Once upon a time, teenagers were some of the most hardworking members of society. Long before shopping malls, computer games, and high schools, teenagers were expected to work with the adults and work hard. Many teenagers responded well to this invitation, worked hard, and were motivated to do so.
Teens worked hard learning a trade, taking on responsibility around the house, learning to cook and clean. They understood how what they were being asked to do was preparing them for the future. The jobs themselves were real jobs that had to be done which provided a sense of significance and value.
You can say a lot has changed, and you are right. But despite all the changes, teenagers are essentially the same. What has changed the most is the context in which teens grow up and the significance of what they are expected to do. 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 that in mind, here are my 7 secrets to motivating teens.
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 a little problem motivating them to do it. At this point, I need to tell many parents that teenagers do not regard “making their parent's lives easier” as being something of high value to them.
If your teenager wants to wear clean clothes, they will be motivated to cooperate with doing the laundry. If your teenager wants to eat, they will find the motivation to cooperate with mealtime chores. Some tasks don’t have consequences quite so obvious. Personally, as a teenager, I couldn’t see how vacuuming the carpet made any difference to my life, so maybe this wasn’t the best chore for me to do. I did, however, notice when the trash can was overflowing. Give your teen chores that they can see value in doing.
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 very motivated.
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.
Discuss with them what chores they would prefer to do around the house.
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.
Give your teenager responsibility for whole tasks. For instance, if they have to cook one night a week, let them set the menu and arrange for the shopping to be done. Or if their job is to clean the bathroom let them be responsible for decorating it as well.
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 their teen’s motivation to do better next time. If your teen is responsible for taking the trash out every week and they don’t get it done, then they become responsible for managing the mess and overflowing bins for the following week. They will learn more from this than by a parent repeatedly nagging them at 11pm the night before, or doing it for them.
Similarly, if your teen chooses not to study for an exam and fails they are more likely to be motivated next time. Parents can use 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. 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, is 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 for most teens!
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. Use visual aids such as charts, color-coded rosters or timetables, and place them in obvious places. Help your teen create routines in their weeks that help them to establish patterns. Leave little hints around the house about a task that needs to be completed. Get them to use an App or program on their computer, phone, or iPod as part of the reminding process.
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 frames. By helping your teen come up with a series of small steps, you empower them to work their way through the task. Sometimes it might be worth getting your teen to think of little rewards they could give themselves after each mini-milestone is reached.
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 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 teenagers 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.
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. Fun is the key ingredient to getting teens active and motivated to participate in social activities. If you want your teen to get out of the house, get active, and make new friends, then explore with them what activities it is they enjoy doing and encourage them to do it. Remember what you enjoy may not be what your teen enjoys. Be sure to show interest and value whatever it is that your teen considers interesting and fun.
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. If your teenager can learn something by playing games, watching a movie, or searching the Internet then encourage them to do it. Using technology as part of any task makes it instantly more appealing to young people today.
So that's it, those are my 7 tips for motivating your teens! I’d love to know what you do to motivate your teenagers?