Teenagers often speak freely and enthusiastically about starting a new year at school. They psyche themselves up and say that this year will be different. The grades, the friends, the activities it’s all going to be way better! For the first few weeks of school they walk around energetic and expectant and then they feel it. It’s just another school year with similar friends, similar grades, similar good things, and similar bad things. They become discouraged and slump back into the norm.
I believe that this happens to teenagers because they often expect things to happen to them. They honestly believe that they just have to wait around, be in the right place at the right time with the right look on their face and POOFF something with happen to them that will make everything better. Don’t judge them for it, it’s actually a normal developmental phase. But they do have a hard time getting their heads around the very mature idea that things change when you make them change. They can understand this concept intellectually but believing it to be true in your heart is what really produces changes in behavior. This is where they often fall short. But just like anything else this mature belief can be taught.
You can help your teenager avoid this common disappointment by talking to them about what it is exactly that they want to be different. This could be something like: I want to make more friends, I want to get better grades, or I want to have more fun. Talk to them about previous years when they had similar hopes that didn’t pan out and what that experience was like for them. Then have a conversation where you encourage them to make some real changes in their routine and offer your help. Try to keep them talking through it and avoid telling them what to do or how to do it. The idea is to help them practice problem solving and planning thought processes. Just be ready to support them in their goals with practical things like money and transportation. Facilitate, but do not do it for them. Be with them through the hard parts of wanting to give up and stay positive.
The more positive consequences they feel as a result of this effort the better. Eventually they will start to internalize the message: if want things to be different you have to make them different. If your teenagers are able to link planning and problem solving with good results then you have just done them an immense service that will last for the rest of their lives. This is invaluable not only academically and professionally but personally as well.