Helping Your Teen to Love Him or Herself: A Valentine's Day Gift from Tutor to Parents

Seize the moments of happiness: Love and be loved!

The strongest of warriors are these two - Time and Patience.

Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

Halfway between the New Year and Valentine’s Day, I’m feeling the tug between my resolve to make headway on 2018’s goals and my need to “love and be loved.”  Some readers of Desk to Nest know that I underwent major orthopedic surgery in December.  It’s easy to justify time away from finishing my book, Soar Through High School and Beyond, for example, by telling myself that another game of Uno with my nieces will help my foot to heal as it cheers my spirits.  I see this this tug-of-war between creative drive and pleasurable inertia – what yogis call rajas and tamas – in students, too. 
Whether a parent calls me to help her child manage his time more effectively or to work on his analytical writing, we often discover that skills like scheduling and writing have been stymied by the teen’s inability to persist through setbacks.  When faced with an obstacle like an unresponsive partner in a group project or a missing library book, these students frequently choose inaction, or tamas. In its temporary absolution of responsibility to start the group project or find an alternate source in the library, tamas frees them to pursue more pleasurable pastimes.  Of course, teens’ still-evolving prefrontal cortexes make it difficult for them to predict possible consequences of present inaction (e.g., staying up till 2am the night before the group project is due, or a grade of D on the research paper), even when we point them out.

As an academic tutor, I’ve used several techniques to help students ignite rajas, their drive to not give in to tamas so that they can begin to generate their own solutions to problems.  While I don’t claim to have a fail proof method that will work 100% of the time with every teen, here are three tips that I use to get my students – and myself – back on track when they stray from habits that will get them to where they want to be.  If my students’ stories sound familiar, try the following with your own children when they falter:

1. Encourage your teen to write down his goals and post them somewhere he can see them every day.  It’s important that you let him know that this vision should be his own, not the one he thinks you have for him.  (Past issues of Desk to Nest have explored the practice of goal setting; check out this video version.)  When teens are confronted with choices – like playing video games or starting their homework (or, er, another round of Uno versus writing Chapter Four) – they’re more likely to sacrifice a short-term pleasure for accomplishing a longer-term goal they feel ownership of.

2.  Once your child has written his goals and chosen inaction or unwisely anyway, help him brainstorm other choices he might have made instead.  When you initiate this process in a non-judgmental fashion free from the threat of punishment, most teens quickly and honestly offer alternatives.  Then ask him to predict how each choice might have gotten him closer to (or farther away from) his goal(s). 
3. Share your own struggles to achieve sattva, or a balance between determination (rajas) and relaxation (tamas).  For instance, though I’ve said that I intended to use my recovery time to finish the last two chapters of my book, I’m sharing with you that I haven’t even opened that document file yet!  Admitting difficulties with accomplishing your own goals will help bring your child and you closer together: he senses your common challenges and you’re reminded to view his next stumble with compassion.  More importantly, when you model a renewed sense of rajas, or commitment, to work toward your own goals, your child will see self-love in action.  Forgiving yourself for your own past slips, you’re more able to “seize the moments of happiness” and move like a warrior, armed with Time and Patience, toward your goal.  That patience will also help you deal with your teen’s next fall... and he will learn from his most important teacher – you – how to bounce back after failure and keep moving forward.

If you use these techniques to help your children (or yourself!) walk back toward their New Year’s resolutions, please let me know how it goes!  Next time, I’ll share my own progress on my book and, I hope, my students’ progress on overcoming obstacles.  Till then, seize every moment of happiness with the rajas of a warrior, and love and be loved with patience.  Happy Valentine’s Day!