How do you motivate teen agers?

vannieDecember 2, 2008

Our friends are at their wits end. Their son just doesn't care about anything. He stays in trouble at school and isn't motivated to do well or even try. How do you motivate a kid like that?

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Here are just some thoughts I'm throwing out there, not really trying very hard to make them coherent. I have one teen, he's 15, and a 12 y/o. While they give me small to medium frustrations, nothing big- yet ;o).

I think it's naive to think he's not being motivated by anything. He may not be motivated to work hard or take responsibility. But he's getting a payoff of some sort to be lazy and irresponsible; it's working for him. As a parent, I would make it not work for him anymore.

How old is he? Maybe he does feel overwhelmed by his responsibilities. As adults, the life of a 15 y/o looks pretty easy and we might think "overwhelmed by what?!" But, still, when you're 15, the life of a 15 y/o is the hardest thing you've ever done, so it's relative. Maybe he needs some guidance managing his "life" so he can succeed. Success is a good motivator, a little taste of it can make a kid want to work for more. My own 12 y/o has always been an A student, but had Fs in 2 subjects (including his usual strongest) on the last progress report. I was floored, but he felt even worse. He had made a couple big mistakes, messed up a test, lost a couple assignments, and suddenly he felt so far behind that he thought he'd never catch up so he sort of quit trying. He broke down and cried to me "I just want the whole world to stop moving so I can catch up!" I was speechless, who hasn't felt that way? Of course he needs to learn how to recover from that kind of feeling. He had to believe he could get back on track. A couple failing grades made him start to believe he was a failure, so he actually started acting like one, that's all it took.

Maybe he doesn't see how what he's supposed to do connects to real life. A lot of teens feel that way about school work. Maybe sitting down and looking at college entrance requirements or scholarship requirements would make him think about his choices. Household duties need to connect to his freedoms/priveleges. If he's old enough, maybe he needs a job and responsibility for certain expenses that are important to him (driving= paying insurance; cell phones have a bill).

I haven't met a teenager yet who is not motivated by money, or lack of it. If he is given spending money, it should stop until he fulfills his obligations. It can be a deal, a contract. Do this, you get this much. Don't, you get nothin'. That is life. Money doesn't come in just for hanging around watching TV.

When he does do the work, take responsibility, be proud, make him feel proud of himself for a job well done.

Maybe there is more going on that simply "lazy teenager syndrome." Have they ruled out emotional issues, depression? Family or personal stress?

My own kids are motivated so far just by the desire to meet expectations, to know they've reached a goal. The key to that, though, is realistic expectations. On occassion, the goal we/they set is too high or too low. When DS's goal is too low, that's all he does, exactly what it takes to get there and nothing more, even if he is capable. I have a cousin who really struggled as a teen. Recently, he said to me that looking back, he feels one problem was that no one in his life had any expectations of him. They expected nothing, so that's what he gave them, why do any better? Then again, if expectations are unreasonable, unattainable, it's setting a kid up for failure; once they know that, they won't even try.

Maybe lack of motivation results from lack of personal goals. Not goals that someone else sets for him, but something he actually wants to earn/attain/achieve. It might seem superficial, he is a teen. But finding out what he wants and helping him see the path to get it, setting a goal, might be the key to motivation.

I'm gonna stop rambling now, it's even getting hard to understand myself. Maybe something I said makes sense... or will lead to something that makes sense.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2008 at 8:45PM
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Stephanie has made a LOT of good points. The only point she didn't make, and it's one parents don't want to explore (I say this from experience) is drugs. May not be an issue, but parents need to be aware it may be part of the problem.

I loved her statement of setting goals. We always told our kids we were showing them how to do things (ex. budgeting their money) so we could set them up to succeed, not to fail...boy did they hate that. Do you know that now at 27, 23 and 21 they are all VERY good at budgeting, and if you knew that 27 year old at 15 you'd have to pick your mouth off the floor right now!

Good, luck. Tell them to TALK to him, set time aside for him, go to a resteraunt, ball game, whatever might interest him, (might take a few tries) and then when they find that interest, nurture that seed and watch it grow.


    Bookmark   December 3, 2008 at 7:36AM
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Stephanie did make a lot of good points. I don't have much time now, but I'll share one strategy that has been succesful with my not-too-self-motivated teen.

I make a simple table that ties MY money to HIS effort and success. If he puts in minimal effort, he gets minimal money; if he puts in a great effort, there's a great reward in it for him.

We used a table that tied SAT/ACT scores to colleges. One range got him an in-state public school. Move up a level, then he can go out-of-state public or in-state private. Move up a level, then out-of-state with total costs under $40K/yr. Top performance got him any school that accepted him. (He made it to right between the top two tiers - ouch.)

The thing that's great about the table is that you print it out, explain it once, then post it somewhere. It's totally objective! With chores, you'd simply have a list of what needs to be done by what times at each level -- Is it done? Lookup the spending money.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2008 at 7:16PM
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My daughter (almost 17 now) was not motivated at 15 either. She said that she just didn't care, at all! She didn't know why either. She appeared to be depressed too. She was just so down all the time. Turned out that she was being bullied and her self-confidence disappeared, and she felt "at a loss" about EVERYTHING! She didn't see anything "bright" in her future, so why should she care?

We talked, and talked, and talked. Nothing made a difference. We went for family therapy, which helped. What also helped was giving her the opportunity to make new friends, changing schools, doing "fun things"... lifting her spirits and trying to make her see that she can have a bright future if she really wants it, and that SHE is the one that can change things if she's not happy. That she had to take control of her life and make things happen that make her happy. Education is freedom. Education will determine the type of life you will have in the future.

Now that she knows what she wants to do in life as far as work is concerned, she soooo motivated. She's a straight A student in the 11th grade.

She also said at 15 that not knowing where she was going in life (what her career would be) made her feel "lost". She didn't know where to turn her studies towards (what courses to take). She just felt so overwhelmed with everything in life!

    Bookmark   December 4, 2008 at 11:59PM
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I am on my 3rd teenager. I think the question "How do you motivate a teenager?" is akin to the question "What is the meaning of life?" It is different for everyone and sometimes there is no answer.....:o)

    Bookmark   December 5, 2008 at 9:00AM
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