By Rick Butts
How do I motivate my teenager?
Q: Rick, my son is 15 and seems to have no direction or goals except to NOT do anything. I read motivational books and listen to audios – but he won’t read it anything I give him.
A: Is there a parent alive who hasn’t been frustrated with the apathy and and rebellious nature of their teenager?
This subject has filled a great number of books – and is bigger than the scope of this article, but I can share some helpful ideas.
First of all, I still contend that it is generally not possible to motivate another person. What often appears as external motivation is really intimidation, which parents do have the right to use judiciously.
But you can help them to motivate themselves.
So how to do you provide crafty youth with these opportunities – especially when they seem instinctively resistant to doing exactly the opposite of what we ask them?
When I dared to go shopping with my teenage daughter, the mere suggestion that I thought an item of clothing for her magically turned it into a burlap sack – it was a sure fire way to keep her from buying something.
I was much better off to walk the store with the maximum amount of disinterest as possible, and simply be there to produce the credit card at the check out moment – then disappear again until needed!
Teenagers ARE motivated by many things, watch and pay attention to what is important to them in this tumultuous time of transition and search for identity.
With this in mind here are a few suggestions on how to help your teenager motivate themselves toward positive goals.
1. “Train Up A Child In The Way In Which He/She Should Go – and in the End They Will Not Depart From It.”
This is one of the most mis-translated verses in Hebrew scripture.
Most will tell you that it means to teach your kids right from wrong (read: your world view) and then even if they go berserk for a while, they will mature and return to what you taught them later in life.
While there is much value in this approach, that is not what this one means.
In the original Hebrew it reads, ‘Follow the tree in the direction the branch is bent.’
Meaning: Provide an education and freedom in the direction of their unique gifts and skills and they won’t waste time pursuing the wrong direction in work and life – and they won’t have to do a dramatic course correction in life after you’ve paid for all that college – and do what they tried to tell you they wanted to before you forced them into being a lawyer, if you are a lawyer.
Now I’ve stated that a bit strong, but you get the point.
There are tests and evaluation tools that can aid you in this.
Don’t ignore your own eyes, or the eyes of your spouse, friends, coaches, and teachers for often they can see that to which we are blind.
It’s your job to sort out the desire your teenager has to play video games 24/7 and their ability to solve problems or adventure.
And hey, this is an important principle for motivation for all human beings. Parents are just as motivated by pursuing our unique skills and passions as teenagers.
2. Continue to dialogue even if you think they aren’t listening.
Research shows that the single most important influence as to whether a teenager or adolescent chooses to get involved in using drugs is the opinion of their parents.
While this is not always the case – Mom spouting platitudes about how bad drugs are while she swizzles a glass of whiskey in her hand isn’t likely to have much power. Do as I say, not as I do has long ago proven to be a worthless parenting model.
If you get drunk or are a drunk (I could go on here for days), then don’t be so surprised if your kids act out in their own way.
So, stay ‘on message’ with kids, but be congruent and consistent and you’ll win the silent respect of your kids. (They will not tell you this until many years later – but know that it it true.)
3. The amazing Motivational Car Ride
An audience member gave me this one. Now I use this idea whenever someone is standing at my autograph table after I’ve spoken asking me which of my products, a book or cd, is best for reaching a teenager.
It works like this.
Get a great motivational or personal development audio CD or cassette you can play in your car and plan an excuse for taking your teen on a fairly long car ride. I highly recommend one that is funny, fast paced, and preferable uses stories instead of formal boring facts.
Pop in the tape – and don’t say a thing. Wait until they ask a question or make a comment, and immediately stop the recording and engage them.
When that is over – start the recording again.
Repeat as much as you can and be amazed at the kind of conversations that can get started.
Teenagers constantly report that the number one reason communication is so bad with their folks (their perception) is that parent’s don’t listen and don’t take the time. This solves both of these problems.
4. Have A Little Patience
Up until the end of World War II, teenagers weren’t even identified as a group with unique challenges and needs.
You were just a kid until you were a young man or woman.
Today teens are a social, financial, and political market segment. They are pounded with commercial advertising, temptations unheard of even a few years ago.
Handicapped by self-absorbed ex-hippie parents and whipped into a sexual frenzy by fashion and videos, we can say with conviction that being a teenager is harder today than ever before.
So, have some patience and cut your kids some slack, what were you doing at a comparable age, and what did your parents think about your choices then?
Remember that the mighty oak was once a nut like you!
About the Author: Rick Butts has been a rock and roll musician, business owner, and is the author of unique self-help adventure novels. Get Rick’s FREE newsletter “Strangely Motivating” and access videos, audios and more at