Guilt, A Powerful Motivator

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Guilt: A Powerful Motivator

Who knew teenagers could be so shiftless and lazy? I guess I should have since I distinctly recall having those very words flung my way when I was growing up. It happens quickly, this metamorphosis from loving, willing “I want to help Mama” child to “do I have to?”, “am I getting paid?”, and “Why isn’t (fill in the blank) helping?” teenager.

So how does a parent motivate an almost adult? Threats of Santa not bringing presents and promises of chocolate chip cookies do not carry as much weight as they once did. As a matter of principle, most teens would rather forego all those niceties of family life if it means they are able to spend most of the day in bed sleeping. What does work? Guilt. Although I had hoped not to resort to guilt tactics, I have found in my desperation that it can be effective.

 A closer look at guilt allows us to study why it works so well in parenting situations.  

The definition of guilt is:

1. the fact or state of having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong, esp. against moral or penal law; culpability: He admitted his guilt.


2. a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.


3. conduct involving the commission of such crimes, wrongs, etc.: to live a life of guilt.

 With this information, how do we make guilt work for us?

  • Children love their parents, even teenagers. If you approach the situation with “Do you really want to see your mother doing this task? Because she will have to if you don’t” You may elicit a protective response in the teen.
  • Teenagers are overly concerned with what other’s think of them. It is easy to exploit this by suggesting that naked baby photos and personal weakness can be publicly exposed.
  • Reminding your teenager the pain and suffering of pregnancy, childbirth and the effort expended thus far on raising them occasionally brings the desired result. However, if your teen is in a particularly resistant mood it may backfire. If after employing this tactic, you are met with the response: “I didn’t ask to be born”. Abort the mission.
  • Disclaimers: Even though guilt has proved a reliable motivating factor in our home, it may not in yours. Not all teenagers react to guilt in the same manner. Your efforts may be met with resistance and in some cases, extreme disobedience.Commando guilt tactics are not intended to replace good old-fashioned disciplinary measures; doing so may result in familial mutiny.

10:42 am est


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