By Michael Scott, Assistant Principal, Hutchinson High School
How many of you have thought a teenager lacked motivation? I venture to guess you may have either thought this or heard someone say this about a teenager.
I would offer another conclusion. I would refrain from using the terms “lazy” or “unmotivated” to describe a struggling teenager; however, I would suggest teenagers who appear unmotivated may lack the skills necessary, either academic or behavioral, to reach success.
Sometimes we assume that teenagers must have or should have learned the behavioral skills necessary to meet the demands of adult-like life. When I work with students, I try to find the underlying reason for the behavior or lack of success in hopes of preventing the same situation or lack of success from happening again.
I have begun reading Smart but Scattered Teens but Richard Guare, Peg Dawson, and Colin Guare. It is an excellent resource for educators and parents in helping teenagers with skill development. The authors state, “They [teenagers] don’t lack the intelligence to know better, but they may well lack the executive skills to help them use that intelligence to regulate their behavior” (p. 10).
The authors define “executive skills” as things such as emotional control, sustaining attention, time management, planning, organization, and response inhibition as the brain-based skills required to effectively execute tasks and problem solve (p. 11).
As children grow up, their parents serve as the executive skills for their children, teaching their children along the way how to use their thoughts and control their behavior. As children gain more independence in their teenage years, we often expect them to have mastered these executive skills already. Moreover, the authors state that teenagers have a brain capable of learning through experience but lack a fully developed frontal lobe (area of brain for executive skills) that is ill-suited for what those experiences should be.
In Smart but Scattered Teens, the authors give ten principles for assisting teenagers in developing these skills. For parents and educators, the first principle is don’t assume that a struggling teen has the executive skills and isn’t using them. Instead, think that a skill is in need of further development.
Second, parents and educators need to help a teenager learn these skills, which isn’t done through punitive measures. If, for example, a teenager struggles with time management, punishing won’t teach him or her the skills needed or how to manage time.
Smart but Scattered Teens provides several examples of how to teach executive skills by keeping in mind how to gradually release the support. Money management, for example, involves executive skills of organization, response inhibition, and goal-directed persistence. This book provides ways for parents to use the activity of money management to model and teach these executive skills.
Some of the other principles include providing just enough support, keeping that support in place until your teenager has mastered the skill, gradually reducing the supports, and working with your teen on the strategies to assist without alienating him or her in the process.
If you are looking for ways to support your teen’s decision-making, organization, time management, response inhibition, and planning to name a few, I recommend this book as a resource. At Hutchinson High School, we will be using this as part of our interventions to promote success to no doubt continue to increase success in the classroom and in prepare students for post-secondary goals.