How to Motivate Your Teenager
Last month you may have witnessed the news clip of a seven-year-old boy from Weber County, Utah, driving his dad’s car. It was caught on video by the police who were chasing him. He ran red through stop signs and at one point reached a speed of 40 mph. It came full circle when he returned home, jumped out of the car and started running from police. When asked what the motivation was, he mindlessly responded he “didn’t want to go to church.” Part of this story is pretty funny. I laughed. But another isn’t. Having a child behind the wheel is scary and dangerous. This is a lot like what it feels to be a teenager. At puberty, raging hormones pour into the blood stream becoming extremely active in the brain, especially in the limbic system, the emotional center of the brain. Emotions can run amok. And teens are programmed to seek out situations that allow their emotions and mindlessness to run as wild as horses in Montana.
Inside The Mind of a Teenager
Along with hormones, adolescents’ brains are also under major reconstruction. Full maturation of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) is usually around the age of twenty-five. The PFC is responsible for such functions as planning, prioritizing, controlling impulses, organizing thoughts, seeing consequences, considering another’s point of view and self-regulation. In other words, what parents expect to see now in their teen – responsible behaviors. So why is it so hard to motivate your teen to study, get more involved, or get off the computer?
What’s in it For Me?
One reason may be an immature nucleus accumbens. This is the area of the brain that directs motivation to seek rewards. Through MRI scanning, James Bjork at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, found that teenagers have less activity in this region than adults. However, we can’t just blame biology for low motivation. Another reason it may be hard to motivate your teen may be related to your parenting.
How Do You Motivate Your Teen?
Karen told me her daughter was lazy and inconsiderate. “I shouldn’t have to tell her to do her chores! She can see I’m making dinner and the table needs setting.” Mom’s measure of responsible behavior is her daughter remembering household tasks. Say Good-bye to Nagging. Teens don’t often remember to do chores. It isn’t on their radar. And it doesn’t mean they have low motivation or lack responsibility. It took a lot of courage for Karen to look at her own behavior. She realized that the more she nagged, the more her daughter resisted her requests. Anger often escalated into hurtful remarks.
Stop Controlling Your Teen
Low motivation wasn’t the real issue. Her daughter had plenty of motivation to text friends, attend the school dance, or go to a party. The problem was that mom’s parenting style created power struggles. Mom realized that it wasn’t that her daughter was unmotivated, but that she was micro managing her daughter to do what mom wanted, when mom wanted it done.
Change Your Relationship
Mike Riera, author of Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers, says “You’ve been fired as a manger, and now you’re a consultant.”
Karen is still learning how to avoid power struggles with her daughter by giving gentle reminders, remembering not to judge, and focusing on their relationship. This isn’t always easy. But what trumps everything is a deep longing for connection with her daughter as she matures into adulthood, instead of pushing her away. Borrowing from Dr. Jane Nelson, Positive Discipline, perhaps the real question is not how to motivate your teenager, but how to motivate parents to use effective methods to motivate their teen.
Patt Saso assists people back into harmony in their relationships. She is a Parenting Coach and Marriage & Family therapist in Milpitas, CA. Patt & Steve Saso are authors of 10 Best Gifts for Your Teen and Parenting Your Teen with TLC.