at doing? When are they at their best? When are you amazed by their behavior? What makes them endearing?
Agree on goals. When your children become teenagers, plan on giving them progressively more responsibility every year. By age 18 your teenagers will have the responsibility for making almost all of their decisions on their own. So allow your childen to set smaller goals to build confidence in their ability to reach them.
Effort is more important than results. Persistence is what ultimately determines success.
Provide encouragement and reinforce progress. Even if your teenagers are messing up, focus on the smallest steps they take. Give them massive amounts of encouragement for making an effort, and strongly reinforce the slightest signs of progress.
Look at mistakes merely as lessons. Your job is to help your teens think about their choices so they bounce back from their poor decisions. It doesn’t do any good for you to jump in to protect them. Let them fail now while the consequences are less catastrophic. Save your criticism, as it only teaches your teens to find fault rather than solutions. Instead, help them figure out how to do better the next time they’re in a similar situation.
Remain optimistic. Remember that your teens lack confidence in being able to succeed because they haven’t been there and done that yet. Your belief that they’ll ultimately succeed in spite of experiencing setbacks is an essential ingredient for them to develop faith in their ability to create a good life.
Ask your teens what they want their adult life to look like and tell them that you believe they can achieve their dreams. Then help them find role models of people who have been able to accomplish similar goals. Get them to talk to their idol or read about how they became successful.