Ep 21: Teaching Your Teen to Be Happy

Ep 21: Teaching Your Teen to Be Happy

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Episode Summary

Tim Bono, author of When Likes Aren’t Enough, reveals some strategies parents can use to help teens cope with setbacks and maintain a positive outlook in the face of obstacles and failure. Ultimately, the tools discussed in this interview are things that can also improve your own life if you apply them.

Full Show Notes

Professor Tim Bono teaches one of the most popular classes ever offered at Washington University. And, no, the class isn’t about archaeology or mathematics. It doesn’t cover the periodic table or a period in history. And it isn’t an elective like dance or yoga. It’s a psychology class on how to be happy.

Why does he think today’s students are drawn to a class on how to be happy in such numbers?

Well, in addition to teaching, Tim also conducts research. And he’s making some alarming findings.

“In every dataset I’ve ever collected,” he told me when I interviewed him last week for the podcast, “the more time teens are spending on social media scrolling and looking through other people’s posts or posting information about their own lives, the less self esteem, sleep, confidence, and optimism they usually have.”

For most members of this generation raised on technology, it appears especially important to learn the science of how to be happy. Today’s teens need this knowledge in order to combat the negative impact of so many hours spent on devices.

What can we do to teach teens how to be happy?

Dr. Bono is a true expert on the science of teenage happiness. In addition to being a professor and researcher, he is also the author of When Likes Aren’t Enough: A Crash Course in the Science of Happiness. Tim says there are simple things parents can do with teenagers to start improving their level of wellbeing.

One thing parents can do is help teens understand their sleep cycle–and it’s more complicated than you might think.

Also, Tim revealed how you can give teenagers gifts that will help them live happier lives and teach them how to be happy for years to come. He recommends focusing on social experiences. Things teens can do with their friends are great gifts, Tim says.

Finally, parents should instill an internal locus of control. We want teens to feel like they have control over the world, not like they are just at the mercy of fate. This will ultimately lead to greater success and happiness in life.

The way to achieve this is to talk to teens about what they specifically did that caused something to happen. For instance, did they do poorly on a test? Or do well on a test? Tim recommends asking them to think about their study habits and preparation and how these things might have contributed to the outcome. If we make a habit of doing this, it will train our teens to have happier and more resilient brains.

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Parenting Scripts

Word-for-word examples of WHAT to say to your teen

1. Motivate your teenager to improve him or herself by focusing on achieving a positive outcome:

“I’ve noticed you don’t seem as happy as you did in the past and you haven’t been completing as many of your school assignments on time. How do you feel about that? Well, do you wish that you had more ability to pay attention to your work at school? Do you wish that you were feeling a bit happier? Are you interested in learning about some research that has been conducted with other young adults to see how they have been able to do that?”

-Tim Bono

2.  After your teenager has a “win,” or a “loss,” like a particularly good or bad grade on a test, focus on the aspects that were within their control:

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3.  Motivate your teenager to improve him or herself by providing models who are the same age and have gone through the same thing successfully:

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4.  Get your teen more motivated by contacting or researching a role model and finding out about the challenges they faced on the way to success:

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Workbook Exercises

Step-by-step guides for applying the ideas from this interview

1.  Find Positive Role Models for Your Teen:

One of the best ways to help a teenager, according to happiness expert Tim Bono, is to get them looking up to the right models. On a piece of paper, start to write down people who could potentially be good models for your son or daughter. Tim says you’re looking for people who are, perhaps, a couple years older than your teen or in their early twenties. They should be doing well in their life and should be someone the teen looks up to. By learning more about these individuals, your teen will start to realize they had similar problems to the problems the teen is currently having. Try to think about slightly older kids who your teen really respects. Once you have ten names, circle the most promising one and make a plan to get your teen together with this person ASAP.

About Tim Bono

A faculty member at Washington University in St. Louis, Tim has won several teaching awards and thousands of students have taken his popular courses on the Psychology of Young Adulthood and the Science of Happiness. He is the author of When Likes Aren’t Enough: A Crash Course in the Science of Happiness as well as an expert consultant on psychological health and happiness for a number of national media outlets.

Find Tim on Twitter.