How to help your teen focus on the future

It is time to reverse the general view of the word habit. In this article the focus is going to be creating habits that will benefit those who are developing them. If you are trying to change “bad” habits then you are focusing on behaviors you don’t want. The more effective way to create positive change is to begin with a clean slate and create new ones.

Parents can help a teen set new goals and be successful by thinking about and creating the world they want, rather than harping on the bad habits that exist. Forget about those and move on. For example, in a conversation you don’t want to say “You have developed a habit of showing up late.” When you are saying this you are putting attention on the undesired behavior. Instead you want to say, “As a family we are going to develop a new custom of being prepared and on time for our commitments. The goal is to get to work, school, dinner and activities on time. Let’s put our ideas on paper and see what we can come up with.”

A good way to come up with some new ideas is to make a wish list. This will be a bit of a guided wish list, but it will help the family have some idea the direction they need to be moving. Here are some actual snippets that were taken from a workshop where a single mother and her teens were participating is this free write wishlist.

Teen 1: “I wish my mom would stop swearing. I wish my sister would stop yelling. I wish I had my own car. I wish my mom wouldn’t be mad about grades. I wish I could have my room the way I want it. I wish my mom didn’t freak out about drugs.”

Teen 2: “I wish my brother would do his chores so mom wouldn’t be mad when she gets home. I wish my mom would leave my clothes alone. I wish my mom would just sit back and watch instead of telling me how to do everything.”

Mom: “I wish the kids would appreciate that I work and come home tired. I wish they would do the chores right the first time and keep my house clean. I wish my daughter would leave my clothes and stuff alone. I wish my son would get his homework done and get passing grades.”

Now the family rewrites the list into some possible goals and form new habits to make everyone happier. It takes practice, but it can be done.

Mom: “I will clean the kitchen myself every day. It’s the room I stress the most about and I will keep it on my chore list. When I get angry and begin to yell, I will stop and go for a walk, go to my room or do something until I can talk calmly.”

Teen 1. “I will do my homework as soon as I get home, even if it is not due for two days. I will close my bedroom door so others don’t have to see or smell it. I will stay away from kids who do drugs because I know they are not good. When my grades get better I will get a part time job.”

Teen 2: “My mom and I will stop borrowing things from each other, it’s just better that way. I will be quiet so my brother can do his homework and help him if he needs it. I will join activities that I enjoy and want to do.”

It’s not perfect, but it is a start. It is about today and tomorrow. There is nothing that can be done about yesterday. Teens know what needs to be done, they just need the right motivation. Seeing that parents can change and create new habits is helpful.