Our research and coaching sessions with kids, adolescents and their parents led to some surprising conclusions:
Significantly less than 30% of kids had goals of their own for their lives and academics. Most felt pressure or had performance expectations from their parents that left them feeling like they consistently fell short. As a result many adolescents were frustrated and had little internal desire to achieve good grades because of the oppositional nature of the adolescent brain. The pressure and expectations contributed to the very motivation issues parents were trying to address through expectations and external pressure.
More prevalent with adolescent males in high school, but also present with young women, was the lack of vision for the future. Absent a vision or direction for their lives moving forward, youth believed there was no reason to invest in today’s schoolwork. Students with a vision for their future pushed through boring and irrelevant classes better than those who were living only for today.
Due to the changes that occur in the adolescent brain, the approach parents and leaders have been trained to use regarding homework, and academic motivation often has an inverse effect. Such an approach frequently triggers the oppositional nature of the adolescent brain producing a defensive or opposite outcome. Once triggered, youth focus on the frustration and injustice of the situation and lack of belief in them. They do not reflect and learn from their failures, but instead brood about the situation. Many of the youth with whom we interact, who have significant motivation issues, arrive at a point of not caring. This, in fact, is a natural defense mechanism that protects them from the sense of falling short and failure. If they do not care or make an effort, then the outcome does not impact their self-perspective nearly as much and helps them buffer themselves from the predicted response of their parents and other adults. In short they grow numb.
Even youth who have given up still have the desire to succeed. In our adolescent coaching and research we frequently have the opportunity to talk with youth who are greatly struggling. Once through their defense barriers, we find they still desire to succeed, but have often experienced a complete crash of their internal confidence and belief in their ability to succeed. Thus, why try? These youth often turn to other escapes that mask their sense of failure. Escape takes on many forms ranging from social media and video games, where they escape into an artificial reality, feel accepted and successful, to pornography and substance abuse that provide temporary relief from their self doubt, inability to please their parents and the pain of failure.
To address deeper motivation issues YTN has developed It's Your Life for adolescents. It's your life helps them look at their situation, sources of motivation issues and come to their own conclusions about their lives apart from parental expectations, labels they have adopted and negative internals that collapse motivation and confidence.
We need to come alongside our kids and help rebuild their confidence one step at a time by drawing on their internal desire to succeed. It is critical that we do not fall back into the old approaches and pressure that trigger opposition and bring back to the surface the pool of negative feelings that lead to demotivation.
Youth in such a position are apt to become defensive, as they cannot take one more negative about themselves; they quickly revert to the motivation patterns already in place. At the core of the Secrets of Influential Parenting is a perspective, approach and set of tools that help parents alter their approach to align with the changes that occur in the adolescent brain. Parents learn to draw upon internal desire rather than rely on the external motivation tactics they believe are the best way to parent, but backfire with this generation of youth.