“You know son, smoking makes you smell bad,” my father once told me. That did more to keep me away from cigarettes than all the public service announcements. I never started smoking in earnest because my father told me that, and I’ve never fell less cool or any kind of regret either. Your kids have problems, but with a little guidance from you they can largely be talked through.
Appeal to Teenage Concerns
Smoking makes you smell bad, as my father told me. I didn’t want my hair to stink, my breath to smell like ashtrays, my car to smell, my clothes to smell, because girls don’t like guys that smell – simple as that. I didn’t care about the long term effects of smoking or what I would be like in 30 years, who cares when you’re 15?
He used the same argument on any other bad habit I thought about. “Beer can have sexual side effects, oh and you might die in a car crash tomorrow if you’re not careful.” I didn’t drink until I was 21. “Here’s a great book about drugs,” he said as he gave me an old copy of A Scanner Darkly. I was a book fiend and after that one I never wanted to touch drugs. I never listened to my father, I still don’t, but I listened to the consequences that concerned me back then and believe that it’s the best way to get teenagers to pay attention today.
There’s Always the Null Option
I remember always having the urge to do something as a teenager, should I go to the movies or try to get into a club, should I go to a party or play video games, etc. Again, I was fortunate to have my father there to consistently remind me that instead of choosing between two horrible things, I could just do nothing. “You could do neither,” he would tell me if I asked him whether I should go hang out with the kids from school that I didn’t really like or go out with some girl that I didn’t really like.
I do this now, practicing the art of simplified decision making that I was taught as a teenager. This amounts to just reminding your teenager that they don’t have to be active in every aspect of society at their age, they can stay home, read a book, or take up a hobby. “If you think your life is hard now, just wait,” my father would say. He was right as I’ve gotten older and had to worry about jobs, mortgages, and teenagers of my own.
Emphasize Mental Discipline
In general, most G.E.D. programs can get someone a high school diploma in a few months. That’s right, you can make up the four years you missed a few months, do you know why? Because you don’t have to take art, gym, a study hall, an elective language, it’s just the core classes of math, science, and writing. That’s not saying that those classes are extraneous, quite the contrary they’re there to represent the real challenge of school. Someday your teenager will tell you that they don’t think they need to take algebra, or some other subject, because it’s not useful in their daily life.
Many classes are useful for the mental discipline they provide and not their material. Sure, your kid might do great in classes they love that have good teachers and subjects that they consider useful. The real test is whether they can get good greats in classes they hate, that are not taught well, or that they believe are useless. Let your teenager know that it’s their mind that is being tested, never the material.