If you listen to pop culture messages, you'll hear that teenagers are an unmotivated bunch. Not true. While goals change between late childhood and adolescence, motivation is still there. It’s a good thing that their interests, hopes, and dreams are changing at this age. For parents, however, it can be hard to keep up with those rapid changes happening with their teens.
Teens Focus on Finding Their Identity
Adolescence is a time of incredible growth and development. Young people are figuring out how to be independent individuals; discovering what their passions and interests are and creating an identity separate from their parents and families. Teens are particularly interested in their peers. When they look for guidance and advice, in addition to parents, teachers, and other influential people in their lives, they often turn to peers. Their drive toward independence impacts their motivation; it becomes all about discovering who they are and who they want to become.
During the adolescence, teen learning is complicated by individual and social milestones. Dr. Erik Erikson, one of the fathers of developmental psychology, describes adolescence as a time when people are trying to define their identity. Teens often test limits to try to understand better who they are and who they want to become. This time of discovery leads to some of the hallmark behaviors of taking risks and defying authority. Teens are also interested in creating and maintaining a close-knit peer group. Peers are often the judge and jury; providing feedback and guidance about interests and goals to assist teens discovering their potential life path.
Appropriate encouragement during the time of exploration can provide young people with the tools and experiences they need to develop into confident adults. While finding the balance of allowing some additional freedom and setting healthy boundaries can be a challenge for parents, the results are well worth it.
You Can Motivate Your Teen
Understanding developmental changes can be a powerful tool for parents to use in motivating teenagers in positive ways.
Unique Interests Providing opportunities for young people to find unique interests is an avenue for teen motivation. Parents can encourage teens to consider what activities and subjects they enjoy. It can be challenging for parents to be open to their teen's new interests and exploration. Promoting positive, healthy choices leaves less opportunity for teens to make poor decisions.
Decision and Choice Something that is difficult for teens is making plans for their future. Adolescents are much more focused on the here and now, and what’s happening at the moment can feel life-changing to them. Using the “here and now” focus can be a vehicle for motivating teens. Some of the choices they are making at the moment can have an impact on their future.
Encouraging teens to take ownership of their decisions can be an effective motivating factor. Teens enjoy having increased autonomy and responsibility. Rewarding mature decision making with increased freedom is an ideal tool for motivation. Allowing space for teens to make choices related to their education and career interests can encourage more engagement in their academics. It also allows young people to find their passion and be curious.
While the teen years are full of ups and downs for everyone in the family, they can be a time of great opportunity. The experiences and lessons that people learn in adolescence help inform choices throughout their life. Motivating your teen to explore and discover will help them grow into secure adults.