The teen years represent a time of change and challenge. According to developmental theorist Erik Erikson, adolescents turn away from their parents and toward peers during this time (Crain, 2005). As a result, teens are susceptible to joining peers in experimenting with drugs and alcohol, among other behaviors.
Teens can lack basic reasoning skills that adults possess. Because teens’ brains are still developing—the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until age 25 (Jay, 2012)—the consequences can be serious if they decide to use substances. Studies show teens who start using marijuana, one of the most commonly used drugs among adolescents, by the age of 14 are three times more likely to become psychotic (Amen, 2017, April 24). Teenagers who turn to alcohol to cope are more likely to continue doing so as they enter adulthood (Pinskey, 2017).
Parents often ask how they can help their teen make better choices. An approach that has worked well in organizations to manage employees is self-leadership (Manz & Sims, 1991). Backed by research supporting its effectiveness, consultants have been using this concept to train employees since the 1990s. In the past five years, self-leadership has been applied to help train military officers, police officers, and cancer patients (Lucke, G. A., & Furtner, M. R., 2015; Yun, Y. H., et.al., 2014). Georgianna (2015) suggests these strategies can be taught to teens to prevent them from turning to risky behaviors to cope.
What are some of the strategies involved in self-leadership? How can you teach your teen to utilize them when faced with difficult situations? Consider the following (for a full list of self-leadership strategies, see Georgianna, 2015, p.324):
Strategy 1: Use Positive Self-Talk
Explanation: When we make mistakes, we can have negative thoughts. Learning to approach a mistake from a more balanced perspective is a healthy practice for teens to learn.
Example: Your teen forgets their homework at school. Their immediate thought is, “I’m so stupid.” A balanced thought would be, “Sometimes I forget my homework, but that does not mean I am stupid. I have a lot on my mind today.”
Strategy 2: Observe My Behavior
Explanation: For most people, self-reflection is not an automatic practice. We often look at others’ behaviors and judge, but how often do we look at our own behaviors?
Example: Your teen is hanging out with a crowd using offensive language. A helpful tool would be to journal about why this behavior might be offensive to others and how this can impact how they are viewed and their reputation.
Strategy 3: Natural Rewards
Self-leadership strategies used within different organizations over time have proven successful for employees and their employers.
Explanation: Most adults learn to motivate themselves by self-rewarding. Many adults work hard at their job and reward themselves with a vacation, item of clothing, or an improvement to their home. Teens can develop their own self-reward system for motivation to make positive choices, complete assignments, or perform in extracurricular activities.
Example: Your teen is not completing their homework assignments. A natural reward for turning in their homework could be getting the chance to spend time with friends on the weekend.
Strategy 4: Physical Vitality
Explanation: Studies show exercise and eating healthy keep the brain and body healthy. Without incorporating these patterns into one’s life, the brain does not function as well (Amen, 2017, April 18). Teens benefit from learning the importance of exercise and a healthy diet. By encouraging your teen to prioritize these behaviors, they may be set up for current and future success.
Example: Your teen decided to stop participating in cheer six months ago because she felt as if she did not have enough time to focus on her studies. Since quitting cheer, she has been less motivated, sleeps more, and does not turn in homework. Encouraging her to get at least one hour of exercise a day could have an impact on her health and ability to focus on tasks.
The teen years are challenging for teens and parents alike. When teens receive help from parents, coaches, teachers, or counselors, the impact can be profound (Amen, 2017, April 18). Teaching your teen to utilize healthy coping skills now may set them up for success in the future. Self-leadership strategies used within different organizations over time have proven successful for employees and their employers. Research indicates young people can be taught these self-leadership strategies.
If you are experiencing difficulty with your teen, seek help from a trained professional.
- Amen, D., & Amen, T. (2017, April 18). Sports, mentors and social environments – Part 4 of an interview with Anthony Davis. The Brain Warriors Way Podcast. Podcast retrieved from: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-brain-warriors-way-podcast/id1178337794?mt=2&i=384517566
- Amen, D., & Amen, T. (2017, April 24). Smoking marijuana is NOT going green! The Brain Warriors Way Podcast. Podcast retrieved from: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-brain-warriors-way-podcast/id1178337794?mt=2&i=384724505
- Crain, W. (2005). Theories of development: Concepts and applications, (5th). New Jersey: Pearson.
- Georgianna, S. (2015). Addressing risk factors associated with women’s sexually compulsive behaviors through psycho-education and self-leadership development. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 22(4), 313-343. doi :10.1080/10720162.2015.1072489.
- Jay, M. (2012) The defining decade: Why your twenties matter and how to make the most of them now. New York, NY: Hachette Book Group.
- Lucke, G. A., & Furtner, M. R. (2015). Soldiers lead themselves to more success: A self-leadership intervention study. Military Psychology, 27(5), 311-324. doi:10.1037/mil0000086
- Manz, C. C., & Sims, H. P. (1991). SuperLeadership: Beyond the myth of heroic leadership. Organizational Dynamics, 19(4), 18-35. doi:10.1016/0090-2616(91)90051-A
- Pinskey, D. (2017, Mar 13). Dr. Shelly Uram and Adam Tishman. The Dr. Drew Podcast. Podcast retrieved from: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-dr-drew-podcast/id592284993?mt=2&i=382544497
- Yun, Y. H., Sim, J. A., Jung, J. Y., Noh, D., Lee, E. S., Kim, Y. W., & … Lee, S. N. (2014). The association of self-leadership, health behaviors, and posttraumatic growth with health related quality of life in patients with cancer. Psycho-Oncology, 23(12), 14231430. doi:10.1002/pon.3582
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