I’m seeing this conversation online again and having been deeply impacted myself, I want to address it.
But first, I respect that you’re here. Every week (if you’re an OG, that’s over 3 years!) you’re reading my emails for nuggets of insight into your teen and tips to navigate these very real and difficult challenges. You ARE a caring and courageous parent, as is every parent I meet, doing the best you can in a job with little to no training.
If you feel defensive, there’s something here for you if you’re willing to be curious.
The conversation starts with a caring parent posting something about their teen’s grades or work ethic at school having declined over time for whatever reason.
Parent: “She was so highly motivated to do well in school and was super proud of her grades. I thought finally she’s taking things seriously and all is going well. But now suddenly she appears to have lost steam and motivation. She just failed her last 2 tests…Am I just supposed to let the natural consequence be enough? I just want to do deal with this correctly to teach her the right thing to do.”
Almost every post about school performance is followed soon after by this comment because it’s the old school thinking you and I were raised in…
Parent: “I’m thinking that parents’ job is to prepare teens for the next level. In the working world, if you’re a poor performer you get written up with a timeline to improve performance. If you don’t, well, you can get demoted or fired…I don’t believe as parents we should lay down and watch our children ruin their lives…”
This outdated model isn’t working for our teens…even if it worked for you.
Your teen doesn’t need you to be their boss or for you to treat them like their employee. They’ll have many bosses over their lifetime, some they’ll like and others they won’t. They only have 1 or 2 parents to learn from, develop with, and feel safe figuring out their life with.
The minute you think you’re their boss, you’ve lost the core connection proven to create the kind of outcomes you want, and instead resort to what feels familiar – power over, control and authority, compliance and obedience (none of which equate to or create respect).
What’s the first thing a boss needs with an employee?
Parent: “…write an agreement (I saw this advice on social media) so the child learns about keeping their end of the agreement.”
This line of thinking seems like a great way to teach your teen to adult, right?
Unfortunately, what you likely created is a thinly disguised contract, not an agreement. A contract is written purely for the purpose of ensuring you get the outcomes you want based on your investment. If those aren’t expectations aren’t met, you have written justification for retribution in the form of punishment (also disguised as consequences) to get your teen back in line with the contract.
This is shaming. It reinforces failure and increases anxiety, lowering the odds your teen will keep trying (or respect you, but that’s another topic…). You’re relying on your teen avoiding pain and wanting to please you by holding your values and urgency about what you want.
So what about the ‘carrot and stick’ reward method?
Parent: “I rewarded monetarily for As, Bs and even Cs (as long as she studied and that was her best) and it was really reinforcing for her for a while.”
Same problem, just a different flavor.
Now your teen goes into the workforce and gets offended when they aren’t rewarded for showing up to work on time, doing work they already get paid for, and complaining that HR doesn’t give out gift cards or send balloons for a ‘job well done’.
Although the reward method to motivation seems more positive and not by force or control, you’re still teaching your teen to externalize reward and correction by pleasing you (and others) while abandoning themselves.
That’s why both methods disable your teen’s executive function development in finding their own, internal motivation by attuning to their thoughts and feelings. Then they create strategies that support them to get more of what they want, what feels good inside to build confidence and resilience to try again when they fail.
Then a parent who’s taken my program wrote this:
“I found that when I kept on pushing/punishing for better grades, it was stressing me and especially my son out. It was hurting the relationship and my son chose to do the opposite. I did therapy for myself to understand why I was pressuring so much.”
“I used to be the parent who was highly concerned about grades. It helped cause my son to become very anxious and strained our relationship. If your child is going to a 4 year college out of high school then grades could have an affect in the real world later. But if she is not, those grades that we stress them (and ourselves) out over mean absolutely nothing in real adult life. Never once in my career has anyone ever looked at my high school diploma let alone my transcripts.”
Although I was self-motivated as a child and easily sailed through elementary school with A’s, I already knew my value came from external performance, not from anything I believed about myself.
“Now do you love me?”
When the wheels fell off in my Junior year and I slid to F’s and failing out, my parents did what made sense, what they were taught: punishment, grounding, less social and phone time, and critical comments to make clear how disappointing my choices were.
I learned to dissociate from my feelings, my body, all of it. I poured myself into being pleasing to others, seeking external validation with a hyper vigilant anxiety to course correct on a dime, creating a façade of fierce passion to succeed at everything. Anything to be enough.
The truth was this ⬇️
Raising a self-driven and self-correcting teen takes time with lots of mistakes and mentorship as they share and process their experience to find their way. This is what decades of research proves creates the same results you want, plus a mutually respectful and honest relationship that lasts into adulthood.
“… those grades are not worth the fight, stress, anxiety and strain on my relationship with my child. The less I pushed the better his grades got. We communicate more. The trust between us is better.”
“It got to the point where I was calmer and he started to take responsibility for himself.”
If you’re ready to feel more of this ⬆️ and watch your teen step up without the daily disconnection of punishment and rewards, click below to register for my free masterclass today.
Change is possible. I believe in you.