Sometimes you just have to be a little bit negative. It may go against conventional parenting wisdom, because it's true: negativity breeds negativity. So rather than calling it negative, let's just for a moment agree to GET REAL. When we view our teens, we often look at them through a lens of love. We have to. They are not just our children, but in some ways, a reflection of ourselves, and a demonstration of the input that we have given them. Now, we all know that that is only part of the story. Teens manage to find ways to be influenced by a range of factors far outside the home, from the right friends to the wrong friends, from the good teachers to the bad, and a million plus an infinity of other things.
Many of us are familiar with the approach taken by Steven Covey's series of books on the habits of effective people. But maybe we can glean a deeper insight by taking a different perspective.
So let's take a moment and figure out how we can turn these negatives into positives. If you find that you can see your son or daughter in the following bad habits, then you'll know you need to take action. And remember, as parents, we lead by example. Simply knowing what to do and preaching it without living it won't lead to new internalized values.
Do You See Your Teen In These 7 Habits?
1. Being passive all the time. Too many teens simply let their lives flow with the tide. Truly effective teens know that they must make choices if they are to find success. We choose our friends. We choose whether or not to study, to do our homework, or to pay attention in school. We choose how we treat people. The problem is that all of these choices eventually become our default setting. Our habits. Our personalities. So where once we had a choice, now we have to make a choice to behave differently. It takes more effort to make the right choice once a bad habit has set in. When teens allow themselves to become passive participants in their own lives, they lose autonomy. They feel less responsible for the things that happen to them, or to others because of their behavior.
2. Failing to think ahead. Most teens simply live in the here and now. The irony is that so many of us only start to truly think about the future when there is significantly less of it left. Time is not an infinite quantity. Life is short, we hear our elders warn us. And they're right. But how could a teenager understand this? Well, it's not simply the quantity of time on earth that we have that is limited, but every segment of time before it as well. If you start to mess up in school, you will find that you may not have enough time to correct your errors. If you damage the relationships you have with others, you may not be able to recover what was lost. By failing to think ahead, we fundamentally disrespect others by not acknowledging the impact our behaviors have on them. These impressions generate lasting effects from which many relationships may never recover, while also leading to missed opportunities.
3. Failure to prioritize. Teenagers want satisfaction and they want it now. They sometimes seem to have the attention span of a gnat. By failing to have priorities that reflect a long-term interest in success, teens fritter away their time and resources until life has passed them by. Too few of them truly understand the potentially negative outcomes that they could be susceptible to in a very real way. Priorities protect us from having to make compromises down the road.
4. Negative attitude. We've all seen it a million times. It barely needs explaining. The family is about to do something awesome, something that parents were sure there would be no possible way that one of the kids could possibly fail to enjoy. And yet there it is. "Why?" A simple question meant to take down the mood of the whole family. Like the Death Star from Star Wars, this single word question wants to obliterate all joy. And then it's followed with, "Do I have to?" and then a litany of other things he or she would rather be doing. Being open to new experiences, being generous with time, being willing to hear all sides of a story, being open minded - these are the qualities that lead to well-rounded, interesting, selfless people who are working toward success. Negative attitudes stop progress dead in its tracks.
5. Poor communication. Okay, this is huge. Kids are bad communicators. But what makes it worse? They KNOW they are bad communicators and they just don't care at all. Teens make almost no effort to understand what we're trying to tell them, why we would possibly be trying to tell them it. All they want is for us to shut up so they can get back to PS3/XBOX/TV/Hanging out/Whatever apparently super-cool stuff that teens get up to when we don't understand. Okay, so we know that. Nearly all parents are aware of this unless they have a miracle child. What can we do about it? We have to be vigilant about always being available, first of all, and secondly, we need to understand the different types of ways that we communicate. Are we nagging, are we being reasonable, are we asking too much or expecting too little? In order to move forward in a healthy, open, communicative relationship with our teens, we have to do a lot of the work ourselves because, well, they seem to be hardwired to try to shut us up.
6. Working against the team. A family is a team. A group of friends is a team. We're all just cooperative networks of people trying to accomplish the greater good. Everybody knows someone who's just not a team player, and how do we feel about that person? They're arrogant, stuck up, and they jeopardize the outcome of the team by failing to play along. Whenever teens shut their families out, they run the risk of jeopardizing our future, and consequently, their own. Learning good cooperation skills will lead to lifelong success. The ability to work with others is essential at work, in relationships, as parents, and in nearly every other aspect of life.
7. Giving up. Okay, if we're fair, working on all of these issues at once is difficult. To do all of them together all of the time is nearly impossible, but these are standards to aspire to (well, more accurately, we want to aspire to do the opposite of the habits noted here). Too often, teens feel that they should just give up if they're not going to be able to finish perfectly, that no effort at all is better than a disappointing effort. From homework to relationships, too many teens give up before they should. Encouraging follow-through, understanding the connection between effort and reward, that accomplishing something is better than accomplishing nothing, all of these traits are necessary in order to live up to the standards that teens are totally capable of living up to. We just have to work on them, ourselves and as a family.