Nurturing Teen EQ
"What were you thinking?" As a parent who has survived raising a teen, I've asked that question hundreds of times. My son is academically gifted and a fairly sensible young man, but as a teen, he often made choices that were reckless and beyond my comprehension.
After reading the book, "Primal Teen," I remember breathing a sigh of relief in learning his lack of sense had a scientific explanation. Barbara Strauch, the author, explains the neocortex, or decision-making part of the brain does not fully develop until the age of 25. "Because of this," she says, "there are times when teens are just not capable of making what we would consider rational decisions."
This offers no comfort to parents as you send your teen off to the mall in the family car. But there is hope. The brain's development during the teen years consists of rapid growth not seen at any other time except during a child's first two years. The neocortex is developing so quickly it is the perfect time for your child to absorb decision-making skills.
My son was already 20 years old before I discovered what I believe is the secret to raising a child: emotional intelligence. (It's really hard to believe this is not taught in the hospital, along with breastfeeding and changing diapers.) When children are preparing for college and life, parents get so hung up on their grades, scores and IQ, when the real factor of success is determined by emotional intelligence, or EQ.
Daniel Goleman, author of the bestsellinb book "Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ" (Bantam, September 2006), provides great insight into the traits of truly successful people — that success as an adult is not just about financial wealth. Instead, it also means having friends, healthy relationships with spouses and family, a satisfying career and high self-esteem, or as I like to describe it, being really comfortable in your own skin.
The best news about emotional intelligence, according to Goleman, is that it can be learned. The EQs of teens across the country are increasing as they learn self-awareness techniques and decision-making tools in EQ workshops.
Here are things you can practice with your teen at home:
• Notice. The ability to be self aware is the foundation to making healthy choices. Everything that happens is an opportunity to "notice" — step back and view a situation or how you are thinking about a situation — without judgment.
• Mini Me. You may remember this concept if you saw the "Austin Powers" movies. "Mini Me" is a good visual to use when practicing the Notice self-awareness tool. Your teen imagines a miniature of himself or herself sitting on their shoulder as a witness to their life. The Mini Me never judges — just like a witness in a court room, the Mini Me is impartial and simply states the facts of what he or she saw.
• Amazing (insert teen's name) Profile. Practice this exercise as a family, with everyone writing a list of characteristics and goals they have for themselves. Make it fun by using pictures and word cutouts. For example, your son, who is a high school sophomore, might create a profile that states, "Amazing David is loving, honest, smart and responsible. and he is going to UNC in 2014."
Praise Good Choices
Here's a scenario of how the self-awareness techniques David has learned might play out. It's Friday night, and he looks at his cell phone and sees it's 10 minutes to curfew. Notice and Mini Me kick in, and David takes stock of the situation. Because he has agreed to make decisions that line up with his Amazing David profile, he knows his choices to either:
• Head home immediately.
• Call and ask permission to stay out a little longer.
• Blow it off and tell his parents his cell phone died, and he didn't know the time.
David realizes choice a and b line up with being responsible and honest. Being a teenager and wanting to have a little extra time to get up the nerve to talk with the cute girl in his math class, David calls home and politely asks permission to stay out longer. His parents agree to 30 extra minutes to reward his accountability.
Although this may appear to be too simple to work, it has worked with thousands of students in schools around the country for one main reason: THEY are the ones deciding WHO they want to be, instead of being told WHAT to do and HOW to act. Empowering teens' internal locus of control is the best gift you can give them.
Charlotte mom Michelle Daly and her daughter Brittany are graduates of the Quest program, and Daly says she and her daughter are better able to have honest discussions about tough choices.
"Brit and I use Notice all the time as we talk about things that happened during our days at work and school," says the mom. "Brit will use Mini Me to step back and look at why she made the choices she did and what she might do differently in the future, and this has made all the difference in the world."
Leslie Palmer of Charlotte is the founder and CEO of Quest Teen Leadership. To learn more, visit www.theQway.com or e-mail her at lesliep@theQway.com.