Ahh, the dreaded teenager years. Parenting can sure be a thankless job as your teens test their limits but it is an important job and one that they need you to do more than ever as they begin to face the challenges of becoming an adult. That is why I am so excited to share an excerpt from Rebecca Deurlein’s new book called, “What a Top Teacher Wishes You Knew About Helping Your Kid Succeed“. Rebecca Deurlein is qualified for sharing information on parenting teenagers because she has a doctorate in educational leadership, served as a well-respected high school teacher for 16 years, and she raised two children who are now successful young adults, living independently. I asked her to share with us the section of her book about how to encourage perseverance in teenagers because I think this is so important to accomplishing goals in life. Without further ado, here is the excerpt. I hope you enjoy her tips for parenting teens.
How to Encourage Perseverance in the Age of Instant Gratification
There’s no denying that technology has provided us with abundant opportunities for learning. Teachers have seen increased interest in every subject area thanks to interactive whiteboards, YouTube video tutorials, tablets, laptops, and even the ubiquitous cell phones. But as is the case with much of technology, it’s an advancement that sometimes does the opposite, moving us several steps back in other areas of intellect or socialization.
For all of the benefits of technological development, it also comes with a curse. Teenagers have to wait for very little, and as a result may lack critical skills of patience and persistence. Instant information, clicks of buttons to change channels, iPods that go directly to their favorite music, multitasking at every bend—it’s enough to make you wonder what you can possibly do to reap the benefits of these advancements while minimizing the negative impacts on your children.
Thinking Through Options
One way to begin is by making thinking through problems part of their everyday routine. This is difficult to do because generally, we know the answers or solutions to most of our kids’ problems. It is much easier to provide those answers than it is to watch children struggle through them. But remember the research paper you did in the ninth grade and the life skills you acquired by working through that process. These skills can come from various avenues. If you’re an athlete, think about the level of commitment you reached, the pain you endured, the sweat equity you invested to overcome obstacles and reach your goals. If you have a physical disability, ask yourself how struggling with the challenges of that disability has strengthened your resolve and brought out attributes you might never have discovered had it not been for those challenges. If you are a single parent, you may have found your strength only after facing a host of difficulties and putting in the work of two people. Regardless of your circumstances, you know that facing down whatever life has thrown at you has made you a stronger person. It is the same with your children, and you must be careful not to deprive them of the opportunity to think through problems and pursue solutions rather than having the answers provided.
Let’s begin by getting kids to patiently think through options before making decisions or jumping to conclusions. Remember, their impulsivity is biologically inherent, but you can create situations that encourage time and reflection.
In open-ended discussions with your teenagers, try the following:
- Wait for an answer. Get comfortable with silence. Studies show that increasing wait time for an answer (we’re talking seconds, not uncomfortable minutes) elicits a greater number and variety of answers, makes not answering a nonoption, and encourages discourse among the people in the room—more back and forth rather than the dominance of one person’s opinions or ideas.
- Do not be so quick to validate or confirm an answer. This squelches further thought and discounts other alternatives before they are even formed.
- Avoid posing questions like, “Do you understand what this decision will lead to?” or “Haven’t you ever experienced this before?” If your children answer honestly, they may risk looking like fools, and no one wants to look foolish.
- Don’t suggest the answer in the question. Have you ever taken a survey that was clearly designed to elicit desired responses? We tend to do the same thing when we talk to our children. We suggest the answer we want by formulating the question with a strong bias. For instance, “Would you say that piano is your most worthwhile activity?” would be better framed as “What activity do you think has been most worthwhile for you?” With the first question, your children won’t really think through the matter because the answer is already supplied to them. Very little actual thinking will take place. The framing of the second question, however, requires thoughtful reflection.
- Assume that your children are intelligent enough to work through complex problems with the proper guidance from you. If you don’t believe they are, they won’t believe it either. They will become dependent on you for all of their decisions when they should be trusting themselves to make greater decisions as they mature.
Once children become comfortable with taking their time and processing problems, they will learn that the best answers are not necessarily the first ones. They will be less likely to believe the first answer or explanation they encounter. Warning: This may make your job as a parent a little tougher. They may begin to question you and become more aware of their ability to argue a point with you. This can be exhausting, but if you keep your eye on the long-term reward—children who think independently and have minds of their own—you can practice patience and strengthen your own critical thinking skills as well.
Applying Critical Thinking
The next step in this process is applying critical thinking to a task and hanging in there until the task is complete. I don’t think anyone would argue that perseverance, tenacity, and work ethic aren’t absolutely crucial to success and happiness in life.
Again, your own perseverance will be tested, but following the practices below will pay great dividends in the end:
- Involve your kids in at least one sport and encourage them to carry what they learn on the field through other areas of their lives. It’s not enough to just make an appearance at a practice or game. Practice should include working on skills at home, attending every week regardless of whether children are in the mood, playing positions as decided by the coach, participating in drills that may not make sense to children, and generally committing fully to the requirements of team participation.
- Locate outside activities in which your children must show responsibility and pledge a certain amount of time to a task. This may include an after-school or weekend job, involvement in the arts, community service, leadership in a school or church organization—anything that places them in a long-term situation with regular participation. Children who try out for a role in a play, learn lines, rehearse, and perform gain an understanding that there is an important process to be followed before they will meet success. The more opportunities they have to experience the benefits of hard work the more they will treasure the value.
- Don’t let them quit unless and until they have honored their commitments. Most adults admit they wish they had continued with their violin lessons or tried out for the varsity football team in high school. Laziness, boredom, fear, and insecurity can all play parts in children’s desire to drop out of activities. I have met very few teenagers who hate their parents for making them continue with an activity. Even in the midst of it, they see the value and understand why their parents are pushing them. I trust that they will appreciate it even more when they are adults. Conversely, teenagers regularly confide to me that they regret dropping out of activities and wish their parents had pushed them to stay in. I would never suggest that a child who is miserable or suffering from anxiety be forced to continue a hated activity. But I think there is a huge lesson to be learned that when you start something, you finish it. If at all possible, children should finish out the school year or season and then revisit their participation for the future. And remember, coaches, music teachers, club sponsors, and even bosses are your allies. Talk to them to determine what you can do to help your children enjoy and benefit from the experience. Sometimes a minor tweak in the process can make all the difference.
- Let them deal with the consequences when they don’t put the effort in. Some kids will only learn from trial and error. These are usually the ones who haven’t developed their critical-thinking skills or learned to think through the consequences of their actions. These kids often won’t learn until they are affected negatively by their actions. But they will learn if given the chance to face the consequences of their decisions. If they didn’t study, it’s probably fair that they don’t pass the test. If they didn’t read the book, they should not come out of the class discussion with a passing grade. If they plagiarized content from a source because they didn’t want to take the time to write their own words, then they likely deserve the zero on that paper. Let them take it. The next time they will think twice, and that means they are beginning to think critically.
It won’t take your kids long to realize that the sweetest successes come from the hardest work. They will begin to enjoy that true sense of accomplishment that creates greater motivation to accomplish more. Eventually, they will go off to college and the real world with work ethic and drive. And they will learn to appreciate the journey.
Teenagers 101: What a Top Teacher Wishes You Knew About Helping Your Kid Succeed (AMACOM, November 2014, $16.00, 256 pages)
© 2014 Rebecca Deurlein
All rights reserved.
Published by AMACOM Books
Division of American Management Association
1601 Broadway, New York, NY 10019
Thanks again to Rebecca Deurlein and AMACOM Books for approving the publication of this excerpt on Family Focus Blog. What did you learn or have reinforced from reading this article on how to encourage perseverance in teenagers?