by: Ryan Dawson, MA, LPC
If you are like many parents, you have at times experienced difficulty motivating your teen for school, chores, family outings, following simple instructions, being nice to their siblings, doing homework, limiting screen time, etc. It’s a fundamental parental question that baffles parents around the world: how to motivate teenagers who seem to have an agenda all their own?
Many parents come to my practice looking for support and someone that can get through to their child. However, in my experience working with adolescents for the past 20 plus years, any influence I have resides in my abilities to effectively utilize the same fundamentals that I recommend to these parents.
Spoiler alert– It is all about cultivating a consistent and positive relationship.
Validation. Let your kid know how amazing you believe they are. I have yet to meet a teen who has escaped the major identity transformation of adolescence without self-doubt. This can become a larger and persistent problem without proper support. Your son or daughter needs someone who consistently reminds them of their brilliance and believes in them. Even if they act like they are too cool to hear it, they are listening. Be prepared to not be appreciated for your cheerleading but know your words are being deposited in the bank of your childʼs resiliency.
Empathy. When negative things happen to your child as a result of poor life choices and strategies, be empathetic towards them. Even if they rebuffed your suggestions along the way, and you feel like reminding them of your sagacious advice, it isnʼt a good time to do that when they are hurting. Empathize with their pain and express sorrow instead of offering an, “I told you so.” Then, when they are ready to hear it, offer your guidance as a consultant. Remember how hard it was to feed apple sauce to a toddler who didnʼt want it? The same goes for advice to a set of ears which arenʼt ready to listen. In summary, always empathize before you educate.
Giving choices. Most humans strive to feel in control of their lives; teenagers included. Presenting acceptable choices or parameters to your child rather than trying to force them to follow your will, will give them a sense of empowerment, independence, and responsibility. Additionally, they are then less able to lay the blame on you if things donʼt work out the way they expected or, conversely, they get to feel the glory when it goes well.
Planting seeds. If you have a desire for your teen that involves how they spend their free time or what might be “good for them”, sometimes the indirect road is the one to travel. Plant idea seeds and let them germinate. Slowly help them to understand the value of your idea. Give it time to grow. Come back to water it with love and warmth and a gentle reminder if needed. Allow them to have control when to implement it (deadlines can be helpful) and let them know that if they choose this path you will be there, without judgment, ready to support them.
Emotional intelligence. This subject isnʼt often taught at schools. Therefore, helping your child to understand what they are feeling and how to deal with it is important. Life often creates internal distress. Unfortunately, happily-ever-after is just a fairy tale. There will be unexpected and unsettling twists and turns on the path of life. Teaching them that they can tolerate negative mood states and still move forward is key to increasing their willingness to try new things. Sometimes motivation looks like moving toward what is important even when we donʼt feel great on the inside.
Ryan Dawson is an expert on issues of teenage psychology. Contact him to learn more about how to motivate teenagers or to discuss your teen’s issues.