Anger, Lectures, Argument, Rewards, and yelling don’t work–you’ve tried that. Rather than trying to find the right positive or negative intervention, think about seeking a solution in an entirely different context. Instead of attempting to apply the motivation from the outside, try to elicit it from the inside. The best way to do this is by exploring and developing your teenagers’ discrepancy, the difference between their stated goals and their actual performance.
For unmotivated kids, it is quite common for them to say one thing (“I want to get good grades”) and do another (not complete homework). It is this inconsistency that you want to explore. Parents typically do this by becoming upset, screeching comments like “How can you expect to do well when you never do any homework? How do you ever expect to be successful? You’ll never get good grades being so lazy.” While each of those statements may be true and clearly identify their teenagers’ inconsistencies, they are not helpful or motivating. Here are some guidelines for effectively developing that discrepancy:
- Curiosity. Ask questions but do not interrogate. Your questions should indicate a gentle curiosity. Like most parents, your typical interrogation indicates that there is only one answer acceptable to you. Instead, you can act bemused or puzzled by the discrepancy rather than upset by it. For example, “I’m curious–you said you wanted to do really well in school this semester, but I see that you’re doing little homework. Is there something that I don’t understand? I’m a little confused.” Or “There seems to be a difference between what you say you want and what you’re doing. Is there a problem that is blocking your progress?”
- Don’t be Rude. Don’t take a one-up, authoritarian, know-it-all approach. Instead, approach the conversation as though you know nothing and simply want to understand your teenager’s point of view. Keep your voice quiet. Don’t impose your point of view on them.
- Be a good listener. Teenagers are very used to being talked at but little accustomed to being listened to. Simply listening, withholding judgment, and being clear that you are doing your best to understand them is vital to the motivational process. You need not agree with them; just keep your judgments to yourself. They are already well aware of your good advice and know what you wish they would do; to simply repeat that is not useful.
Remember, acceptance facilitates change. Keep in mind that motivation is more a matter of relationship than a personal quality of your teenager. The steps listed above are crucial aspects of that motivational relationship.