June 20, 2024
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The Secret to Your Son’s Achievement

Success isn’t part of the equation.

I have one word of advice to all parents who want their teens to be successful: Stop.

Madness, you say? Possibly, but I have a better idea, one that’s arisen from my study of teen motivation—which by the way, is an oxymoron when it comes to school. That’s because true motivation is internally driven, and few teenage boys feel the fire to get straight A’s churning in their bellies.

This is why the path to your teen’s success is paved with parental threats, lost power struggles, and middle-of-the-night panic attacks. The problem with “success” is that it is externally defined. No matter how it is phrased, every teenager knows that success means getting good grades, getting into a “good” college, getting a “good” job and making “good” money. If someone is able to skip those steps and still make buckets of cash, society still deems them a success.

If your kid owns these goals and is on this track, let him rip. But that is not why you’ve come to this blog, is it?

If your son is going to develop motivation, his goals have to be much more personal. If our kids can define their own terms for success, they will be a lot more motivated to get there. The goals that matter arise from their values, which give their life meaning and purpose.

Teens love to think about their values, and it is a joy to see them figure this out. Of course, we want education to be high on their list, but rest assured, if it is high on your list, it will be high on theirs. However, for a whole host of reasons, they won’t let you know this, not yet anyway.

So, what’s the secret sauce? What should we be encouraging them to work toward, if not success? It’s pride. They should be doing things they are proud of—not that make you proud, but that make them proud. They should be striving for accomplishments that are true to the person they want to be. And teens are constantly thinking about the person they want to be.

Pride is how your son feels as he builds the best version of himself. It’s like an inner voice that helps him figure out who he is, what he believes and what he wants to become,and it gives him the confidence that he has what it takes to get there.

Authentic pride is not about feeling better than everyone else. In fact, when you are genuinely proud, you can appreciate everyone who helped you get there, as well all the effort and time it takes to get good enough at something to be proud of it.

Take a minute to call up some memories of things you did as a teenager. Do you recall the excitement when you got the lead in the school musical, scored a game-winning point, or even passed your driving test?

I bet the memories you cherish won’t be the ones that made your parents beam (though that feels great) but the accomplishments that made you proud of yourself. Heck, some of them will be things you were proud that you got away with, but even those will reflect your own ingenuity, cleverness and the things that were really important to you.

One of my proudest moments in high school was winning the Shaker Heights Historical Society’s Oral History Contest. The society selected members of the community whose stories had historical significance worthy of preservation. Then they asked high school students to interview them. However, it wasn’t the award that made me proud; I was not present to receive my certificate because me and my ADHD didn’t even know it was a contest.

Nonetheless, it was my great fortune to sit down with a founder of the OSS, which preceded the CIA. I still recall him telling me that if during World War II an officer told you to shoot an old lady in a wheelchair, you’d better damn well do it because he might know she’s Hitler in disguise. I was proud of my ability to connect to this man and express my genuine interest in his story. That (and his charm) is why I won. And, to be honest, I was also proud to score a college resume victory without even knowing it.

The beauty of encouraging your son to do things that make him proud is that it takes you out of the equation. You are basically saying, “I want you to figure out what is important to you and then go do it in a way that makes you proud.” He may sarcastically say, “The only thing I care about is playing video games,” and while some kids are genuinely proud of their gaming skills, t down deep, this is not what your son is after.

Then, when he slacks on his homework, telling him “as long as you’re proud of it” will throw your son into a quandary. He will say to himself, “Wait, weren’t you going to tell me I should be proud of everything I do, so I can tell you I don’t care about school?” or “What about getting angry at me, so I can get angry back at you instead of dealing with how I feel about my work?”

It’s ingenious. The message you are sending is, “It doesn’t matter what I think of your grades. It matters what you think of them.” By the way, this is not about being proud of everything you do, because nobody really managess that.

Pride is also the sum of the equation I developed for my recent book for teens (and their parents), The He’s Not Lazy Guide to Better Grades and a Great Life. The equation is as follows:

Accountability + Capability = Pride

The gist of it is that if teens (or adults) hold themselves accountable to pursue goals in line with their values and discoves what they are capable of by going outside their comfort zone, they will be proud of what they can accomplish. Give some thought to what you’ve done that makes you proud and how you can give your son the gift of pursuing those things that give him that same wonderful feeling of doing what makes his heart sing.

And please do check out my new book: it’s teen friendly and chocked full of exercises to help him figure out his values and goals. Additionally, it provides tips on how to hold himself accountable, stop procrastinating, and develop more confidence. There are even tips for you and exercises you can do together. I will stop the shameless plug, but I do hope you buy a copy. Not because I want it to be a success, but because I am really proud of it.


Adam Price, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist with more than 20 years of experience working with children and teens. As the former Director of Outpatient Services at Newark Beth Israel Hospital and Associate Director at Family Connections, a mental health agency, he has supervised and trained numerous clinicians in family and child therapy. He maintains a private practice in Manhattan and Chatham, New Jersey.

Price has published articles on family and child therapy in publications including The Wall Street Journal and Family Circle, and is the author of the book He’s Not Lazy: Empowering Your Son to Believe in Himself. He has presented widely to both parents and educators on opting out, child development, and learning disabilities, and has appeared on “Good Day New York” and other programs to discuss topics ranging from discipline to the impact of video games on children.

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