Freely Giving Praise

I have noticed when I begin a coaching relationship with new parents that most of their interactions with their teens are negative in content. They are about correcting this behavior, criticizing that bit of excessiveness, warning that if they don’t do better they will end up like their older brother, bum of a father, etc., and so on.

Teenage years, growing through adolescence and onto adulthood, are all about learning. Most learning lessons come from doing things, making mistakes and eventually learning what works. Teens are continually and naturally making mistakes. As a result, they continually have very negative judgmental feelings about themselves. They are always feeling too small, to big, not strong enough, not good looking enough, stupid, too smart and on and on. The last thing they need is for their parents to confirm what they already falsely believe to be true about themselves. I say falsely because most of those beliefs are developed by comparing their insides (how they feel about themselves, to their peers or their celebrity idols outsides (how those people look and act and appear to feel). They always lose those comparisons.

Their parents then come along and in a desperate effort to shame them into acting better, point out how bad they are doing and how if they don’t do better, how they will end up a big nothing. Although the parent’s intentions were admirable, they usually have the opposite effect. Their teens already, quite painfully know and feel all those negatives. In fact, they have, on their own, blown up their failures into a projection of eventual doom and gloom. Then they hear the same doom and gloom predictions from their parents, which only further confirm what terrible kids they are. Hardly the motivating messages their parents intended.

The most unfortunate part of this scenario is what happens next when the parent’s comments do not produce the desired outcome. Because they do not have any other "motivational tools," they just increase the volume and frequency of similar statements. When they continue to have no positive results, they might even try throwing in some "have pity on me and my feelings" statements. "You are worrying me and your father, sick. We stay up crying all night….."

So here is a kid who knows he is messing up and feels terrible. He also is very frustrated that he can’t pull himself out of his troubles. He is trapped by the Boy Code, which prohibits him from admitting mistakes and asking for help. Now, on top of all that, he is getting messages from his parents agreeing that he is just a miserable, good-for-nothing bum that is making his parents, who he loves, suffer! What’s a kid to do, give up? And that’s exactly what they do in one form or another. Drugs, alcohol, doing bad things to get lots of praise from peers (read "gangs") are natural consequences of giving up.

Enough doom and gloom on my part. Here is the good news. There is a better way of motivating teens than hurling negative thunderbolts. That only worked in Greek mythology. If parents concentrate on what their teens are doing right and praise that, they get to shine some healing and loving light onto and into their hurting teens.

So you are thinking right now, what has that bum of a kid done recently that deserves my praise? If you concentrate and focus on his lousy behavior, you are right. So let’s focus instead on other things. For instance, he comes home with all D’s on his report card. He already is feeling bad and just knows you are going to be all over him. When you look at the report card you look past the D’s and notice that he has had perfect attendance. He showed up and didn’t ditch school even once! You then tell him this, "I see that you had perfect attendance for the whole term. I really respect that even though you are having lot of problems with the school work, you still showed up every day. That takes a lot of courage. The grades are just some feedback that says you have some more foot work to do. You know, the only time you truly fail is when you give up and it doesn’t look like you are giving up. I really respect you for that. What do you think you can do to bring the grades up? Do you need some outside tutoring? You know I will assist any way you need. Just ask and it’s yours. I love you very much!"

Now you have his attention (after he picks himself up off of the floor)! If you continue to accentuate the positives, most kids will eventually come around. Keep being positive and your teens will come to look at you as being a trusted partner in their growing up process. If you wait to be asked instead of offering advice and opinions, you will be frequently asked. You then become as effective parent. That is your mission, isn’t it?

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