If I earnt a dollar every time I’m asked “How do I get my teenager to be more motivated?”
There’s no quick, one size fits all answer, however there are several valuable insights which can assist parents to understand what motivation means in the mind of a teenager.

For the most part motivation means to feel energetic about a task and following through with an appropriate amount of enthusiasm required to get off the couch and make a start, keep going and finish the job.

Group of cheerful high school friends

But let’s face it, feeling motivated to do things we like is easy, in fact motivation doesn’t really come into play. Because the act itself is motivation enough, whether that be cooking a red velvet chocolate cake, pottering in the garden or spending time getting creative in the shed with your favourite music playing. Our level of motivation towards various tasks is personal and equal only to the value we choose to place on gardening, baking or admiring our handy work in the shed.

Now let’s spin it around. When the ironing needs to be done, bathroom floor scrubbed or the fridge is in need of a good clean… mighty motivation doesn’t show up with so many bells and whistles does it? So as adults with our wise and fully developed adults brains, we understand some things in life which don’t float our boat at all, must be done . We’ve got life experiences to draw upon, so we often fast forward our minds to the future and recall how good it feels when that pesky job is complete. We get off the couch to clean the fridge.

WE may also devise a routine based plan to assist us to stay on track. Mondays we sort home finances, every second Thursday the bathroom gets some love.
This kind of planning saves the day when motivation is missing.

The teenage brain undergoing frontal lobe renovations, render them less able to manufacture that intrinsic motivation needed to do the jobs that don’t float their boat, struggling to see what’s in it for them? How they will be rewarded and wondering where’s the dopamine hit going to come from. That’s the naturally occurring chemical that shows up when there’s something exciting up for grabs; a prize, money or tangible incentive. We can’t really blame teenagers for relying on dopamine and external shiny things to motivate them, as they are often emerging from their child and tween years, heavily conditioned to seek extrinsic motivation by way prizes, stickers, treats, certificates and copious amounts of praise from adults and peers. But the years soon tick over, teenage years dawn and adulthood looms; the very time they’re expected to step up and get motivated.

It’s at this point parents ask me ‘that’ question.

In one-to-one teen coaching session I thoroughly guide teenagers to delve into:
Dopamine, what it means and how they get it. What happens when the task (eg – homework), doesn’t trigger dopamine?
Motivation, what it really means to have a motive, a reason WHY something should or must be done.

And then, we talk about their intrinsic drive, which is simply practicing the art of taking responsibility for one’s self and completely owning all aspects of one’s life. It’s this conversation that creates conversion – couch to action. The light bulb moment in which teenagers recognise the world doesn’t owe them anything, and in fact, if they are to forge their own path into adulthood and build the best version of themselves, they will need to hop to it and build it from the inside out – no stickers, prizes or treats rolling from the outside in, instead it’s self-praise, recognition and pride that sets the foundation for a life well lived.

Self-awareness of such magnitude takes time and practice, and as you would expect, the only person who can do it for a teenagers is the TEENAGER themselves. With your guidance, encourage, support and help of course.

You’re probably thinking, well that’s great that teenagers understand the science behind motivation, but what next?
If the truth be known, motivation only lasts for so long. You have probably attended an event, been totally immersed in the motivation exuding from the speaker on the stage and you think you’re ready to take on the world, join the gym or even cut coffee from your morning wake up routine!! That’s extreme isn’t it!

So, we know that teenage motivation wanes quickly, because dopamine doesn’t stick around long enough to build long lasting commitments and within a very short time, they can fall back into their old ways. Any motivation they did have is now hidden further under a blanket of self-doubt and loathing, because they feel like they have failed yet again. Parents nag, teachers on their back, falling behind and trouble brewing. the little voice in the head reminding them they’re so unmotivated, useless and boring. Down the rabbit hole they go!

Here’s the gamer-changer.
In the absence of motivation, ROUTINE is the hero of the day.
Routine demands very little other than clear intent, time and practice. No dopamine required, no stickers, treats or prizes.

Routine has many benefits for teenagers –
~ Develops their sense of purpose and ability to feel more in control of their life
~ Builds organisational habits, from little things big things grow
~ Helps make room for the really important things in their lives – sport, friends, Netflix and parties
~ Offers a guiding time structure which can anchor their more productive use of time
~ Takes much of the guess work out of day-to-day tasks, which reduces stress
~ Offers certainty, knowing all tasks will be done, decreasing invisible mental load which can take its toll on mental health

Sleep, eat, self-care, social life routines, along with exercise, cleaning, studying and chill-out routines, if well-established, can support the teenage brain undergoing massive renovation to develop habits which boost mental health and rely less on motivation.

Lead-in lines to help your teenager.
~ “Let’s plan your week so you can maximise your time and get a good balance of work, rest and play. You’ll feel better when you know you have a solid plan in place.”
We lead and guide and over time, and as they get the hang of it and ramp up their ownership, we can decrease our involvement or input (to a level that’s healthy comfortable for our family.)
~“How about we set a routine for the things you hate doing the most. Get them out of the way so you can make room for the stuff you love.”
Keep it real, say it as it is and remind them that it’s the un-loved tasks that need the most routine, because they give us zero dopamine.
~“I’ll help you set your routines and I’ll back you every step of the way, but at the end of the day, you gotta take over and own all parts of your week, the fun bits and the un-fun bits.”

This reminds teenagers that we’re with them and we want to see them be autonomous and step-up to the challenges of life.
All said and done, routine is the trusty gap filler when motivation is missing.

Be patient, stick with it because all the time and effort we pour into helping our teens build regular, consistent, ongoing and realistic routines WILL PAY DIVIDENDS = teenagers who are becoming adults who choose to own their life and bravely step up holding life’s ultimate trophy – RESPONSIBILITY.
That’s a good thing!

This idea is shared with teens in Claire’s book ROC and RISE. Endorsed by Maggie Dent and loved by teenagers and their families worldwide.

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