by Chris Hudson

Very few teenagers completely lack motivation.  What many teenagers lack is the motivation to do stuff that doesn’t matter, doesn’t seem important, or is about satisfying an agenda that doesn’t relate to them. With this context in mind, here are my 7 Secrets to Motivating Teenagers

1. WHAT IS IN IT FOR ME?

This is the most important motivational ingredient of them all!

If your teen does not understand what the task has to do with them, or their well-being, then it will be a struggle for them to find the desire to carry it out.

Teenagers long to feel significant. They want to demonstrate to themselves and the world that they matter and are capable of making a difference.  Many of the problems teens encounter today is because their desire to be significant is ignored or diminished.

If your teenager understands the value to them of the task, you will have little problem motivating them to do it. At this point, I need to tell many parents that teenagers do not regard “making their parents’ life easier” as being something of high value to them.

The common task that is not meaningful to teenagers is homework. Many fail to see the point of learning algebra or ancient history. Trying to explain possible practical uses of abstract learning can be an exercise in futility.

Sometimes we all do work for no other reason than it needs to be done. Helping teenagers see meaningless tasks as part of life’s greater goals is a valuable message to pass on.

Getting school work done is necessary for a teen who wants to get into the college course of their choice, or be considered for their dream job one day.  Getting out and finding a part-time job is needed if they want to have money to spend on going out, buying a car, or getting the latest piece of technology.

2. LET THEM HAVE A SAY

If your teenager feels like all they are being asked to do is to fit into your agenda, your timetable, and conform to your way of doing things they are not going to be terribly motivated.

When parents give the reason “Because I told you so,” they create a demotivating environment. Developmentally, teenagers are seeking to establish themselves as their own person, independent from their parents. Is it any wonder that being asked to conform to a parent’s agenda is demotivating?

Give your teenager a say in what and how things are done. If your teenager has had a say in setting the agenda and the timetable they will be much more motivated to participate. For example:

  • Discuss with them when they prefeer to study, where and how. Set deadlines, but give them the freedom to choose when and how a task is completed
  • Discuss with them what they think is a reasonable expectation and then share your expectations. Try to work to a compromise position you can both live with.

3. LET THEM LEARN FROM FAILURE

When parents constantly step and rescue their teen’s from failing they undermine their teenager’s ability to grow up. No parent wants to see their kids fail, but it is through failure that we grow and learn to improve.

What gives a task significance is the consequences or what is at stake if it doesn’t get done.  When parents prevent teens from experiencing the consequences of failure they rob a task of its significance, and hence their teenager’s motivation to do better next time.

If your teen chooses not to study for an exam and fails they are more likely to be motivated next time. Parents can maximize these opportunities by asking questions rather than giving lectures. Discuss with your teen how they feel about the outcome, what they might do differently next time, and ask if there is anything they need from you to help them.

4. HELP THEM TO REMEMBER

It is not always the case that teenagers don’t do things because they are not motivated, often they fail to follow through simply because they forget. The reality is teenagers, particularly younger ones, are hardwired to forget. Their brains are reforming and haven’t yet got all the bits joined up.

With all the stuff going on in their life it is very easy for teenagers to get distracted and forget. They need help to remember what they committed to do and to get organized.

It is important to point out that constant verbal reminders from parents, also referred to as nagging, are not the solution. If you nag your teenager, you make it about your agenda and about keeping you happy. This does not help your teenager’s motivation; in fact, nagging is a great demotivator.

Teaching your teens to be organized and remember is part of what parents need to do. Work with your teen to develop methods of remembering that doesn’t require you to be involved.

5. MAKE IT ACHIEVABLE

Sometimes it is the size of the task that teenagers find hard. It isn’t that they don’t want to do it, but rather they don’t know where to start and it all looks too hard.

If your teen is putting off getting started, it can sometimes be helpful to sit down with them to find out how they are feeling about getting it done. Do they know where to start? Do they feel like they will never be able to do it so can’t be bothered starting? Maybe they feel scared about failing?

Whatever the reason, offering to help your teen think through a process for getting the job done could be just the thing they need.

Break the task up into a series of smaller achievable tasks with shorter deadlines.  Teenagers often struggle with long term planning, but respond well to more immediate time horizons. By helping your teen come up with a series of small steps, you empower them to work their way through the task.

6. PROVIDE INCENTIVES

This is a more specific example of point 1 “What is in it for me?”  But it is worth spelling out separately.

As mentioned earlier not all tasks have an obvious intrinsic consequence that can be used as motivation. Some school assignments are just there to be done, and some chores don’t seem to make a great deal of difference to the immediate quality of life.

Even more importantly, some tasks can’t be linked to larger outcomes in a way that motivates a teenager. For teenager’s who lack confidence and/or natural ability, the motivation to do better in certain subjects at school can be very hard to find. Likewise, for the teen is not naturally coordinated or athletic the motivation to participate in physical activity can be hard to find.

For these types of instances providing an additional incentive can help generate motivation where otherwise there would be none. By offering rewards for effort, improvement, or participation, you reinforce in your teenager the values of trying and perseverance, rather than rewarding the act of giving up or resigning.

Learning what your teenagers ‘love language’ is can be a great help in this regard. Does your teen respond well to encouraging words, gifts, quality time, physical affection, or some other form of affirmation?  Knowing what type of incentive your teen will respond best to will increase their motivation and responsiveness.

7. MAKE IT FUN

This motivational principle applies to people of all ages, not just teens. Most people are more motivated to do something fun rather than something boring.

Teenagers, particularly boys, respond to competition. No matter how menial the task, any job can be transformed into a passion-filled activity if there is a competitive aspect involved. Competition doesn’t always require having others to compete against, sometimes young people respond to the challenge to better their own previous efforts.

Weil College Advising

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