11 Apr

Cultivating Self-Discipline in Young People


Some people seem to be endowed with superhuman willpower.

Others seem to lack it to a great degree. I’m one of those last. But it doesn’t mean that I’m relegated to the back seat when it comes to cultivating self discipline. Self-discipline is not in your genes; it is a learned behavior. And if I can master it (to some degree), so can you.

Your teenager can master it as well.

But it’s hard. That’s because when kids hit adolescence, they no longer think of themselves as children. She will almost certainly begin actively and passively resisting parental authority. She will want to choose from a broader base of experiences. She no longer recognizes her parents’ power to dictate what she must and must not do (not that they ever had real power, anyway). She realizes that without her cooperation, her parents can’t make her do some things and stop doing others.

It’s a heady feeling.

Along with the freedom she feels, she also begins to understand that she can’t manage all that freedom on her own. Most kids will return to allowing their parents to help them manage their lives and keep them on track. That’s when they really need to develop self-discipline. Parents no longer strive for control of their child; instead, they work toward consent. Although she may protest, underneath it all she knows that self-discipline is necessary. Without it, life quickly flies out of control.

Helping your child means admitting your own struggle.

Here are six things that can help (they work for me!).

  1. Admit that you struggle. Many people simply refuse to admit that they have a problem, but like in most things, admitting the problem is the first step to overcoming it. Don’t harbor the thought, “I could stop if I wanted to,” just to avoid recognizing that there is a problem to fix.
  2. Make a plan. Help your young person develop a strategy for self discipline. No one just wakes up one day with it. Whether she needs to focus on developing good habits—like reading the Bible everyday—or getting rid of bad habits—like gossiping with the neighbors—she needs to plan some action steps to make the change.
  3. Get rid of temptations. The Bible says, “Walk away from evil and do good.” Don’t leave temptations where they are easily accessed. That’s just asking for failure. If she can’t resist cookies between meals, don’t buy cookies. It only takes one minute of weakness to give into temptation.
  4. Get used to discomfort. Practice makes perfect, so they say. No one likes being uncomfortable, but self discipline is necessary to overcome the negative emotions that flood in when we are. Practice letting uncomfortable situations make her stronger, whether it’s boredom, frustrations, sadness or loneliness. She can tolerate more than you realize.
  5. Keep the long-term rewards in mind. It may really be tempting to give in, just this once, and tomorrow get back on track, but that’s defeatist thinking. Keeping a vision of the end goal in mind can help her stay on track. Visualize what the final result will be, and focus on it when temptation raises its ugly head.
  6. Don’t let mistakes sideline her. Somedays are just easier than others. Stress can cause her to lose her focus for a time. Just don’t let it replace all the hard work she’s already done. Help her pick herself up, dust herself off, and get back on the horse. Remember the long term goal and refocus.

She can do this. You can do this. There is no one who cannot benefit from cultivating self discipline, and anyone can do it. Just remember: the greatest journey began with a single step.

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