How can I help my teenager change? 3 steps for successful change
We all know that change is hard, but we don't know enough about why it is so hard and what we can do about it. Some popular explanations: Lack of urgency? Inadequate incentives? Uncertainty about what we really need to do differently? Too risky? A medical study showed that if heart doctors tell their serious at-risk heart patients they will literally die if they do not make changes to their personal lives (diet-exercise-smoking), still only one in seven is actually able to make the changes. One in seven! Boy! Yes change is hard for us and for our teens.
So now what? I read this great book about change: "Switch. How to change things when change is hard". In this book, the authors, Chip and Dan Heath explain the 3 steps for successful change: Direct the rider, Motivate the elephant and Shape the path! Here is a summary of the book (I do recommend you to read the book though!)
Direct the rider (the rational side) What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.
Help your teen find what is already working in their life. Help them reproduce that behavior where things are not working ideally.Help your teen set a specific, measurable and achievable goal. And most importantly, a goal that they can achieve by themselves (without involving someone else).Help your teen find the destination. Change is possible when you know where you are going and why!
Clarity dissolves Resistance
For example: When I ask my clients what they want, I always have that kind of answer: “I want to get all A's”. It doesn't work because who grades the test? The teacher. Your teen can't control the teacher. A better goal would be "I want to return all my homework on time". It depends only on you. It's specific (and clear), measurable and achievable.
Motivate the elephant (the emotional side): What looks like laziness is often exhaustion.
Help your teen find what they want to achieve? Help them visualize the result, feel the satisfaction. Help your teen find a sense of progress with small successes, milestones they can easily reach. If the goal is too big, your teen will give up. Help your teen understand that they are capable of growing and able to change.
In our example: this feeling of finishing your homework, of not being stressed the next day. If you don't return any of your homework at all, choose one subject at least for 2 weeks. One step at a time. As parents, you would like them to return all of their homework, but it might feel impossible to them. One subject is more realistic. One is better than none!
Shape the path (the situation): what looks like a people problem, is often a situation problem.
Help your teen make their journey easier and try to build new habits.When the situation changes, the behavior changes. So change the situation. "If you always do what you've always done, you will always get what you've always got". Many people attribute this quote to Anthony Robbins and before him Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, and even Mark Twain. Regardless of the origin, what matters is the point it makes.Help your teen build new habits. If right habits are in place, good behavior follows.
In our example: you might have to change something in your agenda to make space for completing your homework every day. You might have to put down your phone, or stay at the library, or ask a friend, or stop doing an activity, even drop a class (I won't be popular here but sometimes my juniors and seniors have 5 or more AP classes!)...
So encourage rather than shut down contemplation by asking questions instead of making statements. Listen. Be a source of suggestions. Recognize that change in mindset takes time and is not evenly paced; that it involves thinking and feeling......and last but not least, recognize that neither change in mindset nor change in behavior alone leads to transformation, but that each must be employed to bring about the other.
As with the heart patients, the change we face today are not, for the most part, a problem of will. "The problem is the inability to close the gap between what we genuinely, even passionately, want and what we are actually able to do. Closing this gap is a central learning problem of the 21st century." The Immunity to Change, by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey.