We all find it difficult to pay the price if we can’t see the promise. As discussed last week, this is particularly true for children and adolescents. We see this over and over, where adolescents refuse to put forth effort (i.e., pay the price) when, in their minds, the reward (i.e., promise) offered is not worthy of the effort.
Here’s the bottom line: You will never be successful talking to your children about working harder, putting forth more effort, or doing better. It just doesn’t resonate when your son or daughter doesn’t care about the ‘promise’ you, or their teachers, have put in front of them.
You might be tempted to say, ‘Well, they should care more.’ This typically doesn’t matter much. The fact is…they likely don’t care. And the point of these two articles is to emphasize the futility of trying to force the effort. You will struggle if you focus only on trying to get them to pay the price because they ‘should care more.’ Predictably, this will fail.
More Focus on Promise: But How?
Let’s imagine your son has become less motivated in school. He was a solid A-B student, and now his grades are marginal at best. When you try to talk to him, he rolls his eyes and informs you that math is outdated and that he doesn’t need to know it. Instead, he will make money designing video games and apps for his phone.
In reality, all he does is play video games and has no clue about the engineering and mathematics behind that video game! Will you convince him of that? Not likely. Will you convince him of the vital importance of math, regardless of where you work? Not likely. Will you convince him that he has to work harder to get into a good college so that he could get a job designing software? Again, not likely.
In dozens of ways, you can try to change that adolescent view of the’ promise’ that he has abandoned, and you will not make progress. So what do you do instead?
Get Practical: Make Today’s Effort Relate to a Meaningful Reward or Promise
In the example above, we have to abandon (for the moment) whether or not this young man decides to care about college and math. He will not be persuaded. Instead, we have to get him motivated based upon something he does care about. In this scenario, he cares about his video games and his phone. However, in most situations, these huge rewards are given to adolescents as if they are simply a parental requirement. Most adolescents view themselves as ‘entitled’ to these…regardless of their efforts otherwise. This is a remarkable problem, for a myriad of reasons. But for today, let’s focus on the issue of more motivation for math.
Since we can’t convince this adolescent to put forth more effort because he cares about math, it doesn’t mean we can’t get good effort on math. We simply leverage him into effort based on what he wants.
Each day, we give him a new ‘promise.’ The promise is this: Do your homework, and let me inspect it. If the effort is good, then you get your phone and video game (i.e., the new promise).
If not, no problem. You just don’t get either of them.
Of course, there will be a fury of reaction and upset, and all sorts of ugly statements about ‘not fair’ and ‘nobody else does this’ and even perhaps, ‘you are so stupid.’ All to be expected and ignored.
The goal here is simple: Better effort on math. And rather than caring about this young man’s view of math, we simply hold him accountable to better effort in order to get what he wants.
Is this a pain? Yes. It is taking more time for you? Yes. Is it cumbersome? Yes. All of that, and likely more.
However, if you want to do something to affect effort, you must affect the promise/reward that you kids care about. Once you do that, you have leverage.
Let Time Be the Teacher Now
This might take a couple weeks before the complaining dies down. But eventually, more effort shows up with the homework because it brings your child more quickly to what they want; their goodies. This is inevitable.
However, another beautiful thing is happening. The better effort starts to reap the rewards. Better grades feel good. Better effort feels good. Better results get smiles and feedback from teachers, and this feels good. In other words, natural reinforcement of the better effort has it’s own rewards!
Over a few months of time, this has another level of impact, as your child now begins to slowly associate more effort with a good feeling. You must be patient here and just hold to the simple daily system. And you must remain mute in using your words to try to teach this lesson or to point them in the direction of what they are learning. Keep quiet, and let them learn. Stay focused. Manage this new system and watch as the evolution unfolds. It’s a beautiful thing!