I have surveyed just over 1,000 teenagers for a presentation I do called “Teenagers 101.” This idea started from a friend of mine named Chris Brown, who is a pastor. I worked with Chris at a church in Pomona, California for four years where I was the Director of Student Ministries. Chris did a parent seminar in 1999 asking each kid three questions about their parents. I stole his idea and have done the presentation 4 times at the high schools I’ve worked at. I LOVE doing it because I love seeing teenagers and their parents get along: it’s a rare thing!
What I did was ask every kid in the school 3 questions, just as Chris did at the church.
1. W hat is one thing you wish your parents knew about you but are too afraid to tell them?
2. What is one thing you wish your parents did differently?
3. What is one thing you would change about your parents?
I LOVED pooring over these answers. I did this at Linfield Christian (Temecula, CA) and Capo Valley Christian (San Juan Capistrano, CA). These are amazing nights because the parents come face to face with the reality of life that their kids are living in. These parents get every answer type out for them, in a rather large document. It generates quite a lot of discussion both on campus and at home. I don’t filter the answers at all, just raw discussion from teenagers.
Here is the MOST importnat thing that I’ve learned from all of this research and almost 18 years of working with teenagers:
ONCE YOU STOP PRAISING YOUR CHILD’S EFFORTS, AND FOCUS INSTEAD ON THE RESULTS, YOU WILL LOSE THEM.
Let me explain.
I have a 5 year old daughter, Taylor. She is my little princess. She is my “sweetie pie” and I am hers, as she nicknamed me about 6 months ago!
She LOVES art. She is always drawing. She is always coloring. She would sit at the kitchen table or her desk and draw for 6 hours instead of going to school if we let her! She just loves to do projects, and make pictures for people. In fact, this is how I was reminded of this greatest piece of advice lesson I wanted to share with you today.
I was working at my desk in the garage on something earlier today when she came out and asked “Daddy, what do you want me to draw for you?” Since Easter is coming up and she loves bunny rabbits anyway, I said “how about the Easter Bunny Tay?”
So, she drew me this:
And guess what I said when this cute little 5 year old gave it to me???
I said “Taylor, that is the worst picture I have ever seen. This doesn’t Easter Bunny is so ugly. First of all, why is it a gray Easter Bunny? Aren’t they white? And what are the pink holes in his hands? And those feet, what are those clumps? Why does this Bunny only have three fingers? And no thumbs? Why is one ear SO much longer than the other? What are the eggs in the basket black? I’ve never seen black easter eggs, that’s ugly. You spelled “wants” wrong. You spelled “easter” wrong. You spelled “eggs” wrong. And that basket, is it glued to the bunny’s hand? The fingers are supposed to hold the basket.”
You are probably starting to figure this out now! She is 5!! Of course I didn’t judge the RESULTS of her EFFORTS! I praised the heck out of her EFFORTS!
“Taylor, this is awesome, great job baby!” (She blushed)
“Tay, how did you know how to draw such a great looking Easter Bunny?” (She smiled)
“I love the fluffy grey fur, and his pretty ears. That’s awesome you even remembered the Easter eggs in the basket! Wow! I could never draw something so great like this when I was your age baby girl!” (She hugged me as she blushed and smiled)
You see, as parents, we praise the heck out of our kids efforts as they are young. You know this very well if you have kids, or nieces/nephews, godchildren, or what have you. When they try to walk, we clap and encourage them with each fall. When they start playing at the playground, we help them climb to the top of the stairs and celebrate like they conquered Whitney. When they start kindergarten, we celebrate every ugly drawing. Why? Because they are in kindergarten and it’s the best they can do!
This Easter Bunny my daughter drew, it was her best EFFORT! So I praised it!
But somewhere along the way, what I have learned after working with hundreds and hundreds of teenagers in both the church and school setting, is that parents stop praising EFFORT in exchange for criticizing the RESULTS. I think that this starts right around 7th grade. For some reason, once kids get to Junior High, and start getting “more important report cards” and the pressures of “soon to be in high school” start to hit, parents get serious.
Parents exchange praising the EFFORTS of their kids (that cute little bunny she drew when she was 5) for criticizing the RESULTS (the C- on the 7th grade history test.)
And this gets very confusing for the kids. Somewhere this quantitative calculator in parents’ heads replace the qualitative one. Parents start quantifying every piece of school work, and even their child’s involvement in sports, theater, etc. It stops becoming about the process, and instead becomes all about the end result.
This is the most important thing that I have learned from all of these surveys I’ve done with teenagers since 1999. It’s where I end my Teenagers 101 90 minute presentation. I ask parents to think deeply about the last time they were happy with their kids’ EFFORTS and let them know that. It’s sad to see a lot eyes go down at this point.
And I know that this all relates very, very well to coaching. As coaches, we need to remember to be proud of the EFFORT our kids give us. We need to remember to tell them that too. Since 2003, I always tell my football teams these last two things before they hit the field on game night: PLAY HARD and HAVE FUN!! And I ask them afterwards if they played hard, if they had fun. Praise them when they do!
Parents/Coaches, the bottom line is this: if your critique of RESULTS outweighs your praise of EFFORTS, you will never get the most out of your kids, period. Your kids will be more discouraged than encouraged.
So, go ahead, give your kids a little praise!