Does your teen seem completely unmotivated?
For parents of teens, the refrains of, “Whatever,” and “I don’t care,” can become all too familiar.
In this interview, teenage behavior expert Josh Shipp explains where your child’s motivation really lies—and how you can tap into it.
Q. What should parents do when their child seems to be unmotivated?
I think that most—if not all—kids are motivated in some way. But I think there has to be a reason for the motivation. What most kids need is a “why.”
Kids always want to know, “Why am I doing this? Why is this history project important to me?” And the answer from you can’t be, “Because I told you so.” The answer can’t even necessarily be “because this is your school work and it’s your job.”
There has to be something within your child that pushes him past the inconveniences, the shortcomings, and the hiccups that will, without question, arise when he undertakes something that’s challenging. So it’s important for kids to understand why they want to do something, not just that they have to do it.
If you’re the parent of a teen, you know how much they like to debate and question things. Sometimes that’s a pain, but I think it’s actually okay to a point.
Here’s something I’ve come to understand from personal experience as a teen. When they finally understand how something benefits them, they will do it long term. If the only reason your child does something is that it’s important to you, that is short term motivation and that will end. The reason also needs to be important to your child, not just important to you.
If your daughter is making good grades only because she wants to make you happy, eventually that’s going to end. She needs to have a personal reason WHY. Her personal reason can be that when you do a good job at something difficult, you have a sense of accomplishment. Feeling a sense of accomplishment is worth the effort it takes to experience it.
Motivation also occurs when others genuinely depend on you. Here’s an example from my own life. I’m part of a running group that meets every morning. Do I want to get up at 5 a.m. and run? Heck No! Why do I do it? Other people depend on me to be there. And that motivates me to get out of bed.
I think there’s a sense of accountability that we as human beings have. Our default nature is that we will disappoint ourselves before we disappoint others. If it was just me, I assure you that I would hit the snooze button seven out of ten times.
But instead, I think, “I promised Steve I would be there and he’ll give me a hard time if I don’t show up.” And secondly, it makes me feel good.
Also, most people don’t drive to the gym and then stay in the parking lot and do nothing. The issue is that they never get in the car in the first place. Once you do something you have a sense of accomplishment. You feel good about it and it’s worth it. It’s just the getting started part that’s hard. Inertia is tough to overcome.
Q. So what’s a good way to explain what the “WHY” is and how your child is going to benefit from it?
Here’s the place I would start. It’s very unlikely that you have a kid that is 100 percent lazy and unmotivated. What’s more likely is that in a few areas that drive you crazy as a parent, he’s lazy and unmotivated.
This was true for me. As a kid, in certain periods of my life, I wasn’t focused on my academics, but I was 100 percent committed to baseball. I would practice batting, throwing and catching for hours. Clearly, I had the ability to be disciplined and to work hard at something.
So what I would say is, find an area where your child is motivated. Where is she committed? Talk to her about that.
You can say:
“Why is it that you’re so committed to softball?”
She might say, “Well, I think it’s fun. I like it and my friends are on the team.”
Then you can come back with:
“Okay, so how could you transfer that to these other things that are important in your life? How could you take some of that ambition you have and transfer that to your schoolwork, which is also important? Could you figure out a way to make your homework fun and involve your friends?”
Continue reading the full interview with more Questions and Answers from Josh Shipp on the Empowering Parents Website HERE