Does this picture of an unmotivated teen sound familiar?
He sleeps until noon and then raids the refrigerator. When you ask him about his algebra, he avoids looking at you. Then, he slinks off to his computer and disappears for several hours. You threaten to take his computer away, and his phone, and his Kindle, but some of his assignments must be done online. You feel depressed. You thought high school would be different.
The first thing to do is address the relevance of his schoolwork, your attitude of respect towards him, and how much responsibility he carries. You can read more about these three R’s of motivation HERE. But, maybe you have given him choices and tried to make his schoolwork relevant. Perhaps you do give him space and respect his choices. And yet, he still seems unmotivated and maybe even lazy. If this is true, something deeper may be at work.
Addressing the underlying motivation issues
Destructive thought patterns
Some teens develop a negative view of themselves for various reasons. They may compare themselves to other academically talented teens and feel that they don’t measure up. Or, they may attempt to do their schoolwork and silently suffer because they are ashamed to speak up about difficulties.
Their negative thoughts might not be about academics, but about other areas of insecurity. For example, non-athletic boys may lash out because they feel weak and left out. These teens call themselves stupid, idiot, failure, weirdo, ugly, weakling, and more. Their negative, destructive self-talk causes depression and learned helplessness. They may say that they hate school and can’t wait until they finish. Unfortunately, we as parents sometimes contribute to this pattern by saying things like, “You’re never going to amount to anything if you don’t get going on school.”
Some teens aren’t very motivated because they suffer from an attitude of entitlement. For a discussion on how this can develop, click HERE. This teen frustrates us because we know she’s smart and could do so much more with a bit of effort. Yet, she believes that everything she does is wonderful, so rather than work hard, she does the minimum. Even though her personal stories include vivid, rich language, her school essays are less than inspiring. She gets all the answers correct, but she finishes way too quickly and you suspect cheating. Efforts to get more out of her leave you exasperated. You fear that her minimal effort will undermine her success in college.
Helping the unmotivated teen
While these two thought patterns seem very different from each other, both are based on teens believing lies about themselves. We must correct the lies. In the first case, we must address the lie that the teen cannot succeed at anything, that he will always fail no matter how hard he tries. We must teach him that he can succeed and that his worth has nothing to do with his abilities. In the second case, we must address the lie that the teen deserves good grades for doing nothing, that she doesn’t have to exert any effort to earn these rewards. This teen needs to understand that reward is tied to the effort, not some inherent specialness.
You can receive a FREE flow chart to help you determine the underlying cause of your child’s lack of motivation by clicking HERE.
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