Monday, July 15, 2013

Capturing your Teen's Attention

Have you ever seen a commercial that begins with the phrase
"How many times have I asked you to . . . "

Parents of teenagers can learn a lot from TV commercials.  Commercials are simple sound bytes.  In a brief interruption they manage to be visually interesting, appeal to the audience, and typically leave the consumer feeling good and desiring the product.  With some practice and strategy, parents can convey information in this way as well.
How do they do it? Advertising gurus study their target audience: Although each person is unique, as a group what do teenagers want?  Freedom, friends, social connection, relaxation, stuff, money, etc.  If left to their own devices, what do teenagers do?  Sleep, text, watch TV, technology, eat, hang out with friends, etc.  What gets their POSITIVE attention? Humor, quirkiness, connection, fun. 

So if the average teenager is motivated by sleep, fun, and relaxation, and the average parent is motivated by responsibility, deadlines, and money- isn't it obvious why we have trouble communicating? 

Commercial                  versus                   Parent 

30 seconds long              v.                          Lecture format
Actor/actress                   v.                         Weary parent face
Humor                             v.                         Irritation
Catchy Jingle                   v.                         Broken Record
Encouraging                    v.                         Nagging

We are a sad contrast to the snappy, peppy commercials that captivate our teenagers attention.  Commercials are typically fun.  Fun sells.  I am not suggesting that you need to be fun all of the time, but there is a magic ratio of connecting: directing that will work more effectively with your emerging young adult.  You need to find the formula FAST. 

The reason why teens are more responsive to cleaning their room before you take them to the mall to hang out with their friends is because they are motivated by the fun awaiting them.  Not the clean room.  Get it?

Consider this: Write a list of all of the things you want your teenager to do. DO NOT GIVE THEM THE LIST.  As you are interacting with your young person, smile, and ask "What are your plans for the day?" Listen with a happy heart."Will you have time to do x(0ne thing on list)?" Listen.   "That's great!" or "Darn, I could use your help."Beef up your connection and try again.

Organize some teen directed fun to try out your sound bytes, or work it in after a sweaty family yard day when you are sipping lemonade and complimenting them on how awesome they already are. 

Want to get them to take out the trash, fill out their college applications, and clean out the garage?  Think like a TV commercial.  Understand their needs/wants, connect, be fun, and choose your words carefully.


  1. I think I've heard you use this on your own children.:) I love the idea of thinking about parenting as a commercial. We are living in such a reality tv world, I might as well supply the ads!

  2. Thanks Brandi- it doesn't get any more "real world" than parenting does it?

  3. While I don't have kids of my own, I might try this strategy on kids I represent when trying to motivate to do an at-home project - interesting, Lisa!