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Patterson: Leasing versus owning teenage behavior

Sometimes consumers (like me) lease vehicles they can’t afford to own.

There is little, if any, downpayment required and the monthly payment is certainly cheaper than a purchase. Good credit, minimal paperwork and zoom, they’re off.

There they go, driving off in a new vehicle without saving for a downpayment or creating the necessary room in their budget to actually purchase the car; it’s quicker, cheaper and initially easier than buying.

But it can create a lease cycle difficult to shake; when the lease term ends a new lease must be assumed, and the monthly payment never ceases.


Though the lessee has made their payment each month, they are in fact no closer to owning the vehicle.

The same trap exists when parents lease motivation from their children: short-term perks followed by a longer-term dilemma.

Frustrated parents are thirsty for a quick fix; waiting for teenage motivation to kick in can be an exhausting process, and sometimes it’s simply more satisfying to grab the other shoe by its laces rather than waiting for it to drop.

But in the long run, leasing teenage motivation creates the same dilemmas found in any lease cycle: payments are made, but no real equity is gained.


Over-incentivizing positive behaviors and outcomes from children initially produces gains, but inherently promotes a scenario where parents never cease paying for motivators.

So how do parents buy teenage motivation? They don’t.

Parents can, however, provide a motivational downpayment in the form of shelter, food, education and access to formative experiences. Ultimately though, the teenager must make their own monthly payments.

This is where is gets tricky.

Parents often find themselves thinking, “I’ve given them this or that and yet they still don’t.”

So the impatient parent begins to barter; they begin leasing motivation.

The elementary child is guaranteed $5 for each good grade on their next report card. Leased.

The young teen promises no more missing assignments if they can go to the birthday party. Leased.


The high school teen guarantees an A in economics if they can just stay out past curfew. Leased.

The pragmatics of these perks are fine, if they are reversed in distribution and actuated as a bonus instead of a clause.

Huh? Quality academic product, positive final outcomes and safe behaviors should be standard, not attached to money, an event or a curfew.

Leasing ideal behaviors and grades is temporarily rewarding, but promotes a false expectation that doing well warrants extrinsic rewards. It doesn’t.

Children must discover for themselves their internal degree of motivation, free from extrinsic motivators.

The instinctual reaction of any parent is to save their child but it is critical to define what warrants a save.

Drowning? Save.

Abusing substances? Save.


Posting unhealthy content online? Save.

Not completing every homework assignment? Don’t save.

Not every sign of low motivation needs to be actively addressed.

Instead, analyze what percentage of your frustration stems from your teenager not having motivation versus them not having your motivation. Parents might want things for their children that those children don’t want for themselves.

As frustrating as it can be, stepping back and looking at life through their lens is important. This perspective will prevent you from trying to elicit behaviors and outcomes that only exist through leasing motivations, or in more simple terminology, bribes.

Patience and strategic intervention are two vital tools in the war on (lack of) motivation.

Sometimes kids need to experience the real world and academic side effects of not making their payments.

Without external (non-parental) forces holding them accountable, they will never discover their own motivational voice.

Motivational leasing techniques prevent children from honing intrinsic motivation.

Motivational leases create children who only produce positive behaviors or outcomes when they are attached instant gratification.

And as they grow older the complexity and cost of such external motivators increase as they grow bored of last year’s model.

DANIEL PATTERSON, a former Newport-Mesa Unified administrator, recently launched Patterson Perspective Inc., a consulting company.