MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern

Posted on December 4th, 2017, 0 Comments

Your Expectations Matter: Here’s How to Find Your Teen’s Sweet Spot

We love our kids and want the best for them. And we have an important role to play in their achievement. Hardly anybody would disagree with that. In fact, study after study has shown that parents’ expectations can have a strong, positive effect on children’s success – sometimes more than any other type of parental involvement.

The problem is that we often use a sample group that is too-small and too-subjective when we set our expectations. We use our older children, or a neighbor’s precocious child, or even our own unreliable childhood memories to determine the height of the bar.

Using this subjective sample group, we tend to set the bar too high. And when our kids don’t live up to our expectations, our stress level rises. We crank up the pressure.

Even if our intentions are to guide, if we’re not careful, we can end up pressuring our children and pushing them over the slippery stress slope – particularly if what we want is not inline with our kid’s level of maturity, ability, or interest. The following conversation between a father and his son, a high school football player on the morning before a game, is a good case in point.
Father: You stressed out?
Teen: A little.
Father: Good. Because stress is all part of football. If you’re not throwing-up in your mouth, you’re not doing it right. Nerves are good.
Teen: There’s a few hours left until game time. I think I’ll just go lie down under my bed for a little while.

This father was right – at least in part – when he said that nerves are good. Up to a point, stress can help with focus. It can motivate and energize. But too much stress has a negative effect on performance.

The same thing can happen with our expectations. If our expectations are too low, it can make it hard for our kids to see and achieve all that they can do. But unreasonably high expectations can lead to high anxiety and discouragement in our kids and set them up for failure. The trick is to find each teen’s sweet spot: that place where our expectations are neither too high nor too low but just right.

Try This
Below are a few tips to help you find your teen’s sweet spot:

Pay attention to your teen’s mood when expectations are being discussed. If your teen seems nervous, withdraws from the conversation, or becomes self-critical (“I’ll never be able to do this” or “I’ll mess-up and everyone will see it”) when you’re discussing their performance in school, a sport or another activity, it’s a sign that your expectations might be too high.

Emphasize motivation, hard work, and improvement. Make sure that you’re paying at least as much attention to the process of learning and growth and development as you are to the outcome like wins and grades.

Realize that every activity may not be a good fit. Help your teen find a balance between honoring long-term commitments (sticking with something even when it gets challenging) and being able to try new things.

Encourage your teen to find at least one activity where they can shine if they work at it. This will boost their self-confidence. But just as importantly it will give them firsthand evidence that effort matters – that the harder they work, the better they get.

Even the slightest adjustment in our expectations or the way we convey them – a little more care in what we say, a little more reflection on our values and what is really important to us, or a little more consideration of what is important to our teen – can result in surprisingly big improvements.

Selected Sources and References
Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 3, “The Cold”
“Parents’ Values and Children’s Perceived Pressure” in Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth Research Series
“Why Can’t Johnny Jump Tall Buildings?” by Alan Kazdin in Slate Magazine
“Are Parents’ Expectations Too High?” by Lisa Harker for ChildrensMD

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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern

Posted on November 13th, 2017, 0 Comments

How to Help When Your Teen Procrastinates

Almost all teens procrastinate at something. Cleaning their room, writing thank-you notes, starting a big project all come to mind. It probably is of little consequence much of the time, but procrastination can become a harmful habit, particularly when it involves your teen’s schoolwork.

It is commonly believed that students procrastinate because of their fear of failure. However, a series of recent studies suggests that fear of a poor grade sometime down the line may not be the main cause of academic procrastination. Instead, procrastinators might put-off difficult work because they have a low tolerance for the pins and needles feeling linked with sitting down and getting started at any given moment. Despite realizing the longterm harm in what they’re doing, these students focus on feeling good now.¹ And they tend to get lost in two kinds of wishful thinking: I’m just waiting for the best time to do the work or I know I can pull it off at the last minute.²

The problem is that students who engage in this kind of thinking typically end up putting things off until panic sets in and then working furiously – cramming and even pulling all-nighters – to get it all done. As a result they learn less and the quality of their work suffers. Plus these students say that putting off their work makes them awfully anxious.¹

Telling your teen to “just do it” is not going to work any better than telling them to “cheer up” when they’re sulking.² So how can you get your teen to get at their daunting and unpleasant schoolwork and get it done? You can’t. At least not directly. Teens have to mostly get themselves unstuck. But you can talk with your teen about procrastination and offer to help by providing tips that have been shown to work.

Try This
The key to overcoming procrastination, according to researchers and academic coaches, is to just get started. And because almost any task – no matter how daunting or unpleasant – can be tolerated for a short stint, experts recommend that those prone to procrastinating begin by working for just ten minutes at a time.²

Specific suggestions³ translated into strategies that can be used to help a teen are summarized below:

Encourage your teen to start small.
If your teen is having trouble getting started on a big project designed to take several nights or weeks, you can often support them best by helping them break the work down into manageable pieces. Then encourage them to start hammering away at those little pieces one at a time.

If they’ve done nothing, suggest they start by doing anything for ten minutes. The less they’ve been doing, the lower their (and your) expectations should be in the beginning. If they’ve done nothing on the project, suggest that they start by doing anything on the assignment for ten minutes. They might begin by organizing the materials they’ll need for the project, or, if research is required, they might begin by doing a preliminary online search. Whatever it is, once they’ve put in their ten minutes, they have succeeded and are free to take a short break or continue working.

Once they’ve been working on the project somewhat consistently, suggest that they try using the first ten minutes on the hardest task.
If they’re working on a research paper, for example, they might begin to take notes on some of the reference material, or they might start a bit of rough draft writing. Again, once they have done ten minutes of the hardest task, they are free to shift to an easier task or take a short break.

Nudge them to do at least ten minutes of project work everyday. Even on days when they have lots of homework or a busy extra-curricular schedule, try to get them to squeeze in ten minutes on the project. A commitment to consistency will help keep them mentally and emotionally connected to the project.

Allow (even encourage) rewards for completing the ten-minute work chunk. Small concrete rewards (a short break for chatting online, listening to a favorite song, or eating a snack) are ideal. You might even add to the options by keeping some of their favorite treats in the pantry. And remember, in the beginning it’s more about process than product. It’s not whether what they’ve done is fabulous, it’s that they sat down and did what they committed to doing.

A note about starting small to help them build momentum:
I can hear many of you protesting that ten minutes of work on a project is not enough to amount to anything – that you can’t imagine suggesting it, much less rewarding it. I get it. I once felt the same way. That is until I came to understand that the ten-minute chunks of work are about more than merely helping a teen complete a school project. It’s about helping them rebuild trust in themselves as they strengthen their willpower muscle and build momentum. And that’s best done slowly and with practice. Like when bodybuilding at the gym, willpower is best developed by regularly exercising it in small ways. You don’t want to do too much as once.⁴

Sources and Resources
1. Jaffe, E. Why wait? The science behind procrastination. Observer. April, 2013.
2. Hoover, E. Tomorrow, I love ya! Chronicle of Higher Ed. December 9, 2005.
3. McKinney, M. Overcome procrastination. Tomorrow’s Professor. Msg. 833.
4. Weir, K. The power of self-control. Monitor on Psychology 43: 46.

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