Many people believe that in order to influence teens to make good decisions we have to beat them over the head with the potential consequences of bad decisions or scare them into making good decisions. I have been telling adults for years that it is not as difficult as they may think to positively influence teens’ decision making.
The following letter will show you just how simple it is:
Dear Ms. Jackie,
I’d like to start off by thanking you for coming out and talking to us. I don’t have some inspirational story to tell, but still your advice made a change in my perspective.
I had already made the decision to remain abstinent, not only in sex but also in every reckless activity teens engage in. But as I matured in my four years of high school, I began to see how society has no hope in my generation and their expectation for us was at its lowest. In fact, I found that they are actually expecting us to be out having sex and doing drugs.
They made it seem like they accepted all that harmful behavior and I began to contemplate whether or not my decision was worth it. I felt like I was wasting away my teenage years.
Then came Ms. Jackie.
You told us that you still had hope for us. That good could come out of my generation and instantly, I felt that I had a point to prove. I felt like if I stick to this commitment, maybe people my age and adults your age would show a little faith.
So thank you, for putting faith in us, no matter how messed up we are.
You’ve heard the age-old adage,
You have to SEE it to BELIEVE it!
Well, it’s just the opposite when it comes to positively influencing teens’ decision-making:
You have to BELIEVE it to SEE it!
It is unfortunate that this young lady’s resolve to abstain from all at-risk behaviors was beginning to waiver based on the low expectations of “society.” It is equally amazing that something as simple as a speaker believing in her generation could change this young lady’s entire outlook, and motivate her to continue to abstain.
As a matter of fact, one of the most common quotes I read in teens’ letters is
Thank you for believing in us!
When it comes to our young people, it must begin there. Just imagine how much we could positively influence them toward transforming their lives, if only we (the adults) would believe.
One of my goals when I speak to classes is for every student in the class to leave knowing that there is at least one adult who believes in them, ME. So you can imagine how I felt when I read this letter. It made my day!
What can you do?
- You set the standard! Let them know what your expectations are and encourage them early and often, along the way.
- Positive reinforcement goes a long way! Acknowledge and applaud them for their positive decision-making.
- Don't be a dream killer! When they tell you what they want/plan to do, don't doubt their ability to accomplish their goals.
- Counteract the negative! When you hear others speaking negatively (especially in your child's presence) about teenagers' ability to make good decisions, let your child know that you believe otherwise.
Please share any ways you have shown your children that you believe in them, so we can learn from each other.