Teens Respond to Pleasure, Not Pain: Parent Accordingly


The idea of parenting, and raising the kid as right as I can, is daunting to me. 

Corporal punishment, usually caning, was a big part of my childhood (I liked burning stuff up (:  ). Truth be told,  the thought of getting caned made me put down the matches a couple of times (though few). Other times, it made lighting up the liquid fuel all the more exciting. 

This article explains why. 


Too much accelerator, not enough brake
During most of the teen years……Risky behaviors feel great and are experienced as more rewarding.  Impulse control hasn’t yet caught up—nor have knowledge and judgment. Thus emotion says go, but wisdom hasn’t yet said stop.

How science changed my parenting

There are important take-home messages here for risktaking, social policy, and our understanding of teens that I will discuss in my next post.

But the first thing I took home from this reading had to do with my parenting. TEENS ARE MOTIVATED BY PLEASURE, NOT BY PAIN.

Thus telling a 13 year old that he will fail a test tomorrow if he doesn’t study isn’t that effective in inducing willing compliance. He knows that. But risk avoidance is not emotionally motivating. And that video game sure is.

Reminding a 13 year old how good it feels to accomplish something, how happy he’ll be when he does well, and how much more time he will have to play if he studies efficiently works a lot better.  Those POSITIVE emotions activate their incentive processing center. And teens are VERY sensitive to pleasure.

So I tried it. 

I stopped reminding my son of all the negative consequences of not doing what he was supposed to.

I consistently pointed out how good it felt to do the right thing. Every positive I could think of.

A week later, things are going great.

He’s less anxious. His work has improved. We’ve gotten along better. And he’s taking more responsibility for making good choices. Even choices he doesn’t like (like practicing his violin tonight because he wants a whole day of uninterrupted time on Saturday). 

And you know what? I feel better too. I can be motivated by reward as well.

Come to think of it, I dare say this applies to adults as well. 


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