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3 R’s of How to Motivate a Teenager

Are you struggling with how to motivate a teenager in your life?

Maybe he sleeps half the day or falls asleep in the middle of your co-op class. Maybe he doesn’t seem to put much effort into his science book and leaves a lot of blanks on the experiment sheet. Perhaps it’s not your son, but your daughter. Does she put off finishing that research paper you assigned weeks ago? Do you feel like you butt heads frequently about schoolwork? Trying to figure out how to motivate a teenager exhausts us.

When the usual ways of how to motivate a teenager don’t work

Have you tried these tactics?

  • Taking away electronic devices, such as phones, Kindles, and game systems.
  • Grounding them from going out with friends.
  • Threatening to send them to a strict school situation.
  • Offering rewards, such as money, for doing their work.

Did those tactics work? In my experience, they work for a little while and then lose their effectiveness. Teens tend to find ways to get around our restrictions and use our bribes against us.

Another tactic we try is we talk about college admissions, job opportunities, and other distant threats. Maybe we even threaten to kick them out, send them to grandma’s house to live, or some other arrangement. But, in the end, punishments and payments are not the best motivators. These leave teens feeling bullied and manipulated. So, there must be other ways to motivate teens.

Three of my children have passed through or are still in their teen years. In my experience, three main things affected their motivation.

3 huddled muddy motivated teenagers with woods in the backdrop

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3 R’s of How to Motivate a Teenager

Respect.

Have you heard of the Love and Respect book? The principles apply to younger males and females also. Your son needs to feel that you respect him (your daughter does, too, but not in the same way or intensity). You may feel that you are the parent and he needs to respect you, but he is not really a child anymore. I have found that the more you nag him and boss him around, the less cooperation you will get. Respect also means that you collaborate with him on his studies and trust his choices. I know it’s hard, but treat him the same way you would treat any of your friends.

Relevant.

Everything that your teen does needs to be relevant to her life and the future that she has expressed to you. Some homeschooling parents determine the course of their teen’s high school years based on what the public school is teaching and not on what their teen actually needs. There’s nothing wrong with using the public school course of study as a benchmark. Your state may even require your teen to have certain classes to earn a diploma. But, even if this is the case, you can still be creative with how you fulfill those requirements. You can still make them relevant. You can use my template to organize and track this “interest-based” learning. I would also encourage you to check out what the current job market demands. The skills needed aren’t found on a piece of paper.

Use these years to make sure your eighteen-year-old can enter the work force with skills. When a teen asks, “Why do I need to take this?” The answer should be, “You need it for your particular career choice” or “How can you vote and be a citizen of this country without knowing it?” The worst answers are, “Well, everyone has to take it” or “You might need it someday.” No teen is going to buy those answers. Would you? Most people learn things at the point that they need them, not for a “someday” that might never come. Make sure your teen has a say in what he learns and that much of his work is relevant to his life now.

Responsible.

This may seem obvious and you are probably already doing this. Teenagers need to be responsible for their own learning and their own lives. We usually plan the course load and then shift the responsibility to them. Why not let them take responsibility for all of it? Be the resource, the accountability partner, the advocate, and the coach, but let them take responsibility for their own futures. Why not show them the state requirements for homeschooled high schoolers and ask them how they hope to fulfill the requirements? Then, if they don’t understand why a high school diploma is important, offer them the opportunity to interview some managers and employers about this. Things start to get real very quickly when they realize that they can’t goof around and expect to get jobs.

Some teens find this scary, and it’s okay to offer a bit more help for those young people, but as much as possible, let them do it. If they mess up, they learn powerful lessons. This requires a great deal of faith in our teens and in the Lord Jesus, who commands all of our destinies. Remember, the worst thing that can happen is they have to take the GED to earn their diploma.

And an extra important R for how to motivate a teenager

Relationship is at the heart of motivating anyone.

This “R” makes all the other ones work. Nurture your relationship with your teen, starting with the 5 Love Languages.  If you can’t talk to your teen, if the tension between you threatens to blow up your home, address that first. Otherwise, he won’t accept the other 3 R’s you are trying to offer him. When homeschooling ends and he leaves your home, either for college or for his own place, your relationship will be all you’ll have. Protect it, nurture it, prioritize it. Love your teen unconditionally, even if she pierces her lip, even if he tattoos his entire body. Love them as Jesus loves you.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I have worked really hard on your first R the past few years with my oldest boy. I heard a Focus on the Family podcast (I think?) about moms and teenage sons, and how treating them with respect can make all of the difference – even when they don’t deserve it.

    That change in mindset helped my relationship with my now 15 year son tremendously.

    These were excellent reminders – thank you!

    Lauren

  2. Excellent advice —-and a great reminder for me. I was busy working on relationship with my teen daughter when this pandemic hit and everything was upended for us.

    I’m bookmarking this for later.

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