You cannot change people. You cannot tell people what to do and be surprised if they do not respond. You cannot make people change their beliefs, behaviors, habits or indeed who they are, but, when the people that we are talking about are teenagers, sometimes, often, changes in behaviour, attitude, perception, belief and habits are essential to their well-being, performance, health, happiness and success, and indeed the family and school environment. So, what can you do?
According to research psychologists Dr James Prochaska and Dr Carlo DiClemente (1982), who developed the “5 Stages of Change” model to describe what happens when people make major life changes, it is possible to support change in behaviour by stimulating a change in perception.
Stage One: Pre-contemplation: At this stage, the idea of making the change is just that, an idea, often suggested by you the parent: 'You need to get more organised', 'You must do your homework at the same time each day', 'You have to be ready for school on time', 'You have to stop shouting every time you do not get your own way'. Instruction does not work! What needs to happen, is that the message about changing needs to be delivered in a way that gets your teen to contemplate the idea.
You can try asking your teen open questions like this, that can trigger an opening of the mind, rather than a defensive retort:
Stage Two: Contemplation:
Arriving in contemplation is a process that the teenager needs to be allowed to get to, which can be supported by your open questions. Contemplation is a time of ambivalence, where the idea of change may be explored.
Your teen may start to think that 'Actually, I do need to stop shouting, because it is creating an unpleasant energy in the home, and it doesn't make things better', or 'I do need to believe in myself more, I could achieve so much more and feel better about myself', or, 'I really do need to sort out my homework pile, I would feel better if things were organised'.
Stage Three: Preparation:
At this stage the determination to make the change is initiated. This phase needs to be allowed to happen, without expectation of immediate results; some people can go cold turkey on their habits and behaviors, while others take stepping stones or make gradual changes. During this time, it is better not to push your teen ahead with plans about what they are going to do, but to support the space they are in and use positive reinforcement when you notice positive changes. If they return to old habits, gently remind them to think about the reasons they want to try to change and what they may gain from this.
Stage Four: Action
At this stage, changes have been made. This is the time to talk about how your teen feels about the change they have made. Continuing to use positive reinforcement, can help to encourage the maintenance and development of this process.
Stage Five: Maintenance
By this stage, the new behaviour has replacing what has been for several weeks. Your teenager may still return to old behaviors, and if this happens, make time to talk with each other about what can be learnt from this and what your teen wants to try to do now. Remind them what they achieved, how they were feeling about their success, and the benefits they were getting from this.
Change takes time. It is possible. You can do it if you really want to and if you believe that you can.