Dear Dr. Sadaqat Ali,

My son is a teenager he has recently taken admission in FC college, Lahore after his matriculation. I understand FSC Pre Medical is a difficult adjustment, however he simply refuses to take the responsibility for self study and time management. He has been tested for learning disabilities as well as emotional problems, but was declared a bright and healthy young teen—- both emotionally and physically. We have tried many methods of both punishment and rewards systems, but nothing seems to work. He simply refuses to do his work in college and at home, and he only discusses his study and college tests with me when I take him to task. This method is not helping anyone. Additionally, his attitude toward college has greatly affected his ability to make friends and connect with his peers; his  grades are so poor, he has been prevented from joining social clubs and activities. I am truly at a loss as to how I can help him achieve success in life. What would you suggest?

Truly sick and tired

Dear truly sick and tired,

Dr Sadaqat AliIn my understanding one of the biggest contributing factors to why you feel so sick and tired is that you don’t know whether you’re stuck in this or if it’s something he’ll eventually grow out of or even how long it might last. For me, I think you are badly stuck. It feels so frustrating because no matter what you try, nothing seems to change. This feeling is further worsened by the fact that this problem is not without consequences— it’s his education and future career.

First of all, when you find yourself in this type of situation, you need to resist the temptation to jump from solution to solution. You try something, it doesn’t work, so onto the next idea until finally, you feel your only option is to ground him or put sanctions against him. This too is severe, because now you’ve entered the escalation Zone or even open war zone, with your own teenager son.

Now, what to do. I’d submit that these types of situations require a second or third look at what is driving the person’s actions. Our assumptions are often partially, and sometimes completely, wrong.

As a result, our solutions and remedies fall short, leaving us frustrated. These types of situations are well suited to the Six Sources of Influence that we have learnt from master trainers from USA.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the model, it’s based on the idea that in order for people to do something, they have to be both motivated and able–They have to want to do it and know how to do it. We’ve found this very useful here in effective counseling techniques at Willing Ways as well as Diabetic Institute of Pakistan. These following techniques have turned around many lives and we have many success stories to share with you.

Here let me make you understand three behavior choices. The Six Source Model helps us examine those two conditions at three levels:
1:  Personal
2:  Social
3:  Structural

A close examination of all six of these sources of influence helps us be more effective.

So, here is a quick rundown of the sources and how each might be contributing to the problem:

Source 1: Personal Motivation. This source assesses the intrinsic motivators that affect behavior choice. So, does your son find value in or derive satisfaction from doing college study? It sounds like from your comments the answer is a big “NO!”

If a person is facing significant barriers over a long period of time, their overall frustration builds up to the point that it boils over into personal motivation. So an, “I hate this,” might not really be an “I hate this.” On to Source 2 for a little more explanation.

Source 2: Personal Ability. With Source 2, examine the skills, knowledge, and overall how a person has to engage in any given behavior. The sad truth is that when people feel like they aren’t able to do something, it affects their motivation—they start to like it less.

I was working on a literacy project many years ago in Lahore. We researched causes of illiteracy and found that those who rated reading very low as an activity that they enjoyed, also indicated that they didn’t know how to read. Years of not being able to read affected their overall feelings toward the activity. We also discovered that if we worked on their reading skills, they found the activity much more enjoyable. So maybe your son doesn’t have good study skills (how to take notes, skim vs power reading etc), or doesn’t do as well with organization and prioritization skills.

Source 3 & Source 4: Social Motivation and Ability. How are other people affecting him? Does he have new friends that encourage or discourage certain behaviors? Does he need help from a personal tutor? Are his teachers in college, giving him individual attention. What impact are you and rest of his family, having on him? In some homes, I realized that when one of daughters (the oldest) said negative things about school work, the younger siblings started to do the same.

Source 5: Structural Motivation. In source 5, we take a look at incentives and punishments. As parents, we tend to rely on these too heavily when it comes to getting our children to do what we want them to do. I know that I’ve relied far too often on punishment to teach my kids what I intend them to learn instead of coaching and training.

When it comes to this source, I should encourage you to think of how to use rewards also. For example, we used to get our kids to identify something they enjoy doing like playing a board game. They could use this to reward themselves for staying on task.

Editor’s Note
Dr. Ajaz QureshiYou may b having many complex questions playing on ur mind but remember if you won’t ask, you won’t know, break the ice, ask the question Dr. Sadaqat Ali is ever ready to help you…

Editor: Dr. Ajaz Qureshi

Source 6: Structural Ability, Here we look at the tools and resources a person has versus those he or she might need. Is there a system, or method that your son would benefit from? Is there a structure or schedule that would get him to perform better? And while all of the solutions cited above are good ideas, the best and most effective ideas are those that address the barriers the individual person—in this case your son—is facing. Even though you’ve already done an analysis, it can be useful to look again to make sure the root causes aren’t being masked by something else. Now, you will probably find that those whom you are trying to influence also face barriers from each of these sources. This is a fairly common occurrence. But many of us, when faced with multifaceted barriers, look to only one source of influence for solutions. Instead, try implementing solutions from the sources you think are risky as well and then see what happens—especially with challenges that seem long lasting and unachievable.

Best of Luck and remember at Willing Ways Professional help is only a click or only a call away.

Dr. Sadaqat Ali