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The UnCollege Blog

8 Ways to Motivate Your Teen in the New Year


Part of being a successful parent is learning how to support and motivate your teen. Navigating these waters is much easier said than done – doing so while steering clear of painful arguments, stress and the many pitfalls of parenthood is extremely difficult. If you’re looking for new fresh strategies to help motivate your teen in the coming year, give this list of recommendations a read:

1. Reflect and Listen.

Adolescence is a difficult time. Take a moment to reflect and remember some of the struggles you had as a teenager. Surely your kid has been confronted with a challenge very similar to one that you had to go through. Understanding that fact and expressing it to your teen is a way to create a connection and instill trust. Once you do this, make sure to listen attentively. This will create an environment free of judgement that will make them more receptive to suggestions you might have. That said, you don’t have to have advice or suggestions lined up. It might actually be better if you don’t.

Empathetic listening is a powerful tool that you can learn more about here.

2. Keep a Growth Mindset.

There are two ways of thinking when it comes to traits like motivation and intelligence. One is known as fixed mindset, in which the trait is seen as an innate ability. The other is called growth mindset, where it is seen as something you can develop through hard work and experience.

When it comes to intelligence, a lot of teens think they’re either smart or not, and if they’re not, they never will be. That’s entirely untrue. There are things that parents can do to counteract this myth and push teens to do better. When your teen gives up on something because they “aren’t smart enough,” remind them that it’s hard work that matters. Conversely, instead of praising your teen for being smart, praise them for their hard work. It’s a difficult shift to make, but as we can see from this study, it’s entirely worth it.

3. Help them set realistic, achievable goals.

As part of our Gap Year curriculum at UnCollege, we put a lot of emphasis on what are called SMART goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound. Making sure goals fit the SMART framework will both clarify your expectations and give your teen deadlines to try and meet those goals.

Don’t just stop there. Check in with them every week to help them set new goals. They will respect and appreciate it in the long run if you keep an active eye on their progress. Just remember, let them drive the boat. You are along for support.

4. Tell them your “why.”

Your teen is going through a curious stage in life – they will no longer accept commands from authority, but will instead question that authority. For good reason, your teen will no longer simply accept the “because I said so” argument. It means they’re becoming an independent thinker. Celebrate this. Express yourself and if you don’t have an answer, say so. You can work together to find the answer.

In addition to answering their questions, encourage their curiosity. Studies have shown that the more curious people are, the better they are at developing close relationships.

5. Trust them.

Don’t hover over your teen – let them be self-directed and self-motivated. You’ve done your part. You’ve helped to guide them and set goals. Letting loose of the reigns is necessary for them to have space to work on their goals without feeling like you’re fully in charge.

6. Lead by example.

It’s not fair for your teen to have goals and you to have none. Set some and share them with your teen. If they see you working towards something and setting aside time to accomplish a task, job, housework, personal project, hobby or volunteer work, they will learn by watching how good habits and organization pay off.

7. Help them see the intrinsic value of what they are doing.

Many parents think that they can motivate their kids by rewarding them for their school work. Often times, this comes in the form of paying their kids for their grades. Unfortunately, this won’t motivate your teen to do any better in school. The best way to motivate your teen to consistently do better and work harder is to show them that there in intrinsic value to what they are doing. This will motivate them even when they don’t need money. If they are motivated by wanting to help out around the house or learn for the sake of learning, they will outperform their peers because their motivation will stand the test of time.

Though you shouldn’t reward your teen all the time, a reward every now and again can reinforce their good habits. There is a balance in motivating your teen when it comes to intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, but that balance leans more towards intrinsic motivation.

8. Learn to argue constructively.

Arguing is a teen’s way to see how far they can push you and test where the boundaries are. It’s healthy. In fact, it’s constructive for teens to argue with their parents from time to time. Again, lead by example. State your points, don’t raise your voice and do not put down their opinion. In many ways, a kind-hearted argument is another way to show that you care.

Motivating your teen is going to be tough, and a lot of it falls on their shoulders, but you can do your part as a parent to help. If you’re worried about your teen’s success and motivation, it means you care. Let them know that by talking it out, being a good listener, and offering to help them. Getting your teen to a place where they can be self-motivated can take time, but it can be done. Hopefully after reading this, you’re ready to renew your efforts for the coming year and will encourage your teen to do the same.