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7/5/23 blog post

5 tips for motivating your teen

mom and son doing homework at kitchen tableDo you ever ask yourself, “How do I motivate my teen?” Or maybe you’d say your teen is plenty motivated – to spend as much time as possible playing video games and to avoid undesired tasks like cleaning their room! Maybe you’ve tried offering incentives like hanging out with a friend, or maybe you’ve tried taking away privileges, like screen time.

Although these strategies can help short-term to increase motivation, it’s likely not kept up over time. This may be because teens go through a developmental shift from being motivated by external sources to being motivated by internal sources. What does that mean?

  • External sources: Things like extra allowance, access to the family car, screen privileges
  • Internal sources: Becoming good at something, achieving milestones related to future goals

External rewards will give your teen some momentum and are a starting point. But, they likely will not sustain motivation in the same way that internal sources will.

In other words, how do I get my teen to want to do better for themselves? 

  1. Talk with your teen to find things they’re interested in and explore those. For example, maybe your teen’s school performance leaves something to be desired, but they want to go to a certain college. To help create internal motivation, you and your teen may meet with admissions from that college. They learn the GPA and course requirements for admission, and know that they have to achieve those to be accepted into that school. That desire to achieve their goal of being accepted is intrinsic motivation.
  2. Set up your teen to experience positive learning experiences and successes. During the teenage years, executive functions are still developing. These executive functions play a large role in long-term motivation. Help increase self-motivation and influence further brain development by:
    1. Recognizing your teen’s strengths
    2. Relate current information to personally relevant material and situations
    3. Set achievable goals that allow your teen to see progress

For instance, teens required to read a book each month can divide the number of pages over 20 days, write the pages on a chart, and mark them off each day to observe their progress.  Recognizing and seeing progress may help to increase your teen’s perseverance.

  1. Balance necessary tasks with exploring personal interests. Help your teen find purpose in doing the “mundane” things they have to do, like doing chores or getting a job. Earning a paycheck is an external motivator. But also encourage your teen to explore their interests. This will help them develop a sense of independence and be more of an internal motivator. 
  2. Allow teens to set time to accomplish goals and responsibilities.  Allowing teens to manage their time shifts the responsibility from parent to teen. Parents can provide specific expectations about what needs to be completed and a deadline for when it must be done. As teens demonstrate increased responsibility, they can be rewarded with additional desired privileges. 
  3. Make room for open discussion. Explore with your teen other factors that might be impacting their motivation or perseverance. Encourage conversations about the possibility of depression symptoms, bullying, and academic or extracurricular pressures. Provide support, if needed, in these situations. Consider scheduling with a therapist if it seems like there is something underlying your teen’s low motivation.

By allowing your teen more autonomy, setting achievable goals that result in positive learning experiences, connecting current demands with their personal interests, and shifting the responsibility from parent to teen, you may help your teen experience a renewed sense of motivation and perseverance!



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Ryan Sinclair, PhD

behavioral health, psychology
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