Motivating the Unmotivated Teen

Parents have used all kinds of motivational tactics to get their teenager to do things they don’t like to do. We use such tactics as rewards, punishments, cheering them on, lectures and, as a last resort, the futile argument of reason. I have seen that parents tend to do these things because they don’t know what else to do. We think if we use the entire arsenal in our toolbox, at some point the motivational light will go on or we will just somehow inject motivation into them.

Most people tend to misunderstand motivation. When we w2-27 shutterstock_433815001ant to motivate our teen we try to get behind them with positive encouragement using statements such as, “I know you can do it” or “you’ve got this.” Overenthusiasm or cheerleading actually tends to demotivate a teen who is disheartened and depressed. The opposite effect occurs because your teen doesn’t believe the things being said about him or her and this makes them feel guilty in the process. Parents, this doesn’t mean you should start pointing out the negative consequences to their behaviors and be pessimistic – they are already well aware of all the negative implications to their behaviors.

We try to motivate ourselves by telling ourselves, “when I get motivated I’m going to …” The relationship between motivation and performance is backwards. Motivation comes from the action of doing. The key is not to try and get your teen motivated, it is to do something different to try to get him or her to “perform.” One of the most important aspects to getting your teen to perform is asking yourself, “What kind of relationship do I have with my teen?” Is it a motivational one or one of lecturing, arguments and conflict? A motivating relationship is a collaborative one, with parent and teen working as partners toward a common goal. I’m going to now ask you to give up some things to help your teen decide to “change.”

The key is to discover what is intrinsically valuable to your child, and this will not be accomplished through groundings, denial of privileges, lecturing, hectoring, rewards or any other efforts you have tried that have not worked. You must do something different to learn (and help your adolescent learn) what is meaningful to him or her. Have the change be directed by your teen rather than you. Ask your child how they feel and what they think about their current situation rather than telling them how they should feel or think. Then listen, listen, listen. No one will hear you until they first feel heard themselves. Work on building your relationship with your teen and creating a relationship that influences change in your child.