If you want your teen to do something, anything, then do it yourself. I am not talking here about cleaning their room, or resistance to emptying the dishwasher. I am talking about all those things you tell your teen to do or not to do like drink and drive, text/talk on your phone and drive, get out and get some exercise, read a book for fun, do some community service, mow the lawn etc etc etc.
Yesterday while driving on a major highway I was tailgated by a an enormous Hummer, driven by a person anxious to get around me. I was already going 70 mph by the way. After I pulled over to the next lane, I readied myself to give this person a dirty look as they passed me and what I saw floored me. In the passenger seat was a teenaged girl texting away, but in the drivers seat was her mom, elbows on the steering wheel, head down, texting furiously away on her cellphone driving at least 80 mph!! I was aghast. Forget about giving a dirty look, I wanted to call the police, the highway patrol, Child Protective Services. The danger this mom was putting all of us in and especially her own child was mind boggling. What on earth could be that important!! This teen, probably only months away from getting her learner's permit, is learning a valuable lesson. Texting and driving....no problem, just learn to drive with your elbows. This trick not included in conventional driving schools, only at selected mom and pop locations.
If you don't want your teen to text/talk on their cell phone while driving, then start with not doing it yourself, at least when your kids are in the car. Don't wait for your kids to be teens before you start modeling this very important and safety enhancing behavior. If your kids grow up with you driving and talking and texting while they are in the car with you, that will become their norm of how one drives a car. I am sure at nursery schools everywhere, 3 year olds are sitting in their little play cars holding plastic phones to their ears as they pretend to be mommy or daddy driving the car. Get the picture! Be deliberate about this. Say to your kids/teens when you all are in the car, "hey honey can you make sure my phone is off, I don't want to be distracted by the phone while I am driving." You need them to hear you take this intentional step for safety.
No drinking and driving. This is another popular missive given to teens everywhere by parents worried about their teens safety as they hit the roads with their friends on weekend nights. Yet at dinner out with the family at restaurants, at friends homes, or at parties, teens watch you throw a few back before you get in the car to drive everyone home. If you don't want your teen to drink and drive, then show them. At dinner, say to yourself or your partner, out loud, and in front of your kids: "who's/I'm the designated driver tonight, and whoever that is waits for their glass of Chardonney until they are safely home.
If you worry your teen never gets off the phone/computer/video game/TV, do a self-check. Do you? Do they ever see you cozied up on the couch with a blanket and a book, TV off, phone off and charging in another room, computer screen blank. Creating an image of what it looks like for someone to just be...is a powerful one.
Do you bug your kids to do chores, as they watch a myriad of hired helpers do most of the work in your house: house cleaners, landscapers, snow plowers, handymen, peapod. Just saying.....
Do you strongly suggest to your teens to get on the community service train? It looks good on college apps, and will make you a better person. Do they see you do more than write a check to support your favorite charity?
Children learn best not by telling them what to do, but by showing them. You are the most powerful model in their life. If you want them to lead a safe, productive, full and loving life, show them how it's done.