With the exception of depression, teens are not truly unmotivated. They have the motivation to do the things they like (pleasurable and fun) and avoid doing things they dislike (work). More times than not, the issue is that adolescents often lack the motivation their parents hope for. Many parents want their teenagers to try harder, care about doing better, to achieve more, to be self-starters and in general, be more ambitious. The result often turns out not be an unmotivated teenage problem, but instead, a dissatisfied parent problem.
Motivation is based on needs, such as the need for independence, the need to belong and the need for competence. Two ways in which to address the dissatisfied parent problem is to view motivation in both intrinsic and extrinsic ways. For example, there’s the extrinsic motivation question, how can we get our kids to want to do better for us, as parents and there’s the intrinsic motivation question, how can we get our kids to want to do better for themselves?
About extrinsic motivation
Extrinsic or external motivation is motivation outside a person’s self-esteem and personal passions. It is anything outside of yourself that you need to have or gain to increase your level of motivation. Examples of extrinsic motivation include high school grades, expensive houses and cars, money, company bonuses and even gold stars for school performance.
About intrinsic motivation
Intrinsic or internal motivation is the opposite of extrinsic motivation in that people are motivated by their passions, by things that give them joy in life. People who are intrinsically motivated are not motivated by the thought of nice cars and big houses, but are instead, motivated by getting paid for doing what they love and from learning. They are motivated from within.
Why the power of persuasion fails
Parents wondering how to motivate their teenagers often rely on the power of persuasion. They attempt to apply extrinsic motivation by urging, encouraging and in some cases, even pleading with their adolescents to do better. When teenagers are in a place of resistance, this approach is usually more irritating than encouraging. It comes across as dissatisfaction at your end, and a lecture they’ve heard before at their end. The method of offering rewards for improved performance and punishment for unimproved behavior is generally counterproductive.
It’s counterproductive because this behavioral reward system can be perceived as threats to which most teens will rebel against to avoid feeling like they are being pushed around. The threat of punishment, especially when it’s in the form of sanctions or criticism, on the other hand, sparks hurt and resentment that only encourages resistance.
Instead of implementing an extrinsic motivational method of condition plus promise, such as “I’ll give you what you want if you give me what I want”, try a more empathetic approach that involves concern and communication. Explain to your teen that you wish they would help you understand how they feel about (a particular situation or event) so see what you can work out together. When teens feel less objected to parental control and feel that their parent is more in tune with their concerns, they tend to be more inclined to cooperate.
Author: Divya Parekh (ACC, CPC, LL, MS) is an international career leadership coach, Head Career Coach at International Coach Academy, and CEO of The DP Group. She assists executives, professionals, coaches and students plan, develop and achieve their career and leadership goals. She has been recognized by Worldwide Who’s Who as ‘VIP of the Year’ for showing dedication, leadership and excellence in leadership coaching. She is founder of the 1/1/1 Leader Project. The project prides itself on being simple. Set a goal. Work towards achieving it. Give someone a smile. Be nice to another person. Make the world a little bit nicer. It’s free so get started today!