When parents tell their teenagers to do something, it makes them want to, well, not do it. You know this if you have a teen, or if you have ever been a teen. Mums and dads can keep pushing, nagging, threatening to shut down Fortnite forever, but that only leads to short-term compliance at best.
For teens to develop lasting habits (rather than rolling their eyes and saying, “FINE, I’ll do this thing this one time because these people are on my back“), they must believe they’re making best decision for themselves. But how can you, the person responsible for supporting their path to adulthood, give them a nudge?
It takes some psychological artfulness. Bestselling author and Wharton professor Adam Grant recommends trying a technique called motivational interviewing.
He explains on Today: “You think about the life skill that you want to teach and you say, ‘Look, on a scale from zero to 10, where zero is the most painful experience you can possibly imagine and 10 is nirvana, how motivated are you to do this?’ And your teenager might say, ‘two or three’ and you’re like, ‘Really? Why isn’t it lower?’ and then they generate their own reasons for why it’s not so terrible.”
Perhaps your teenager will come to her own conclusions as for why getting a summer job may not be the ultimate form of torture, or find some benefits to doing her own laundry. Teens aren’t lazy — they’re selective.
They like to do things on their own terms, and want to know what’s in it for them. Now and throughout their lives, they’ll need to find internal motivation, which doesn’t come from the words “Because I said so.”