CHICOPEE, Mass. (Mass Appeal) Is your teen any good at resisting temptation? All of us succumb to a little temptation now and then, but for teens it can be harder. Clinical Psychologist Dr. Tim Hope shared his tips.
How to Deal With Temptation
Identify your teen’s temptations: Sit down with your teen and openly ask about what temptations he or she has. Some examples of typical temptations include:
Wanting to eat food that will causes you to feel bad afterwards because you consider it to be fattening (it ruins your diet), unhealthy (it might cause disease or lowered nutrition), or it is inappropriate for you (because it’s not something you’re supposed eat according to your dietary or health principles or religious beliefs).
Wanting to buy things you really want even though you do not have the money, or you already have enough things and you know you really do not need more.
Wanting to yell at someone because you’re frustrated and you have a hard time resisting the temptation to lash out. This could be targeted at anyone in your life, including your friends, your family, your teachers.
Wanting to give in to sexual urges that you feel are inappropriate according to your beliefs or social mores, such as sex before marriage, viewing pornography, being unfaithful in relationship, etc.
Wanting to indulge in alcohol or take illicit drugs.
Wanting to give in to procrastination and laziness. You would rather not be bothered doing something even though you know you should.
Find what triggers your temptation. There are a lot of possibilities for triggers but you will need to help your teen dig down to identify those specific to you. Some of the more obvious triggers that bring temptation to the fore include:
Boredom with your current situation or relationships.
- Indecision or lack of thought about what you want out of life, your job, your relationships, your future direction.
- Attention-seeking. Perhaps you are feeling that not enough people are paying you adequate attention.
- Stress or feeling down.
- Frustration with the way things are headed in your life, with other people in your life, with yourself.
- Lack of faith in yourself, or in your faith or core beliefs.
- A need to prove something to other people in your life, maybe even as an act of revenge or “evening the score” (such as having an affair because a spouse had an affair).
- A short-term or shortsighted view of the gains and a lack of a bigger vision for your future.
Work out your guiding values. For some people, faith provides a solid foundation of principles and morals to abide by; for others abiding by The Golden Rule, and seeking to actively be a constructive part of civil society forms a basis of values. Problems can often arise when you lack a firm foundation of values which can tempt you to live a life in which “anything goes”, or leave you unable to discern what is right and wrong in any given situation. Help your teen ask: Do I have a complete set of values I care enough about to abide by? Stemming from this you might ask such questions as:
What are my financial values? Do I care about budgeting or am I too busy or disinterested to bother? Does it worry me when to get into debt?
What are my school values? What do I think constitutes cheating, bullying, harassment, intimidation, or taking advantage of others in school?
What are my personal values? Do I care about my family before all else? Do I put my family before my personal desires?
What are my civic values? Do I believe I should help other people even where it’s clear they didn’t help themselves? Do I think that helping the environment matters? Do I respect others’ beliefs that are the different from my own?
What are my faith beliefs? Do I follow those beliefs or do I slip often?
Think about what it is you are succumbing to. Help your teen to anticipate the consequences. Talk about how to do the mental hard work of thinking it through to its final outcome. For example, tomorrow what will you think about the decision you made today? What are the consequences to you, your family, your friends, your wallet, etc. Think about how you will feel. Really force yourself to focus on the enduring end outcomes, not the momentary, fleeting pleasure or joy.
Exercise your willpower. After thinking hard about the consequences, add your willpower to the equation. Expect exercising willpower to be difficult. Like any muscle, it strengthens with repeated exercise. Start with something small and work your way up gradually. There are two possible approaches here, one offered by Howard J Rankin using visualization, and one offered by Richard Wiseman, using gratitude. Encourage your teen to try both to see what works:
The visualization approach: Visualize yourself resisting the temptation. Picture yourself seeing that chocolate bar, picking it up, feeling it closely, perhaps even smelling it. Then visualize yourself putting it down and walking away from it. Make the whole experience as real and tactile in your mind as possible. When you feel you’ve practiced it enough, go to the store where they sell chocolate. Look at it. And resist it. Take along a friend if this gives you support. After a while, you might even consider taking a taste test to see if you can eat just a little without overdoing it.
The gratitude approach: Concentrate on all that you have to be grateful for. Gratitude enables you to remember what you have in life that is good, to be happy about, such as your family, your job, your pets, your hobbies, your health, your friends, the fact you’ve got a roof over your head and enough food to eat, etc. Gratitude grounds you in a way that removes justifying giving in to temptation because you felt “deprived” of something or someone. Importantly, write down your gratitude, for clarification and reference.
Plan for temptation. Accept that you’ll be tempted sometimes. Once you know your temptations and the triggers, work to manage them. That way, you can overcome them before they take hold. This is a positive way of tackling them rather than avoiding them (although, avoidance is discussed in the next step as another possibility.)
Don’t enable temptation. Help your teen to remove or avoid the source of temptation if your teen is finding it impossible not to succumb. Some approaches might be:
Avoid sales if you cannot resist buying things you do not need.
Never buy the food that you find yourself unable to stop over-eating. Eat only the amount of food that you are hungry for and be mindful of what you eat. Do not rush through your meal. Do not make stashes or stockpiles in the house. Stay away from places or aisles that sell your temptations.
Do not go to places where others offer you alcohol if you can’t stop at moderate drinking.
Do not go to places where others offer you illicit drugs. Besides being a crime, the health and life toll taken by illicit drugs is real. You only need to search online for examples.
Replace the temptation with distractions or pursuits of substance. Help your teen to learn ways to positively distract themselves by doing something active. This a good way of resisting temptation. Find other things to do to compensate for the lack or boredom that is confronting you. Get out and exercise, go for a back country hike, distract yourself from food by looking at something visually stunning such as a coffee table book, take up a new hobby, draw a picture about resisting temptation, plan a budget and set goals for what you want to do with your money, wash the dog or the car, etc. Whatever you choose to do to distract yourself, throw yourself into it wholeheartedly.
Lighten up and let fun into your life. Allow yourself to have fun so that you lose that sense of depriving yourself. Make it your goal to ensure that your family and friends are having fun too.
Instead of fighting change, embrace it. Embrace change in people around you, embrace change in your school and life, and grow with change.
Be mindful about what you do rather than self-indulgent.
Seek help. This is an often overlooked solution when bound up in thinking this is purely your own battle. Help your teen to realize that he or she is not alone in resisting temptation. Reaching out to other people to help you resist a temptation can be a very powerful solution, providing that they are understanding, caring, and prepared to help. People on whom you might be able to rely include parents, family members, friends, teachers, counselors, your doctor, your minister of faith, financial or budget experts, etc.
Reward yourself for not giving in to temptation. Whenever you resist temptation, you deserve a little break. Do something that is good, fun, and healing for you and perhaps for those around you who might have been impacted if you had given in. Take the family out to dinner, take your boyfriend hiking, watch a marathon of your favorite movies, spend time relaxing with someone you love, reconnecting.
Take care that the reward has nothing to do with temptation; make it about connecting with others or yourself, about furthering the good in your life, or about giving yourself some chill space.