Many teenagers give every impression that they are unmotivated to do anything useful (at least in the minds of parents and other mature adults)! Yet they eat like crazy and have plenty of energy for activities that, to parents, often seem unproductive or even harmful. Wouldn’t it be amazing to funnel your human, cupboard emptying, media savvy machine toward something constructive?
There isn’t a magic bullet to motivating your teenager to accomplish the things you want them to, but there are ways to help motivate them toward becoming more responsible:
1. Observe and study your teenager
Everybody is motivated by something, even teenagers. Think about this: if teenagers went without food for a couple days, they would be pretty motivated to eat. In fact, going without food for a couple hours motivates them to get up and go to the fridge. They are also motivated to sleep, use the bathroom… I think you get the picture.
Basic necessities are not the only motivators your teens have. You probably already know some things that motivate your teens. If he plays video games all the time, he’s probably motivated by something in the game. If she’s always looking at her cell phone, she’s probably motivated by something she finds on the screen.
Observe your teenager. Study them. What do they do? Why do they do it? What do they get out of it? Take notes. Make a goal to learn something new everyday and write it down. You’ll be amazed at what you learn as you make it a priority to gather all this information about your teenager.
Understanding how your teens are wired leads to awareness of what motivates them which gives amazing insight and clarity into how to motivate them.
2. Think first
Make sure you know what you are trying to motivate your teenager to do and why. Remember, as a parent, your job is to raise an honourable adult not make life easier for yourself. It’s often easier to ask your teen for help with something for your benefit because they are available and capable. That’s okay sometimes. Families are supposed to help each other. But begin being aware of your own reasoning. Teens see right through our motivations. If your motivation is for something for yourself, be honest with yourself and your teen.
The reason this is so helpful is because it helps you to begin to see things from the perspective of your teenager, to recognize your own motivations in what you are asking your teen to do and to own them. Teenagers may seem unmotivated, but the solution is not to motivate for the sake of motivation alone. We want to motivate our teens for living as respectable adults, not just to control them but to deepen our relationship with them. That’s why observing them in step one above is so important so that we nurture and equip them in line with who they are and how they’re wired.
What would you like to motivate your teenager to do? Make a list and read on…
3. Answer why
Teenagers may be in process, but they are quite intuitive. If they don’t understand why someone is asking them to do something they would rather not do, they won’t have much incentive to do it. They want to know why they should do something and what’s in it for them. This is another reason why thinking first and understanding our own motivations is so important.
Take your list of things you would like to motivate your teenagers to do and pick the number one priority. Why is that so important to you? What do you hope happens by seeing your teenager do that thing? Now flip that around and look at it from your child’s perspective. Why is it important to them? Why should they care? What will they get out of it?
Many items on your list may not have an immediate (or even foreseeable) benefit to your teen, but are still important for their maturation into an honourable adult. Try to hone in on the reasoning you have in terms they will understand. And narrow the list down as much as possible.
For the items on your list that are harder to explain, begin with the most important one and leave the rest for another time in the future. Make a time to sit down with your teen to explain your expectations, why you have them, and consequences for not meeting them. Then, stick to it!
4. Evaluate the schedule, not too much or too little
Many families today run from activity to activity and obligation to obligation. They are so busy that each person in the family barely has time to get themselves ready for bed in order to get back at the same vicious cycle the next day. Our bodies and minds were not meant to operate this way. Especially during the teen years. Teenagers need to expand their horizons and experience the world, but they also need time to soak it all in, reflect and get plenty of rest. Their minds and bodies are in such a state of flux (see What Happened to my Kid?), that they need plenty of sleep and good nutrition to properly develop and mature.
Write down every commitment that you have as a family and every stated or unwritten family expectation. Most likely, you will be amazed at the length of your list. Then prioritize in order of importance. What is most important for your growth and maturity as a family together and for each person individually. Which commitments are most important for your family and which are most important for each person? Decide how many of each you can keep while still allowing your room for your family and teen to have down time and balance in their life. Then keep those commitments and eliminate the rest.
5. Give responsibility but help break it down
Teens need responsibility. Without responsibility, they aren’t learning about life or being prepared for adulthood. However, some responsibilities are overwhelming to teenagers, especially if they are new or more involved than the ones your children have done before.
It’s natural to want to ease our child’s pain and do the work for them when we see them struggling. The better way is to come alongside and help your teenager understand how to break the project down. A mountain isn’t climbed in one leap, but step by little step. Acknowledge the size of the task, and then explain that projects like this take time (and that’s okay!). Equip your teen to do the task, explain that you will be available for support if necessary, and then let them know that you are confident in their ability to accomplish the task.
Try to find ways for him/her to break it down. Ask questions like, “if you were the boss and given 5 employees, how would you divide this up between the employees?” Or, “if you only had 5 minutes a day but had 20 days to get this done, what would you do to make progress with your 5 minutes today?”
The more ownership and accomplishment your teenager feels, the more motivation he/she will have.
Motivation will not happen overnight. It is a process. You, the parent, have the most influence and opportunity to prepare your teen for success. Take time to work through some of all of these ideas to help your teen prepare to be a motivated, responsible adult.