As previously mentioned, this is now my seventh installment in this series (I dare not call it a mini-series anymore!). While I apologise this still isn’t the last one, I do hope to wrap it up soon (fingers crossed!).
Thanks for staying with me this far.
This series is my attempt to share what I’ve learned from the parenting workshops I attended in January. But more so to chronicle what I’ve learned, un-learned and re-learned as I navigate the choppy waters of parenting a teen. Hopefully when this parenting journey gets rough — and it almost always will at one point or other — I’ll have this resource to fall back on.
Today I’m reminding myself what the workshop taught parents about intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for our teens.
Self-discipline comes with motivations
In the last 12 months, I’ve noticed that one of the key changes in my son moving into teenhood is his increased autonomy. He’s more independent, more preoccupied with the heavier demands of school, and hasn’t as much time for his family as before.
He now manages his own time and life in new ways that require him to be more self-disciplined and self-directed. In short, he’s become more of a separate individual. He doesn’t even eat with us on some days, making me feel like he’s more a tenant than a member of the family!
Sighhh…no doubt this is an all-too-familiar scenario that’s part of growing up. But it’s one we rarely think about while transitioning. Still, as a parent very much convinced of my role in helping him (and me) navigate this uncertain phase of life, I need some “tools” to help.
One such tool is motivation.
Perhaps a parent’s greatest fear is seeing an unmotivated and lackadaisical teen. One who’s mucking around the house, or staying forever glued to his video game or mobile phone (which in many cases are one and the same!).
According to the workshop facilitator, the key to breaking that habit is to uncover the right motivation for life.
But motivation as we all know can be a tricky thing. The best kind, of course, comes from within or what’s referred to as self-motivation. It requires no external impetus or stimuli, and has a better chance of sustainability.
This intrinsic motivation, however, is tough to foster. Especially in a hyper-digitalized world like ours today; one that insists on luring our charges away from developing better habits. And I might add, lulling them (and us adults too) into an almost narcotic state of stupor as we stare at our screens for hours and hours.
The question must then be asked: how do we help our kids be intrinsically or self-motivated apart from devices?
Motivations – finding a strong reason why
The first tip the workshop guru advises parents is to help our kids find a strong reason for doing something.
Easy to say. Hard to do.
Even the age-old trusty habit of book-reading can seem all too bland. I say that because I’ve seen my son morph from being a voracious reader 12 months ago, to a voracious video game player today.
For me as a parent who strongly advocates reading, it’s like watching a train wreck in slow-mo!
What happened to bring about this state of affairs?!
In a word, ease.
The ease of reaching for a phone; playing something that changes every second in arresting technicolor. The ease of not having to think hard about a problem. Of obtaining stimuli that engage completely while in the moment.
To counter this “hypnosis”, my wife and I must constantly throw ideas at our son. Things that move him away from devices and add colors to the palette that should be his life. Things outdoorsy, or that involve others.
This wasn’t hard to do when he was younger. Now, he needs a solid reason why. And it best be a reason he can accept!
Developing discipline through singular activities
Something my wife does well is getting our son to go on frequent cycling trips with her (I won’t cycle, don’t ask me!).
Now I say “well” because she actively promotes it. But that doesn’t mean it’s a piece of cake each time to get him off the couch to step out on the bike. So we’re always giving him the heads-up at least a day before; reminding him we bought his bike not for display purposes only.
And of course the importance of exercise and a change in scenery from his screensaver!
Cos it’s hard to text when you’re on the road. Hard to do much else really, not if you want to tumble over road bumps! Yet, the health benefits and adrenaline rush as the wind blows through your hair on a warm, sunny cycling day?
Singular activities like cycling are excellent for building focus and discipline in the long run. Technology and devices deceive with the promise we can multi-task and get more done with the same amount of time. However, multi-tasking is a blatant lie modernity has dumped on us. Most of us who attempt it daily shouldn’t think we can keep it up over time without compromising the effectiveness of each task.
Yet it continues to tempt us, which is why the next tip the workshop provides, matters!
Pre-planning for temptation
For a parent to imbibe intrinsic motivation, it boils down to heading off any foreseeable temptations that can derail our best attempts at engaging our teen.
Sorry. I get a bit carried away sometimes with my convoluted lines.
What I’m trying to say is we have to know our teens are going to be distracted or tempted, despite our best efforts to engage them and infuse motivations.
And so if we want their attention, we have to look ahead at their schedules and daily routines. To see what could come between us — our ideas and conversations — and our teen. So if we know he’s going to watch his favorite show right after dinner or play another round of Clash Royale after a shower, we would do well to intercept it once in a while to interest him in anything we think would spice things up in his otherwise digital daze of a life.
And should the reverse be the case — say cycling — to make sure he’s motivated enough not to be distracted by say a friend calling him to join a live online game instead.
If we do this consistently enough over time, it’s going to hopefully build new habits and in turn, require less effort for us and him.
And most important of all, his intrinsic motivations will rise.
So note to self: onward!