What It Takes to Change Your Teen’s Attitude from Can’t to Can

What It Takes to Change Your Teen’s Attitude from Can't to Can

Let’s face it — even the best of teens can develop a negative attitude. Whether it’s about homework, sports, relationships or other key areas of his or her life, you might need to help your teen turn around their thinking from “can’t” to “can”. As their parent, you can impact your teen and help improve his or her attitude.

We Should All Strive for a Can-Do Attitude

A positive attitude looks for the best in situations and focuses on ways to work out challenging problems. As a parent, you have likely implemented a positive attitude yourself in overcoming life’s challenges. These might include:

  • Going to a new school
  • Beginning a new job
  • Moving to a new city
  • Starting a health and nutrition program
  • Tackling child raising
  • Saving for a house or car

Reasons Your Teen Might Have a Negative Attitude

As parenting attitudes have become more relaxed, teen attitudes might have deteriorated. However, another reason for a teen’s negative attitude can be right in the palm of his or her hand — a phone or tablet or other electronic device. In the book, “Generation Digital: Politics, Commerce, and Childhood in the Age of the Internet,” Kathryn Montgomery, media expert and Ph.D., claims that 24/7 media in general — television, music, movies and even YouTube — are responsible for a teen’s negativity.

However, don’t be too quick to rework your child’s attitude as some of it is just navigating through new communication techniques of sarcasm and irony and testing the waters when it comes to parental reactions. While you can’t ignore sassiness, you can help your child channel it more effectively toward informal conversations and jokes.

The Benefits of a Can-Do Attitude

Teens with a positive attitude have better coping mechanisms and are more resilient. They learn how to deal with the normal disappointments of life — ending a relationship, failing a test, not winning the lead role in a play and similar losses. By learning how to think positively in their early teens, they are likely to have a better outlook regarding the future, which might help prevent depression later in life, leading to more resilience for the long term.

A Parent’s Response to Negativity

  • Refuse to accept it – If you allow your teen to act poorly, he or she will continue to respond accordingly. Do not view negativity as normal. Call out any rudeness immediately, and ask them to apologize or correct their attitude.
  • Pick your battles – You will need to overlook some negativity. You might ignore minor nonverbal responses, such as rolling the eyes, and address blatant and verbal rudeness instead. In addition, do not allow siblings to speak rudely to each other, especially in anger or with mean remarks. Some good-natured teasing is fine, but if the conversation takes a mean turn, nip it in the bud. Set standards and stick to them.
  • Resist the temptation to use sarcasm in response – A snide remark in return encourages continuing in that behavior. Do not stoop to their level but remain calm. In some cases, you might need to take a break and meet when you are calmer.
  • Increase consequences – If reminders and discussions fail to stop the negativity, implement stricter consequences, such as taking away all electronics — phone, tablet, TV, computer or video games. Do not give in to whining or begging. You and your teen will benefit from a more respectful and positive attitude down the road.

How Parents Can Help

Tamar E. Chansky, child psychologist, addressed strategies on overcoming poor attitudes in the book, “Freeing Your Child From Negative Thinking: Powerful Practical Strategies to Build a Lifetime of Resilience, Flexibility and Happiness.” When a child defaults to negativity, he or she develops a pattern of beginning every challenge with a poor attitude. Instead, they need to learn that they have a choice when it comes to their thoughts.

As parents, you have a greater impact on your child than you might realize. You can take a few simple steps to help your child develop a can-do attitude:

  • Watch for red flags for a poor attitude, such as over dramatization, easily angered, excessive self-blame, shutting down, failing to try and similar behaviors.
  • Address hurt feelings – Whether your child failed a test, didn’t make the cut for the basketball team, or broke off a relationship, his or her feelings will be hurt. Acknowledge these hurt feelings and allow your child to process them and grieve. Give him or her time to work through these difficult emotions.
  • Teach teens what they can control. For example, if he or she failed a test because they didn’t study, they can control that outcome and study harder next time. However, if he or she was seriously ill for a week before the test, circumstances beyond their control affected the outcome.
  • Look for the Positives – Train the brain to be positive. Look for alternatives or solutions instead of dwelling on the problems. Look for the proverbial silver lining behind every cloud. In case of a failed test, think about getting a tutor or extra help with homework. Use the time away from a team sport to reassess involvement in that sport, work on a new sport or activity or enjoy increased time in relationships that might have suffered.
  • Help your child recognize that he or she does not need to own negativity but can reject it and develop new thought patterns.
  • Model appropriate behavior – when your child will encounter a new situation, ask what good things he or she can anticipate about it. Work to calm any anxiety and then reframe doubts by thinking about the positives.

What Teens Can Do to Promote Their Own Positivity

Teens can take a few simple steps to develop a positive attitude:

  • Keep a gratefulness journal – Write down one thing that they are thankful for each day. Make a list to remind themselves.
  • Take pictures, even if it’s with a phone or a tablet, to document fun times.
  • Hang out with positive friends. Positivity breeds more positivity.
  • Do something nice for themselves each day.
  • Do a random act of kindness each day. Thinking of ways to bless someone else help teens and adults focus on others instead of themselves.

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