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How Do You Motivate a Teen?
Posted by Dr. Jane Nelsen on 7/13/2014 to Articles
Teen MotivationThere are many reasons why teens lack motivation -- to do what parents want them to do. (You'll notice they don't lack motivation to do what they want to do -- talk on the phone, skateboard, shop, party, etc.) For now, I'll mention just a few:

  1. Parents nag and invite resistance.
  2. Teens feel "conditionally loved" -- "I'm okay only if I live up to your expectations." This hurts and they get even by failing.
  3. Children aren't allowed to explore the relevance for themselves. They are "told", but they don't explore. How many parents "tell" their children what happened, what caused it to happen, how they should feel about it, and what they should do about it? It is much more effective to ask what and how questions as in No. 4.
  4. Parents don't allow their children to learn from failure -- an excellent motivator. One of the best ways to help children learn to be responsible (motivated) is to be consciously irresponsible. Allow them to fail and then be empathetic and help them explore what happened, how they feel about it, what they learned from it, and what they could do in the future if they want another outcome.
  5. Regarding motivation to do chores, etc.; again teens are too often told instead of invited to brainstorm and come up with a solution that works for everyone. Teens are much more motivated to follow a plan they have helped create.
  6. Parents expect teens to "remember to do their chores" as though it were an indicator of responsibility. Most responsible adults were not necessarily responsible teens. Even though teens are "more" motivated to follow a plan they have helped create, they will still forget because it is not high on their list of priorities. This does not mean they are irresponsible. It means they are teens. A friendly reminder doesn't have to be a big deal. Use your sense of humor and remind with your mouth shut. Point, use charades, or write a note. If you have to say something, ask, "What did we agree to that you have forgotten?"
  7. Adults need to be kind and firm while holding teens accountable -- once they have agreed upon a plan. It is just as easy to be kind while reminding as it is to be unkind -- actually it is easier, because everyone feels better and the job gets done without a power struggle. (Understanding that it is easier and more effective is the hard part. Where did adults every get the crazy idea that in order to make teens do better, first they have to make them feel worse.
  8. Parents don't teach their children problem-solving skills through family meetings and individual barnstorming sessions.
  9. Parents don't help children learn time management skills through involving them in the creation of routine charts. The key word is "involving them."
  10. Parents give their children too many things and then wonder why they fail to be appreciative -- and instead just want more, more, and more.
  11. Parents don't know how to say, "I love you, and the answer is no."
  12. Parents are more interested in short term results than long-range results. For example, I'll make you do your homework now - even if it means you will never do your best because you are too busy rebelling.

The following excerpt from the book, "Positive Time Out and 50 Other Ways to Avoid Power Struggles in Homes and Classrooms" provides living examples of the twelve points that have been made.

Eight-year-old Jake didn't do his homework. His father confiscated his bicycle and told him he was grounded (negative time-out) until he got it done. Dad thought this was a logical consequence for not doing homework. Jake was so angry that he sat in his room and thought about how he would refuse to do his homework or do just enough to get by to get even with his father. He certainly wouldn't do his best.

Sixteen-year-old Emma didn't do her homework. Her father asked Emma for an appointment to talk with her and asked, "Which would work best for you, 6:30 or 7:00 this evening?" (Giving Emma a choice allows her some power, which usually invites cooperation instead of defensiveness. Waiting even a short time before a discussion allows both adults and children some time-out for calmness instead of the kind of attack and defensiveness that often happens when a discussion occurs out of anger.) Emma thought she knew what was coming and chose 6:30 to get it over with.

At 6:30, Emma was surprised when her father started by asking, "I wonder if you love yourself as much as I love you?"

Emma laughed and said, "What are you talking about, Dad?"

Dad said, "Well, I just wanted to let you know how much I love you. Because of that, I have your best interests at heart. I just wondered if you love yourself as much and if you think about your best interests?"

Emma was very suspicious, "Is this your way of conning me into doing my homework.?"

Dad replied, "Why would I try to con you into doing your homework if you don't think that would be good for you? We both know I can't make you do anything you don't want to do. However, I am willing to help you explore what is good for you, and I'm willing to help you create a plan that works for you to accomplish what is best for you."

Emma said, "Okay, Dad. I'll do my homework." Dad invited Emma to discuss the problem instead of using lectures and punishment, which she would resist, resent, and rebel against. Emma quickly figured out that doing her homework would be in her best interest.

Dad replied, "Honey, it doesn't work for me to have to remind you all the time. That seems to create a conflict between us. I don't want to spend our time that way. You wouldn't agree to do your homework if you didn't know that is in your best interest. How about taking it a step further. You might find it helpful to create a regular evening routine that includes the best time for you to do your homework-one that would work for you and that would take me out of the loop. You can show me what you come up with tomorrow night. I have faith in you to know what kind of plan would work best for you."

Emma agreed. The next night she showed her dad the following plan:

3:30-4:00 Chill out after a hard day at school
4:00-4:30 Phone time with friends
4:30-5:30 Homework
5:30-6:00 Chill (and maybe help out a little) before dinner
6:00-6:30 Dinner
6:30-7:00 Finish homework if not completed
7:00-8:00 Favorite TV programs

Dad said, "Looks like a good plan. Now this routine can be the boss instead of me. I think you will find this kind of organization very useful throughout your life."

Why Children Don't Cooperate

Many parents don't believe their children would be as cooperative as Emma was. If these parents have established a pattern of power struggles instead of guiding their children to use their own power in useful ways, then they are right-the children probably won't cooperate. What parents usually mean by cooperate is, "Do what I tell you to do." This definition does not invite cooperation; it invites rebellion.

When children don't want to cooperate, it could be that parents and teachers have not created a cooperative environment where children are truly involved in creating plans and guidelines and brainstorming for solutions. Many children have more practice in trying to protect their "sense of self" through resistance and rebellion against being controlled instead of through self-control and cooperation.

Emma was used to having her parents turn the responsibility for her actions over to her. They had spent many hours in regular family meetings brainstorming for solutions to problems. Emma had been involved in creating routines (bedtime, morning, mealtime) since she was two years old. Her parents established this process early on in life.

Perhaps the real question should be, "How Do You Motivate Parents to Use Effective Methods to Motivate Teens?"

Positive Discipline for Teenagers
Positive Discipline for Teenagers
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Mira Date 3/24/2014
Wonderful tips. I used exact sentence: I just wondered if you love yourself as much and if you think about your best interests?" My children were speechless, as didn't know how to respond. I want to thank you so much for wonderful articles.They are literally life saver. I read so much about how to talk to kids and how to listen. I participated in many workshops and parenting courses. But, your direct and easy instructions made it happen for me. Can't thank you enough. Mira
Safieh Shafiei Date 4/27/2014
This book seems it is wonderful . I already order the on line class and I have listened to 2 of lesson but I am not sure it would be good for my daughter who is 11 years (almost teenager ). If you guid me I would appreciate .
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