I work at a middle school in the discipline office. When teachers don’t know what to do with a student, they send them to me.
This week, I had a student assigned to my office for a full two days. His crime? Not caring.
His mom had called the school and told us we weren’t punishing him enough. More punishment, she felt, would change him.
So, he was assigned to my room.
I asked him what he did to deserve this? He shrugged.
I asked him how he felt about not being with his friends for the last two days of school. He shrugged.
He shrugged at every question I asked him.
Then I said, “From now on, every time you shrug it means ‘yes.’ So, do you want to talk about why you’re in here?”
“Great!” I pulled up a chair as he rolled his eyes.
I asked him, “What are you thinking that makes you not care about school?”
“Nothing,” he said.
“We are always thinking something. Even if we aren’t aware of what we are thinking.”
I explained how our thoughts work. I explained how his result, being in my office, was because of his action of doing nothing, and how his action of doing nothing was because he was apathetic, and how he was apathetic because of something he was thinking, whether he knew it or not.
If we can identify what he was thinking, we could change everything.
He seemed to like that idea.
I wrote down a list of possible thoughts that could be making him feel apathetic. Here was the list:
I’m not going to college
My parents didn’t go to college
There are problems at home
School is boring
My teachers are stupid
“Is your thought up here?”
“Great! I’ll point to them, and you let me know which one it is.”
I pointed to each thought one by one. He nodded when I got to “There are problems at home.”
We talked and he told me that his parents have split up, and whenever his dad comes around he hates it. He avoids him. His dad makes life miserable for him and his mom. Life is miserable at home so why try anywhere else?
“There’s your thought. Life is miserable so why try? That thought is making you apathetic. Your apathy leads you to not respond to your teachers or do assignments. Those actions led to your current result: mom telling the school to punish you more and missing out on the last couple days of school with friends. That makes life pretty miserable right now, doesn’t it?”
“Our thoughts lead to our results and our results prove our thoughts. By thinking life is miserable, you are making it more miserable by the feelings and actions your thoughts are driving.”
I gave him a piece of paper. “Answer this question for me. If one thing could be better in your life, what would it be and what would it do for you?”
He was done in a few minutes. He wrote, “If things were better at home, I would be more motivated to do my assignments, be on time to class, and not get in trouble.” This kid could write well-constructed sentences and he’s sitting in class choosing to do nothing.
After I read what he wrote I said, “What if I told you that you can get that result without changing your parents? Because you can’t change them, or anyone else, anyway. So why give them control of your life? All you have to do is pick a new thought that will lead to the result you want.”
We worked together on it. It was hard for him to think a different thought. He said his dad is just making life so miserable.
“Is your dad making life miserable for your mom?”
“How do you feel about that?”
“I hate it.”
“What do you think you are doing for your mom? Are you making life more miserable or less miserable?”
He thought a moment. “More.”
“I would say so. She’s calling the school to have us punish you more!” I got real with him. “It seems like your mom is getting a whole bunch of miserable from your dad and you. Would you agree?”
He nodded slowly.
“How do you want to be for your mom? Someone who helps make her life better or worse?”
“Well, there is your new thought!”
He looked up at me.
“You’re new thought is: ‘It is my job to be the best part of my mom’s day.’ Would that help you get the result you want?”
“Do you like that thought?”
“Yes. A lot.”
“Great!” I told him that no matter what his circumstances are, he gets to choose the thought he wants to think. I encouraged him to hold on to that thought. I wrote it down for him and he folded it up and put it in his pocket.
When I asked him if this was helpful, he smiled and shrugged.
Our thoughts drive everything, even if we aren’t aware of them. Subconscious thoughts are still thoughts and still drive our feelings and actions.
By taking the time to recognize our thoughts we can determine what they are and if they are getting us the result we want.
If your teenager is getting a result they don’t want, help them identify the thought that is causing it. Their first response will be “I don’t know” or “Nothing.” But it’s always something.
The same goes for you. If you are getting a result you don’t want–you feel like a failure as a parent, you aren’t as close to your teen as you’d like, you feel helpless–then sit down and identify the thought that is leading you there.
When you find it, change it.
It will change everything.