How to Get Your Teen To Do Hard Stuff

Christmas 2014 10

This might sound a little unconventional–but hear me out.

After three years of begging and pleading and threatening–we have finally found the key to behavior modification with our kid.

Five bucks a day.

Yep, five bucks a day–that’s what it takes to change a habit in my teenage son.

Every day he does the thing I want him to do–which is stretch his hips–and I reward him.

So why the money?

Because, quite frankly, NOTHING else was working.

My son, as many of you know, is an elite athlete.  And don’t get me wrong, Kyle is fast, but he could be even faster.  Even a tiny gain (2/10 of a second) can mean a big deal in football.  Speed equals explosiveness and open hips give him the the ability to change directions fast.  As a linebacker it’s crucial.

It also means less injuries, because a flexible person is bendy and when they get hit hard–they bend.

But Kyle could not, would not be forced into doing anything.  This is what they call a TEENAGER.  And it’s so fun as a parent trying to work with a belligerent donkey.

We were stumped…

A few weeks ago, my husband heard the author of The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg, at a church conference talking about the formation of new habits.  He came home with the book and the information excited to try it out.

So we gamely played along and let Kyle be our first case study in the Keller home.

According to Duhigg, the key to habit change is to:

1. Make it easy to do the thing (for example, set out the yoga mat for him to stretch the night before)

2. Have an instant positive reward ($5 deposit into his high school checking)

Truthfully, Tim and I were doubtful.  Kyle already burns the midnight oil and trains relentlessly along with studying into the wee hours of the night.  It was just “one more thing” we were harping on him to do.  He already stretches every day and now we were asking him to do more.

Kyle, like all of us, wants to have good habits.  His intent is good but he just needed a kick in the pants and a reason that didn’t suck to go above and beyond the ordinary.

I’m here to give the praise of Mr. Duhigg, because his system worked.

Every day our kid gets up 15 minutes early and stretches.  And every day I deposit the money in his bank account.

For all those parents thinking I don’t have an extra $150 to give my kid a month, the reward doesn’t have to be financial.  It just has to be something small and easy to give immediately.

For my five year old it could be reading her favorite book for the hundredth time for five minutes or playing Barbies.

But for us and with this kid, the money made sense. Now that our son can drive, we probably spend that amount on him anyway because he’s always asking for money for gas or to hit Starbucks and Chick-Filet.

According to Duhigg, the best habit changers in the study group were were runners who allowed themselves a small piece of chocolate after each run.  It was an immediate and tangible reward. And for those people who love chocolate…very effective!

The people who wanted to gain a running habit laid out their running shoes the night before and rewarded themselves immediately after.

And presto…new habit formed.

I for one, can’t wait to see all the things we can accomplish with our kids as we put this system to work.

And honestly, I also can’t wait to see all the things I accomplish, because sometimes, I need a kick in the pants too!

(And a little glass of a good Cabernet or a tasty chocolate sounds like a lovely reward to me)

–Samantha

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