Anticipating many conversations that another school year will soon bring, Dr. Adam Price, writing in the Wall Street Journal, offers practical advice concerning a certain group of teens, "the ones that parents perennially despair of as 'lazy' or mysteriously and obstinately unmotivated":
The phenomenon that presents itself as teenage apathy can have many sources, including adolescent psychology, parenting styles, family dynamics and sometimes learning disabilities. Laziness is not on the list. Calling your son "lazy" will only make him more oppositional than he already is. Here are a few other parental habits worth breaking:Advertisement
• Stop telling him how smart he is. My son has 15 soccer trophies sitting on his shelf, most of them earned just for showing up to practice, a vestige of the 1960s self-esteem movement. Research by Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, shows that constantly telling children they are good at something actually discourages them from trying harder at it—and telling them how smart they are gives them an expectation that they must live up to. Being considered smart becomes their prized identity, one they are loath to lose by taking risks and failing. Better to praise them for working hard.
• Stop doing the dishes for him. Children are not helped when parents take care of household chores because the children are "too busy" with homework, sports and other activities. Treating them like royalty whose only job is to bring honor to the family gives them an unrealistic message about life—that they are special. Seeing a parent take out the garbage does not inspire a teenager to rush, with gratitude, to his studies. Rather, he draws the conclusion: "I am above all of that drudgery." Successful people tend to be those who are willing and able to do things that they really don't want to do.
• Don't let him off easy. Clinical psychologist Wendy Mogul has written that it is easier for parents to feed, shelter and clothe their children than it is for them to set effective limits. But not enforcing consequences for the indolent teenage boy reinforces the notion, yet again, that he is special, and that the rules of the world do not apply to him.
• Don't make him shine for you. In a culture where teenagers scramble to amass credentials and gain admission to the best colleges is more intense than ever, being considered average or even a little above has become unacceptable. But by overlooking the good in the quest for the perfect, parents saddle children with unrealistic expectations. A college counselor I know likes to say that a good college is one that fits your kid, not one whose name adds class to your car's rear window.