Why Kids Don't Care About Their Future (it's their brain!)

Updated: Dec 5, 2018

Your daughter skips guitar practice again, despite wanting to join the school band next year. She chooses to hangout with his friends despite having a test that he hasn’t studied for. You get frustrated because you KNOW these are things she cares about. Why doesn’t she work hard to accomplish her goals?

The answer: Her brain thinks she’s someone else

Okay, it’s slightly less dramatic.

Your daughter’s brain distinguishes between herself in the present (her present self), and herself in the future (her future self). It turns out, her brain thinks of her future self as a STRANGER.

Actually, all our brains do.


When you think about yourself, this part of your brain (called the Medial Prefrontal Cortex) lights up. When you think about a stranger, it dims. And when you think about yourself in the future, it dims too!

Your brain thinks your future self is a stranger

Your brain doesn’t think of the future you as You, it thinks of it as someone it DOESN’T KNOW. So, of course your brain chooses to please today’s ‘you’ instead of that stranger in the future!


And it’s worse for kids, because they don’t have the understanding of consequences that adults develop over time, which helps their brain mitigate its tendencies.

This is why most kids struggle with delaying gratification and sticking with longer term goals.


But all is not lost, my child. I mean, my parent.

We know that people (adults and kids) go on to achieve BIG AUDACIOUS long term goals. What’s up with that?

If you think about it – your kid’s problem is that her brain doesn’t deeply care about Future Her because it *doesn’t know her.*!

The solution? Help her brain get to know her future self. That way, it develops empathy for this future self. With empathy, her brain will want to make better choices for that Future Self. How? Here are three ways to help your child empathize with her future self:


Visualization

Athletes like Michael Jordan and Michael Phelps used visualization all the time. Everyday, they spend a few minutes picturing themselves doing their best performance. This helps them make the decisions necessary to get to their goal. Have your kid create a visual of the Future Her: a report card with her name on it or a photoshopped poster of her future band’s gig.


Future Writing

Have her record an interview with her Future Self. Encourage her to think of all the details: How does her future self feel? Who’s around her? What did she do to get there? What’s the future going to be like, now that she’s achieved this amazing goal?


Talk

Yup, talk! Make it a point to bring up these future goals in a positive light once a week. These conversations are not about planning or accountability; they’re just about bringing that Future Self closer. You can say things like “I can’t wait to attend your concert next year! I can totally picture you with your red guitar up there. Or, would you want a new guitar? Do musicians usually have a practice one and performance one?”



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