Many times after a seminar, parents will come up to me with questions about their teens. A common concern is about their teen, who signs up for a sport, or a musical instrument, or an after-school club, with much enthusiasm I might add, and then halfway or all the way into it they want to quit. Parents come to me with mixed emotions. On the one hand they are disappointed in their kid, saying things like,"they never finish anything, they have no passion for anything, I don't want them to learn that if you don't like something, you can just quit it, I hate that they are letting the team down..." and then on the other hand, think that if their teen has said they want to quit, there is really nothing they can do about it. Either way it feels like a pretty powerless place to be in.
Here are some explanations for why teens in particular are well known for being "quitters." First, the most important thing in a teen's life is their friends. If most of their friends are into sports or band or the school play they will want to be into it too, regardless of whether they like it, and have any talent or interest in it. The coaches on the other hand think that kids who join their team are interested in the sport and are motivated to do the best they can. If your teen joined because that's what their friends are doing, they probably are more interested in sitting on the bench and yammering away with their friends. This will definitely piss the coaches off, who may not be win-focused, but at least want their team members to put their fullest effort into the practices and games. Here is where the discontent begins. Teen joins team to hang with friends. Coach sees teen chatting and fooling around and not paying attention during practice and may start with a mild:" hey guys, pay attention," them when that doesn't seem to stop the stem of chatter, may disapprove more loudly with something stronger and perhaps meaner, and then at game time may further punish this distracting player by keeping them on the bench. For this teen, the fun factor of being with friends has diminished, and it is just a place to get hassled by an adult. Additionally their "friends" may actually be seriously into this sport and do not want to "chat and fool around." It is at this moment that your teen may say, "I quit". It has become a lose-lose activity. Friends not fun, coaches not fun, sport not fun, done!
Another cause for quitting, may be that your teen actually was interested in playing this sport, but is just not very good at it. Since self-consciousness is at an all-time high in adolescence, your teen may be feeling a heightened sense of humiliation. Perhaps when they get on the field, they lose the ball, miss the ball, send it to places where no one can field it, or is a slow runner. Coaches give "feedback" to your teen, in front of their friends, and the result is that he/she ends up on the bench during games and leaves feeling humiliated and dejected. One parent told me: "the coaches have been very discouraging and they tell her to quit." Doesn't sound like fun to me.
In either scenario, your teen is miserable. They had expectations when they joined up which have not be realized to say the least. I have said this before, but it bears repeating. Your teen is at the buffet of life, exploring all kinds of new "foods". Sometimes the ones they thought they would love turn out to be "yucky", and sometimes they become new favorites. Really no predicting here. There are so many variables at play here that motivate your teen to try new things. What do my friends like? What am I good at? What is fun and exciting? What do my parents expect of me? What is valued to be good at in my community? Sometime they are at odds with each other, and your teen doesn't have the experience or ability to think about it as rationally as you can, and to play out the consequences of their decisions.
So, when your teen comes to you and says, I quit, here are some strategies. First if your child is a younger teen, I would put a call into the coach/teacher/director and say: "My son/daughter wants to quit X. I'm wondering if you can help me understand what might be going on, and if you have any suggestions. Finishing something they start is important to us, and if they quit I want to make sure they understand why and what the consequences are." I would then go back to your teen with the information you got from this person and discuss it. Sometimes kids just need a little prodding, and they will give it another shot after some strategizing. You might say: " I get you're unhappy with X, and its just not fun anymore. Tell me some of the things that you hate about it? Can you think of anything you could do to make it better? If you do choose to quit, you will need to call the coach/teacher/director and tell them yourself. You can't just stop going you need to take responsibility for your decision. Lets talk about what you will say to him/her." At the least your teen will learn that sometimes quitting something is just as hard as staying in something. Your teen may be right in their decision, sucking it up isn't always character building, especially if their self-esteem is taking a beating. The work is the next time your teen wants to "join up" make sure that you have a discussion that helps them think through their decision. Teens are impulsive, irrational, and emotional which drive decisions that often backfire. Finding interests that we love and get pleasure from and can commit to is a life long pursuit. Be patient with the process.