In a recent blog, we discussed the challenges of helping teens deal with the stress of the teen years. Those challenges are magnified when going through an unusual and concerning situation such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Another challenge of the teen years, also intensified by our present situation, is the question of how to motivate teens. There is no perfect answer to that question, and the steps to success may vary from person to person. However, there are steps you can take.
Don’t Assume – Don’t assume that their lack of motivation or hesitation to start on a project is laziness. Ask how they’re doing and genuinely listen to their answer. If they’re depressed, anxious, or dealing with other personal issues, it can be hard for them to focus on their work.
Know What Matters to Them – Knowing what’s important to your teen is crucial. Igniting their internal motivation will be far more effective than trying to apply external motivation by giving them a reason of your own.
Help Them Understand the Why – It’s important to connect the things they need to do to that short-term or long-term goal that matters to them. It might be obvious to us as parents why their math or English homework needs to be completed, but we need to highlight its connection to something they want. A short-term benefit could be that they will earn a privilege from you, such as watching movies or playing video games, by completing the task. A long-term benefit could be graduation, and therefore being done with high school, or being able to get into the college they want. An even more long-term benefit could be connected to the career they have in mind. But we need to make the connection apparent, because teens tend to be very present-focused.
Avoid The Phrase “Because I Said So” – That explanation isn’t sufficient for us as adults, and our teens are young adults or are at least becoming young adults. If we’re expecting more maturity from them, we should treat them as we would treat more mature people. We wouldn’t tell our spouse or partner “because I said so,” and it’s important to not use that reasoning with our teens.
Ask For Their Input – When it comes to chores or helping around the house, teens will be more motivated to help if you have a dialogue with them and allow them to choose chores from a list you provide. It still allows you to ask them to do some of the things you need done, but it empowers them with a choice. You can also allow them to choose when and how the task is done, provided that you make it clear what the final deadline for its completion is.
Help Them Organize and Remember – Teens can sometimes forget assignments and responsibilities, especially when they’re feeling distracted or overwhelmed by difficult situations. Figure out what type of organizer, calendar, and/or notepad app they can install on their phone to set reminders. This will provide reminders for them without you having to do it, and it empowers them to be at least partially responsible for organizing their lives. Putting it on their phone is ideal because of how much of their lives is connected to their devices.
Don’t Fear Failure – Mistakes can be an incredible teaching tool. Let them know that mistakes are part of the learning process and encourage them to not expect perfection from themselves. Progress should be the focus rather than perfection. If they do make a mistake, sit down with them and ask them what they feel like they want to do differently next time.
Resist the temptation to do things for them. It’s important for them to start becoming more independent and autonomous, especially in the teen years.
Celebrate Achievements – Recognize their achievements and acknowledge their efforts. Highlight their strengths and the improvements you see them making. Sometimes teens become heavily focused on their flaws, and it’s important for us to make them aware of their strengths and accomplishments.
Let Them Have Fun – Make sure they’re setting aside time to do the things that refuel and recharge them. They will be far more motivated to get things done if they’re enjoying life and know that after the work they’ll have the chance to do something they love.
Be Patient – Being a teen and being a parent are both learning processes. It’s important that we’re patient with our teens and with ourselves as well. We’re truly in this together.