By: Raising Teens Today

Motivating an unmotivated teenager can be a challenge. Add on the fact that we’re in the midst of a global pandemic where our teen’s familiar routines have been turned upside down and anxiety is at an all-time high and it can be nearly impossible.

Chances are, though, your unmotivated teen is probably a tad more motivated than you realize.

Think about it. They’re probably motivated to hang out with friends, motivated to binge-watch their favorite Netflix shows, motivated to master another level of their favorite video game or motivated to sleep in until noon. Some teens are even motivated to avoid responsibility at all costs.

Their motivation may not be channeled in a productive manner, but they are motivated which means that underneath what you may deem as sheer “lack of motivation” in your teen lies a layer of ambition that just needs to be sparked.

Whether it’s getting better grades in school, tackling tasks like keeping their room clean and helping with chores around the house or applying themselves more when you know they’re perfectly capable, we all want to see our kids put their best foot forward.

Here are 7 things you can start doing today to motivate your teen.


As parents, we need to dig deep into our kid’s heart to find out what drives them, what inspires them, and what will motivate them enough to put both their mind and their heart into a task, challenge or project as opposed to simply “going through the motions.”

We also need to dive into the barrier(s) that might be preventing them from feeling motivated. We can’t do that when we’re doing all the talking, harping on them about a poor grade, yelling at them to get out of bed or nagging them about how lazy they are.

Maybe your son is feeling anxious about his grades and his ability to get into college. Maybe your daughter got into a huge fight with her best friend a couple of months ago and it’s impacting her ability to focus and stay motivated. Take the time to listen. Ask questions. Find out what’s on your child’s mind – what scares them, what worries them, what their passions are, and what makes them feel empowered. The more you tap into what your child is feeling, the more you can begin to understand why they’re unmotivated and what they need in their life to spark drive and ambition.

Believe in Your Child

You know what your child is capable of achieving. In fact, you probably know your child better than they know themselves. And, their inability to recognize their worth and their lack of desire to step up to the plate and be the best version of themselves is at the very root of your frustration.

But, what you may not realize is that our kids’ motivation is directly linked to their confidence. If your child feels bad about themselves, feels deep down inside that they don’t have what it takes to get good grades or views others as more capable, they will lack motivation. Their negative self-talk is slowly eroding their self-esteem, enthusiasm and motivation.

That’s why we need to be our kid’s biggest cheerleaders. We need to believe in them and help them recognize their abilities – no matter how small. We need to find ways to boost their self-esteem – by encouraging them to try new activities and step out of their comfort zone – so they possess the faith in themselves to know they can be better and push through when life throws them a curveball.

Encourage Them to Break Big Goals Down into Smaller Ones

Teenagers have a lot on their plate. We may not view it that way – after all, what do they have to be stressed out about? But, for a large percentage of teenagers, life isn’t easy.

In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, our teen’s stress rivals ours and 34% of teenagers predict their stress will increase in the next year.

What that means is that sometimes, our teens are so stressed out that it’s hard for them to deal with what they view as overwhelming goals like getting into college, making the football team, getting into the sorority of their choice or even getting their driver’s license.

Don’t let your teen fumble. Motivate your teen by helping them chisel those big goals down into smaller, more manageable goals with actionable steps that are easier to attain. Break the goals down into short-term and long-term and write them down. (A Harvard study concluded that people who write their goals down are 54 percent more inclined to achieve them than those who don’t.) The more goals they can “check off their list” as accomplished, the more confidence they’ll have and the more motivation they’ll have to move forward.

Help Them Create a Clear Roadmap

One of the reasons teenagers lack motivation is because they lack the cognitive problem-solving skills to break down tasks and create a clear roadmap to achieve a goal. It’s not that they don’t want to try harder or succeed, it’s that they oftentimes become overwhelmed and they simply don’t know how to get from point “A” to point “B,” so they just check out.

Instead of putting your teen on autopilot and expecting them to figure it out or making generic statements like, “You need to start trying harder in school,” or “If you were more organized maybe you’d stop forgetting when assignments are due,” lay it out for them so they can see what steps they need to take to try harder in school or get more organized.

Maybe what your disorganized child needs is a great student planner, a homework schedule, a study area that’s comfortable and cool, or a couple of great organizational apps to help him get and stay organized. That’s not to say that you should do it all for them, but they may need you to show them the way initially. And, once they begin to see the fruits of their labor, their confidence will soar, which will oftentimes motivate them to pick up the reins and do it themselves.

Transfer the Responsibility

When my daughter was a sophomore in high school, her main goal was to make the most of high school and have fun with her friends. That’s not to say that she didn’t try academically. But as her mom, I knew she could do better.

After months of talking with her and urging (sometimes begging) her to do better, I decided it was time to hit a few colleges, speak with admissions officers and let her hear from them what they were looking for in a student. From that moment on, a fire was lit under my daughter to do better, to try harder, and to fight to get into a handful of colleges she had her eye on.

Sometimes, our best plan of attack is to transfer the responsibility of motivating our teens onto someone who is unbiased and tells it like it is. No sugar-coating, no yelling, no threatening – someone (other than us) who hands them the truth and says, “Here you go… what you do with this information is completely up to you.”

Tap Into Key Motivators

What motivates one child may not motivate another. Some kids are motivated by straight-up cold, hard cash. Others are motivated by the feeling of being the best (or at least better than a few others). And, some are motivated because they relish in the recognition or praise given by family, friends, teachers, etc.

Find what motivates your teen and dangle the carrot. If money is the key motivator, jumpstart their motivation by offering to buy your son a new video game he’s been dying to buy or offering your daughter a quick trip to the mall to buy a new, inexpensive top. (As long as the rewards aren’t handed to them and your child feels as though they earned it, it’s not “officially” bribery.) The idea is to help your teen feel empowered when they set out to reach a goal and received a reward for their effort.

The “high” of reaching a goal on your own is slightly addicting and empowering. The more your child feels that high, the more likely they’ll be to want it.

Focus on the Journey Not the Destination

Motivating your teen to be their best or to try their hardest won’t happen overnight. Rather than focusing on the destination, view the process as a journey. With every new challenge, goal, win, or accomplishment, your child is learning – about life, about themselves, and what they’re capable of. They’re also growing and gaining more confidence. Motivate your teen by also taking setbacks in stride. Know that they’re inevitable and take stock in knowing that helping your child become a responsible, hard-working, motivated adult is a process. After all, parenting our kids isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.

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