How would you rate your teen’s self-discipline? Is she a super-tasker, accomplishing more in a week than you thought possible? Or maybe she's very self-controlled, finishing all her homework before the video games start?
If that's the case, you probably wouldn’t be reading this article. But if your teen needs a little more prodding, you'll want to read on.
Why is Willpower Important?
Studies have shown that self-discipline affects school performance far more than a teen’s IQ. When teens exercise strong willpower to remain disciplined in healthy habits, they reap all kinds of benefits. The results can be seen in their academic performance, home life, and relationships. They’re better prepared to resist peer pressure, work hard toward their goals, and maintain healthy boundaries.
With so many benefits, it’s easy to see why self-discipline should be cultivated in teens. But, how is this possible? Don’t they need to be internally motivated?
It’s true, teens ultimately have to make their own decisions and exercise their own willpower in order to be motivated. But there are methods parents can use to help instill this quality - and even make it stronger.
How to Give Your Teen's Willpower a Boost
If you want to encourage your teen to exercise his or her own willpower and self-discipline, try these four steps:
- Step #1 - Hurdle the Hate
Tim Elmore, president of Growing Leaders, recommends the “do it if you hate it” tactic. It helps if you can make this a competition (between siblings, you and your teen, or the entire family). Everyone participating chooses one activity that they hate. Then, they do that activity every day for a set period of time. By purposefully making it a daily act, your teen will grow stronger in self-discipline and willpower. Let your teen select their own task, but make sure they’re being honest. Taking out the trash might be a good choice. Watching a TV show that’s not their favorite is...not such a good choice.
- Step #2 - Apply Accountability
This may seem obvious, but your teen will do better with emotional support. They may seem fairly independent (and want to be entirely independent), but they need accountability. Ask them to set goals, then follow up on them. Ask them about the habits they’re trying to change or tasks they’re trying to accomplish. Don’t let them get away with lies or exaggerations. Holding them accountable will help them stay resolved in their efforts and strengthen their self-discipline.
- Step #3 - Think Outside the Hallways
Often, when parents think of teen self-discipline, they think of school performance. Their concern is with teen’s exercising willpower to finish assignments, go to class, and succeed academically. These are good goals, but they shouldn’t be the ultimate goal. Stay focused on the bigger picture. You want your teen to be successful in life, not just on their report card. Exercising self-control enhances soft skills that will be useful for current relationships, future careers and a life-time of decision-making. Emotional intelligence, communication, teamwork and other essential skills are just as important as top grades. Make sure your teen understands this.
- Step #4 - Celebrate Small Victories
As you work with your teen to develop strong willpower and reliable self-discipline, take the time to celebrate. You don’t have to wait for graduation or a major project completion and then throw a party. If you learn your teen turned down an offer for drugs, if they resisted the temptation for junk food and lost two pounds, if they completed a full week of “hurdle the hate,” celebrate! Find a way to recognize their efforts and continue to build into their development of life-changing willpower.
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