Love is that micro-moment of warmth and connection that you share with another living being. (Barbara Fredrickson)
– Desiree Panlilio
I was thinking about the ability as a parent to decide whether to offer positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement in a situation. For example, your teenager in their eagerness to get out the door to go be with friends knocks the plate of cookies off the counter and all over the kitchen floor the cookies go, shards of the broken plate scatter. Let’s say their younger sibling tells the teen, “loser not seeing the cookies.” As a parent, the day has been hectic, and you add negative energy to the situation by telling your teen that they have made such a mess all over the floor and how irresponsible they are. They should be more careful and not have done that. Wow, just re-examine that exchange! What was positive about it? Nothing was positive. What if as a parent we could have hit pause, taken a deep breath, and changed the direction and energy and conversation? What if the parent said, “I will get the broom and dustpan, and you can start sweeping up the floor.” No negative energy, no frustration. Just a simple observation of what is next. The teenager already feels bad and realizes that being careful would have prevented the problem. Did they need to be reminded of that? No.
I was reading that we experience 20,000 individual moments in a waking day. Of those moments, we remember the strongest negative and positive ones. Some of those stay with us and help shape who we are. We hear it so often in interviews. Someone is asked “What was the defining moment in your life” or “What made the difference”? The answer is always an incredibly strong positive memory that shaped and encouraged that individual to realize that they are unique. It is powerful to realize that a positive moment has such an impact on our lives, as does a negative moment. I am not advocating that we never share or have a negative moment or experience, but as a parent and teen coach I thought it was important to share that we want to try and have positive moments in our teen’s life. Teens have a number of negative moments and as adults in their life I feel one of our challenges is to find the positive moments, help them process the negative moments, and if needed minimize them, as with the cookie plate incident, or turn them into an opportunity for growth. Spending time examining a negative moment creates what I feel is resilience. For example, a negative moment could be getting that F on a Math test. Instead of adding to that negative moment, explore the reason behind the F and what can be done to change the F to a C on the next exam. I feel this makes the moment neutral and the teen can move forward with resilience, gained self-confidence, and self-worth.
It is a mind shift to change and look at the positive in a person and a situation. Most of us have grown up in a society where it is easier to tell people what they did wrong instead of praising them when they succeed. We often look at things as a competition instead of from the thought that there is an abundance of success out there, more than enough for everyone. I watch parents trying to one-up each other instead of encouraging the success of each teen. Every teen is an individual, and we need to celebrate what is unique and the great ability of each teen. An example of this for parents, and I was just as guilty, is passing over our teens’ good grades and positive comments the teachers shared and zero in, like a vulture, on the bad grade and negative comments. Wow! When I turned it around and focused on my teens’ strengths it was amazing to see how the other grades also went up. What happened you may ask? I focused on what my teen was doing right and how you could take that and use it in a class you are not doing as well in. The response from my own daughters was profound. I do this with teens everyday in coaching. I look at the classes in which they are having great academic success, talk about what they are doing in that class, and see if any of that can be translated to the class that they are not doing well in. I have teens come up with personal solutions to create success in challenging classes and turn that negative into a neutral or positive moment.
When a teen, or anyone, feels appreciated, it builds the relationship. It builds the relationship through positive communication. It is easier to have those difficult teen conversations when the relationship has a huge amount of trust, love, and bolstering behind it. Think about it from the perspective of your teen. When they are being valued, they will engage in more conversations with you. Your teen will work harder to show you that your encouragement and belief in their ability is not misguided. Recognition, praise, and belonging are something teens and humans as a whole really want.
The next time a moment comes up, and with over 20,000 of them a day, one is sure to pop up before you know it, pause and change the energy of the moment. Maybe you can only make the moment a neutral moment, and that is okay. I think it is just important that teens have fewer negative moments in their life, especially since negative moments are all too frequent with social media, academic, athletic, and social expectations. As adults, we can be the encouraging and bolstering force that helps build teen’s resilience, self-worth, and self-confidence.