Helping Teens Build Better Habits
You'll hear lots of different opinions about how many days it takes to change a habit or make a new habit stick. Regardless of how long it will take, we can all agree that it takes work. This new generation gets a bad rap about how they are "entitled" or don't have to work as hard as we did when we were their age. It's hard to think of how we would handle the the amount of overstimulation and overschedulding if we were teens today. To quote a favorite radio personality and sports writer, "Back in my day"....we'd go to school, hang out with friends, have a part time job watch t.v. and movies, sneak out and still have time to talk to our parents once in a while.
With the invention of high speed internet, social media, smartphones, advanced video games and increased expectation of superior grades, advanced placement classes and after school activities, it's hard to expect that teens will have the right habits to create a life of balance and satisfaction. It is our job as members of their support system to help them build the right habits (even with a bit of teenage resistance).
1. Focus on what works
We love to focus on the negative. Be it in schools, home, athletics, theatre, etc. Why not focus on what does work for them. If your teen says that they sleep or do homework just fine with their phone in their room and the evidence says otherwise, we can objectively let them know that having their phone around when trying to sleep or do work is "not working". Let's see if having it somewhere else or turning it off will work better. Now, I'm not delusional. This will be met with resistance; however, if you start small and have them try it for a few days with some success, it will be easier for them to make this a habit.
2. It takes work
Any change takes work. If anyone tells you different they are trying to sell you something. Let them know ahead of time that it's not easy but totally worth it! Use analogies that make sense to them such as getting better at a video game, changing they way they shoot a basketball or how they sing a specific note.
3. They are not alone
It really does take a village. In this case, a team. Make sure your teen knows that they have support. Encourage them to ask for help and try to help without any judgement. They are judging themselves critically enough. Using basic principals of mindfulness or acceptance commitment therapy will help foster a more positive understanding of how healthy changes are made.
4. Start small
I love when teens tell me that they are going to make a huge change right away. Adults can barely make changes without significant encouragement, reinforcement, scare tactics, monetary gains, etc. How can we expect kids to change habits overnight. If the goal is to study more, start small. Maybe study 5 minutes in the car on the way home at first or while eating breakfast. After a week or two, you can help them increase the amount or duration.