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For anyone who has ever raised (or tried to raise) a teenager, the title of this article holds little surprise.  In Parenting 101 we learn that trying to figure out a teenager is futile.  The same might be said for a two-year old.  The obvious difference in our favor is that we are large enough to pick up and carry off an obstinate, screaming toddler.  Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for teenagers.   Oh, were they not so big and tall.

But, back to the article.  The conclusion – that we know little about each other’s intentions – is not the most interesting part of this article.  However, the advice surrounding the conclusion is worthy of consideration.  And, yes, it can be used by parents raising children as well as by people trying to create “public policies designed to impact on areas such as smoking, obesity, eating disorders, self-harm, alcohol use and gambling.”

According to Clinical psychologist Dr. Warren Mansell, “Policy makers” – a parent fits that role as does a business leader – “need to accurately understand what a person is trying to control using their behaviour, rather than trying to change the behaviour itself…We think we know what someone is doing just by observing them…But our study shows that it is incredibly easy to be mistaken – and that has important implications on anyone whose task is to change human behaviour.”

“This study suggests that some behaviour studied may be no more than a side effect of participants’ true intentions…and fails to address the common root cause of people’s difficulties…You need to ask people what they want in their life and how they solve their problems. Smoking, for example, is just one of many different ways in which a person might try to control something important to them – such as their social confidence, or emotional state.”

So, we’re supposed to figure out what a person is trying to control rather than look only at their behavior.  Hmmm, we may be able to work with that advice.