Empowering Our Kids Against Addiction: Part 2 – Working For Long-Term Rewards

As we continue this parenting series on how to help our teens prevent addiction in their lives, we move from the importance of living honestly to the power of working for long-term rewards. This gets to what motivates us and drives our decision making process. Seriously important stuff! Allow me to illustrate what I mean by “working for long-term rewards:”

A few years ago, I had a breakthrough in self-examination. I realized that throughout the course of most days, I was asking myself the question, “What do I feel like doing right now?” It wasn’t always in exactly that form, but some version of this thought was definitely running through my head a lot throughout the course of any given day. And having a profound impact on my choices and life results. If I routinely make my choices based largely on what feels good, I am basically defaulting to the most childish part of my self. I am likely to go for whatever is easiest, most pleasurable, and offers the most immediate reward. Not very mature. And certainly not a pathway to being the best I can be.

In contrast, I am FAR more likely to make mature choices toward a genuinely meaningful and successful life when I face my day with questions such as: “What would be good for me to do right now?” “What can I be doing that will help me make the best impact on others?” “What do I genuinely believe God wants me doing right now?” “How can I take steps closer toward a goal that really matters to me?” “How can I invest my time today so that I will be pleased with today’s efforts in a few weeks, months, or years?”

You see, all these questions are driven by a desire to move toward something bigger. Goals that matter. Choices that yield more significant and lasting rewards. Living a life of purpose – living a life on purpose. Rather than going for the quick reward that doesn’t really satisfy or make life truly better for anyone. Addiction wants us to sellout our deeper convictions and higher aims for the immediate payout of temporary pleasure or comfort, regardless of what is sacrificed in the process. God wants us to live lives that make the world a better place. But doing that takes disciplined time and focus, over and over and over.

And that’s why kids need parents to be deliberate about training them in the practice of working toward greater goals. Because it ain’t easy! And it takes lots of practice. And experiencing some meaningful rewards along the way. So, how can we help our teens and younger children with this foundational life process?

Model working for long-term rewards in your own life. Yep. I started there again, just like last time. Because we cannot effectively lead our kids in something we aren’t effectively living in front of them. Check your own motivations and goals. If you aren’t pleased with what you see, or want better for your teens, it’s time to aim higher.

Take time to point out, discuss, and celebrate with them whenever you see them reach a goal that took considerable time, focus, and disciplined effort. I’m not saying they should get a trophy or a party every time they accomplish something. But they need to hear from us that we noticed, and that they have earned that much more of our respect. They also need us to encourage them to savor the rewards of having stuck with something hard and/or important until they get it done. And sometimes they should absolutely get a party or a big recognition from us – not so much because of the achievement, but because of the motivation and commitment and discipline reflected in the journey of getting there. Make a bigger deal out of their hard choices and consistent efforts than about the achievements themselves.

Regularly discuss with your teens their goals and motivations. Have a discussion with your kids about their overall goals before each semester of school. Maybe another conversation before the summer. Use these as material for ongoing conversations on more like a weekly basis about what choices they are making to move toward those goals. Challenge them to look at their actual choices and patterns alongside their stated goals and motivations. Is there a genuine reflection of their goals, or does it appear something less than their “right answers” is more likely driving their decision-making processes. Challenge them and help them make the best adjustments to get in line with their stated goals.

Regularly use Scripture or other books or stories to illuminate the rewards of aiming higher toward the long-term rewards, rather than the quick, easy, and cheap payoffs. Inspire, share, educate, challenge, and discuss the important topics of motivation and reward regularly. But you don’t have to come up with it all on your own. Read together from The Bible and discuss what you read. Share readings from books like “The Moral Compass” or “The Book of Virtues.” Discuss the choices and lives you see reflected in powerful and inspiring movies, TV shows, and news stories.

Helping your teens learn to aim toward longer-term goals and rewards of real life substance, rather than simply aiming for the most short-term pleasure is one of the most profound ways you can equip them to stand against the beguiling traps of addiction.

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