Purposeful parenting provides much needed direction for teens

by Gary Gilles

Teens need purposeful parentingI have two teenage children at home; one a junior in high school, the other a sophomore. I’m trying to get them to think about college and the future but they seem to have no motivation. The only things they are interested in are friends and video games. I don’t want them living at home into their 20s and 30s like some families I know. How can I help them prepare for the future?

–   Tamara V.

Gary’s Answer: What you are experiencing Tamara is unfortunately an all-too-common pattern among young people today. I have some concrete suggestions that may help give your children and you some direction and purpose.

First, it’s important to remember that teens are typically present-dwellers, meaning that they live in the present without much thought or consideration of the future. They think the future is way off in the distance and that only what is happening NOW is important. So, some of what you are experiencing is a natural part of the developmental process for teens. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be trying to infuse some sense of direction into your children’s lives now to help prepare them for the future.

Delayed commitments

In my opinion, one of the main reasons teens today show less ambition about their future is because they are afraid. They won’t typically admit it, especially to parents, but most are afraid of the responsibilities they will face once they are out of their parent’s house. So, they postpone many of their life decisions until later.

For example, many young people do not feel confident that their relationships will last long-term, so they are reluctant to commit to anyone. They don’t think their job prospects or earning potential is good in such a weak economy, so why work hard to get a job. And going to college often means taking on massive debt. It all adds up to a scary and uncertain future.

Purposeful parenting tips

But there are several things you can do to help calm those fears, give them direction and parent with purpose.

  • Be open-minded and supportive of your child’s interests.

Even if you don’t particularly like their interests or think they are worthwhile, you can at least explore them through conversation. For example, since your children enjoy video games, explore their interest in this beyond just playing the game. What aspect of gaming interests them the most: the technology, the story line, the graphics, the competition between players, etc.?

Offer opportunities to learn more about the areas of their interest. For example, you might arrange a tour to a studio that creates video games to help them see behind the scenes. A supportive approach can help self-direction and intrinsic motivation for learning more.

  • Share your own sense of purpose and the meaning you derive from your work.

Talk about what you find purposeful and meaningful as it relates to your work. Go beyond the financial and material. Share some of your own goals and what gives purpose in your work.

When a child sees only material rewards from work (money and possessions), he or she can often miss the values and meaning that underlie the motivation for meaningful work. Our kids need to understand how work serves essential social needs and fulfills our personal sense of purpose.

  • Introduce your children to potential mentors

Youth often look to people outside the home for ideas and inspiration that help them find their own path. Take a proactive approach to finding and introducing your children to people who can inspire them in this way. If their interests increase, support them in learning more. This will often infuse a sense of purpose and industry.

  • Encourage an entrepreneurial attitude

Research has shown that highly purposeful youth (those who know what they are interested in and pursue those interests) have an entrepreneurial spirit. In order to cultivate an entrepreneurial attitude in your child, do the following:

1)      Help them set clear goals and make realistic plans to accomplish them

2)      Encourage an optimistic, can-do-attitude

3)      Model persistence in the face of obstacles and difficulties

4)      Support risk-taking to learn new skills

Finally, keep in mind that you can’t make your children feel motivated. Your job as parent is to create a positive relationship that is supportive of your child’s interests. In doing this you create an environment where intrinsic motivation is most likely to grow.


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