How to Change Teen Habits: 7 Simple but Effective Steps
Ivana Pejakovic B.Sc., MA
Everyone has habits. This includes teens! In fact, we start forming our habits as children and solidify them in our teen years. Unfortunately, many of those harmful habits we formed early in life, while we were still trying to figure out what living was all about, have stuck around. And unless we make a conscious choice to change them, they will continue to be a part of our life.
Knowing that habits can break us or make us, parents frequently ask how they can teach their teens (and young children) to develop efficient and productive habits.
What are Habits Anyways?
To answer the question in the above paragraph, we need to know what habits are. Habits are the behaviours, thoughts, feelings, and attitude we engage in over and over again without thinking. Everyone has routine patterns of behaviour in reaction to specific situations. Yes, teens have formed habits too.
Typical negative teen habits include: thinking poorly of themselves with respect to their ability to perform well at school, thinking they do not deserve good things in life, staying friends with disrespectful peers, not keeping promises, acting impulsively and making rash decisions, lacking goals, losing focus on what is important by allowing themselves to be distracted, avoiding commitments and responsibilities, accepting things as they are instead of being proactive, and so on.
Habits are NOT Permanent: How to Change Habits
About 95% to 99% of our behaviour, thoughts, and feelings in any given day are habitual. Most of what we do, feel and think today we will do, feel, and think tomorrow. Fortunately, once the negative habits are recognized, they can be changed.
The question of course is: how can any parent help their teen modify destructive habits?
Below is a method, that if committed to, can help your teen (and you) form better habits.
1.Schedule a time with your teen to sit down and complete the following exercise. The timing should be convenient for you both. Perhaps you can both pick a habit to fix or make it a family effort. Your teen will feel supported and better about him/herself.
2.What habits do I want to change? Work towards changing only 1 habit at a time. Changing 2 or 3 at a time can be very hard because it takes a lot of energy, discipline, and control. Once your teen masters one habit and demonstrates that success is possible, s/he can go onto the next one.
Ask your teen to write a list of all the habits s/he would like to change. (E.g., greater respect for myself; better opinion of myself; stand up for myself to my friends).
3.What habit do I want to change right now? Once your teen has completed the list above, ask him/her to pick the habit s/he is most interested in changing. This habit can be small or big, most important or least important. Start with the habit of your teen’s choice…your child will get to the others soon enough if dedicated.
4.What will I do instead? (E.g., I will think of myself as deserving; I will use positive words to describe myself; I will choose friends that I can be honest and open with and that have good opinion of me). If your teen doesn’t know or doesn’t plan out what s/he will do instead, s/he will fall back into old habits and familiar behaviour. The new behaviour that will replace old behaviour must be planned out!
Ask your teen to make a list of what s/he will do in place of the counter-productive behaviours. S/he needs to write down the positive words s/he plans to use to describe him/herself, write down what s/he is deserving of, and write down the qualities and values of the new friends s/he is looking for. The more detail the less confusion there will be and less chance s/he will fall back into the old habits.
5.Do I really want to change? (E.g., Yes or no). If your teen’s answer is “No” or “Maybe,” it will be harder to change because his/her heart is not in it and s/he will feel unmotivated. Encourage your teen to be honest because dishonesty will likely lead to failure. Perhaps another habit would be more appealing to change?
6.How will I benefit by changing this habit? (E.g. I will feel better about myself; I will be more successful; when I respect myself and think I am deserving, others will respect me more and also think I am deserving; I will be happier when I stand up for myself; I will gain confidence; I will gain friends that accept me for myself; I will gain friends that have similar values as me). Knowing the benefits will motivate your teen to stay on track when the going gets tough. This will solidify the reason the old behaviour needs to be changed.
7.Be consistent! Practice makes perfect! It’s hard to change a habit if your teen’s behaviour is not reliable. Reversely, your teen will strengthen his/her old habit each time s/he engages in it.
For more information to help your teen change habits, contact Toronto Life Coach, Ivana Pejakovic.