Inception, Ideas, & Teenagers.

Have you seen the movie Inception yet?

I’m no movie critic, but I can thoroughly recommend it – great movie.  If you haven’t seen it don’t worry, I won’t give too much away.

The basic plot in the movie revolves around messing with people’s minds through their dreams.  The title of the movie comes from the specific concept of being able to plant an idea in someone’s thoughts so they think it is their own.

That’s all I’m going to say about the plot.  Relax and read on.

While the concept of inception is best left for the movies, the notion of planting ideas in people’s thoughts got my attention.  The truth is we do it to each other all the time. Adults and teenagers are no exception.

Question is how aware are we of the ideas we plant in our teenager’s minds?

Ideas & Elephants

During the movie Inception there is moment where the following dialogue takes place: (don’t panic, it won’t give away the plot)

Arthur: Okay, this is me, planting an idea in your mind. I say: don’t think about elephants. What are you thinking about?

Saito: Elephants?

Arthur: Right, but it’s not your idea. The dreamer can always remember the genesis of the idea.

There is something very self evident about this bit of dialogue. Merely by mentioning that which you don’t want someone to think about you will cause them to think about it.

Hardly science fiction is it?

But have you ever considered how this concept could effect the way we relate to those around us, especially teenagers?

Ideas, Elephants, & Teenagers

I was first prompted to consider this by emotional intelligence and parenting expert Ronit Baras.  She actually uses the example of elephants, however her’s are wearing pink tu-tu’s, but the logic is the same.  When asked not to think of elephants wearing pink tu-tu’s the first thing you do is think of … you get the picture.

Ronit suggests that when we give instructions in a negative way it is the same as asking someone not to think of pink elephants.

During adolescence teens can be prone to do things that make parents or others unhappy.  The common response from most people is to respond with “pink elephants” or rebukes and instructions couched in negative language. In so doing you are focusing the teens attention on the very behaviour you wish them to stop or avoid.

Your language reflects your focus.  If your language is always negative it suggests your focus is on what is not working and what you don’t want. When you use positive language your focus shifts to the positive outcomes you do want, while also putting those preferable ideas in your teenagers mind.

Now before going any further let me make it really clear, I think there are numerous situations when it is appropriate to use negative instructions – especially when someone is in danger.

Let me also say that I have no doubt that teenagers are more than capable of thinking of unhelpful ideas without adults planting the ideas in their head.

Positive Talk – Positive Ideas

That said, it is worth considering how often your words to teenagers focus their attention on the positive outcomes you want compared to how often your words focus their thoughts on that which you want them to avoid.

Try keeping score one day and tally up the number of times you make negative statements or instruction compared to how often you use positive language. You might be surprised at the result.

If you are using a disproportionate amount of negative statements practice turning them into positives:

“Stop running in the house” becomes “Please walk in the house” or “Don’t speed when you drive” becomes “Drive safely.”

Orientating the language of your statements to your teenager towards positive outcomes will have two benefits:

  1. It will help you channel your thoughts towards the positive outcomes you want and free you from seeing your teenager and their behaviour in a constantly negative light.
  2. It similarly focuses your teen’s thoughts on what it is you want them to do rather than constantly focusing on what you don’t want.

Don’t forget to see Inception – or should I say, remember to see Inception.

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