How to really get teens to turn off lights using powerful talks around family values.

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Turn off the lights!

Day in and day out, I’m constantly turning off lights.  In some cases, I’m turning off upwards to nine lights in a matter of 15 seconds.  I have asked, negotiated, and bargained with my kids to no avail. What is my next move? Yell? How to really get teens to turn off lights using powerful talks around family values.

It all started with my son, the exact moment when he was tall enough to use his middle finger to flick the light switch up. From that day on, it’s never been down.  At least not by his doing.  I did cut him some slack at first, and I didn’t immediately get on his case. After all he needed to grow another inch to once again use his longest finger to flick the switch from the up position to down. Believe me, I measured. It’s an inch higher from the off position to the on position and according to his growth chart carved into his wall, which by the way is right next to the light switch, took him almost a year to achieve. 

What did I do in the in meantime? I did nothing.  I could have put a stool near the switch to boost his height, but I didn’t.  When I was his age, I didn’t remember not turning off lights.  When he grew to the right height, I simply expected Adam to be able to turn off the switch himself while making a forward bodily motion past the light switch through a 3 feet by 7 feet opening.  In my mind this seemed humanly possible.  I’ve seen it done before. 

Then one day, without any planning. I just said it.  Very calmly, I spoke the words, “Adam, please come back and turn off your bedroom light.”  No questions asked, he got up, went up a flight of stairs walked past me and turned it off.  I knelt down to his level, eye to eye and said, “The next time you leave the room just simply turn off the light.”  “Can you do that for Daddy?”

“Yes, I can.”

“Thank you.  I love you!”

“Love you to Daddy.”

Why don’t kids say “I” anymore?  A blog for another time. 

Days turned into months.  “Adam, get up here and turn off the light.  Seriously, how many times will it take for you to just remember to turn off the lights?”

“I don’t know.” He would say as he walked up the stairs past me to turn of the light. 

Months into years.  “Adam, turn off your light?”  “No, Now!”

Then I said it!  The Godawful default line that every parent eventually utters.  The question that make no sense to a ten-year-old but we ask it anyway.  Why we ask is a mystery.  It usually comes after you think the hollering is done but then your kid makes a comment and you think it’s necessary that YOU have the last spoken word.  So you ask, “Do you own stock in the electric company or something?”  Like the shot heard around the world, this became my moment of truth, will this be a battle? One that I will win? 

I wasn’t making any grounds and these moments were only creating a divide between my son and I. Plus, I never felt right about sending him to his room over a light.  And even if I did, he wouldn’t turn off the light when it was time for his release. 

board, school, immediately

What would be the purpose of the battle anyway?  Is it to have lights off when no one else is in a room?  Could it be that I’m the parent and you’re the child and you must listen to me?  Is it because of the “I told you so” mentality?  Do you wonder if you let kids get away without doing simple tasks, you won’t be taken seriously in the future?  As a rookie parent, this became a scary point in my fatherhood and a hard decision to make.

One day at work, I was commiserating with a friend of mine about my plight.  What she said changed my course.  “Of course they are capable of turning off lights.  They are just doing their job!” she said.  Yes, their job of being kids and providing us with opportunities.

The matter morphed from being about the lights to being about me and my own insecurities about being a good father. What I once saw as a problem, now turned into an opportunity, an opportunity to reinforce values. 

In this case, for me, it was more about teaching the value of being conscientious and what my son was doing conflicted with my sense of being conscientious.  After all, leaving lights on isn’t going to hurt anyone nor would the annual savings of $200 be significant enough to feel a difference. 

Here comes the talk of family value!

Once I was able to name it, I was able to describe it to my son and connect why turning off lights is important. Here is where he and I had a powerful talk around the family values.  While this may or may not get my son to turn off the light, it did provide for a different and better kind of conversation, one that achieves my personal goal of instilling values rather than about a lamp.

As for getting my son to turn off his bedroom light, that solution came to me after reading, Upstream, by Dan Heath.  I bought an Amazon Echo Dot and an Amazon Glow light for my son’s room.  I could have also installed light switch timers or motion sensors or a mechanical timer. What was once my problem now was solved by Alexa.

In the end, I did get the last laugh.  I could turn off my kid’s lights from anywhere in the world with a simple app, even while they’re in their rooms.

While consciousness was my family value, add a comment what might have been your family value. Describe it with your family and place it on your Family Values worksheet, downloadable as a free PDF on my site for free when you sign up.

Share my story with a friend and ask them what would be their family value connection!


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15 thoughts on “How to really get teens to turn off lights using powerful talks around family values.”

  1. I fight this battle everyday! Every. Day.
    I think for me it is more about my children not listening to me more than the fact that the lights are on. Buuuttttt… I may just be getting some timers!

  2. I think two beers. Mine are only 4 and 6, so I would say this battle is still ahead for me. I say this for two reasons, 1. who can only drink one beer? 2. the environment is something I want my kids to feel something about.

  3. The environment would also be my persuasive point. Oh and every unattended light deducts 5 minutes off of iPad time for the day

  4. My son is just 10 months old and I can’t help but think about how quickly he learns something, and how hard it is to get him to unlearn a bad habit.

    My only thought here is “why didn’t you provide a small step when he could first reach ‘On’ to help him reach ‘Off’ at the same time so he could learn these skills in tandem?”

    You gave him a year without ‘Off’ in which he could learn how to use ‘On’ and expected him to just know that he’s also meant to do the opposite?

    Maybe I’m naive. Maybe in 10 years time I’ll come back and say “You can say ‘I told you so’ now!”

  5. LOL “Do you own stock in the Electric Company or something?” was TOTALLY one of my parents lines… along with “Do you think money grows on trees?” So Funny! I must say though…. I think my sticking point would be money (something I’m sure I adopted from my parents). I might take a quarter from their piggy bank each time I find their light on to put toward the electric bill….. just sayin……

    1. Thanks for your comment and certainly that is more costly. I guess I should feel better about my issue which is the purpose of this site. I hope the site can do the same for you. I’m working on my next blog around why kids ask the same F*N question when I’ve answered them the first time.

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