Whether your teen is feeling unmotivated across the board in their study, or maybe they’re just having a bit of a temporary slump or perhaps they struggle to get motivated for certain subjects, then there will likely be ideas in here that will be helpful.
It can be helpful to take the focus from them being unmotivated as a personal character trait when it comes to study, to thinking about why they are feeling unmotivated.
Therefore, this isn't so much about how to GET them motivated in the moment, but rather taking a long term view on getting to the root of WHY they're not motivated, and then finding ways to solve for that.
You’re listening to the Parents of Hardworking Teens Podcast, episode 36 - and today I’m going to share with you my thoughts and experiences on a topic I have parents ask me about all the time. What to do about an unmotivated teen. Now, I know that the focus of this podcast is on parents of HARDWORKING teens. But keep listening even if that’s you, because whether your teen is feeling unmotivated across the board in their study, or maybe they’re just having a bit of temporary a slump or perhaps they struggle to get motivated for certain subjects, then there will likely be ideas in here that will be helpful. So, stay tuned!
Hey VIPs, welcome to episode 36 - one that I know a lot of you have been asking for. How to get your teen motivated.
Now, I want to start off with a few key points here.
Number one, this is the Parents of Hardworking Teens Podcast. So honestly, I’ve held back from doing an episode on this for a while because I felt that it wasn’t 100% aligned with the focus of things. However, I had a bit of an epiphany after I talked about this in response to a question that I got in the Q&A at the end of my recent parent webinar, which was something along the lines of what if my teen’s just not motivated? And after I answered, I realised with a lot more clarity than I’d ever had before, that actually, the training I do with students and the strategies I share with parents, are actually the solution to many causes of a lack of motivation.
So, in this episode, I’ll explain exactly what I mean by that.
Because, I know that some of you who listen to this podcast are doing so with hope and with the aim that if or when your teen does come around to wanting to give more to their study, then you’ll have plenty of ways to help them. Which is absolutely correct so good on you if that’s you. And I also know that even the most committed students sometimes have periodic slumps or even just a particular task or subject that they have less motivation for.
So, if any of those scenarios apply to you and your teen, then I hope that the three things I’m going to share with you today - what I believe to be the three root causes of a lack of motivation - may well be helpful.
But, before I get into what those three root causes are - the other key point I want to mention is to also let you know that I’m no psychologist ,and so if there’s more going on as to why your teen is feeling unmotivated then for sure seek professional help with that. I’m talking about motivation being a general feeling, specifically in relation to your teen’s study. A situation that can potentially be changed by changing their experience of study and how they see it and tackle it.
Because I also think it could be helpful - to you and to them - to take the focus from 'them' being unmotivated, to thinking about why they are feeling unmotivated.
And, in terms of what I’m talking about here, feeling motivated or unmotivated is exactly that. It’s a feeling and it can change. That’s why YouTube is filled with motivational videos - inspiring stories, energising music, motivational speeches. Those things have the power to change our state of mind and our emotional state in that moment. Which is great, but generally- not always, but usually - the impacts are temporary. We get a boost and that can serve us and be helpful to get things done in the moment.
But, and this is just in my personal experience, treating the CAUSES of a decline in motivation are more effective long term solutions. So there is a place for the temporary fix, the quick boost, but we’re likely to need that every time we have a task we’re not motivated for if we don’t address the root causes, and watching a particular or even a different YouTube video each time is not only going to use up more of our time in having to do that, and time is something we don’t usually want to spend on something we’re unmotivated for - but I’d also predict that the effectiveness of doing that will wear off after a few goes as well.
And as a side-note, if you’re wondering about the difference between procrastination and motivation, then here’s my thought on that. I think there are some similarities and if you’re curious to hear my take on why your teen procrastinates and how to get them over it, then definitely take a listen to episode 2 - why your teen procrastinates (even though they want to get it done).
Because for me, that is the key differentiator between the two.
Procrastination is wanting to get something done but feeling stuck in making it happen.
Motivation is not even really wanting to get it done at all.
So, here are what I see as the three ROOT causes of a lack of motivation in most students I’ve worked with over the years. Some of which do overlap with procrastination, but I think a lack of motivation is a longer term consequence of any of the three root causes happening over and over. Which is a reason to catch them and take steps to address them as soon as possible.
Number one, is that they don’t really know what they’re supposed to be doing.
They don’t feel clear or confident in understanding what’s required or what they really need to do. Think about this in terms of exercising or going to the gym. I know I use a lot of gym and sport analogies, but I hope that something a lot more practical is helpful to think about, and it really does just seem to always fit pretty well.
So, you’re supposed to be going to the gym, but you have no idea what workout to do, you don’t know which exercises you should be doing, or how long for. Are you likely to feel motivated to get in that gym and start exercising? Probably not.
Likewise, if you just don’t get what to do with quadratic equations, or you just don’t know what a feature article really looks like, what it includes, and what it doesn’t, then are you going to feel motivated to dive in? Probably not.
And are you going to feel confident, capable and in energised? No! You’re going to feel out of your depth, and maybe even feel a bit stupid or a bit of an outsider if it looks like everyone else knows exactly what to do. Notice I say ‘looks like’ - its unlikely the case, but I know that’s what it might look or feel like to your teen in those situations.
The second root cause is that they might know WHAT they need to do but they don’t know HOW.
So, back at that gym, let’s say you know exactly WHAT to do. You’ve got a full workout written out, with every exercise, how many, how long etc.
And so let’s say you know you’ve got to do 3 sets of 8 reps of deadlifts but you don’t know HOW to deadlift, or you know, but you don’t feel confident that you’re doing it right. Not going to create a whole lot of motivation, right?
Or, in their study, your teen knows that you solve quadratic equations by factorising, but they don’t really know HOW to factorise. They have the WHAT, but they aren’t clear and confident in the HOW.
Or they know that a feature article needs a headline and a hook and it needs quotes, but they’re not sure how to craft a good hook, or how to pick the best quotes to use.
And as a side note, this is the problem with asking the question: “Do you know what you’ve got to do?” Because the answer may well be yes. “Yes, I’ve got to solve these 8 quadratic questions from the text book.” Or “Yes, I’ve got to find 5 quotes for this feature article.” But if your teen doesn’t know HOW to do it. If they don’t have the exact steps to completing the WHAT, then again, they’re unlikely to feel motivated and energised to do it.
So, here’s a better question you could try asking - it’s often what I leave students with as I wrap up any coaching I do with them to check that they really do know what their exact next steps are. I ask “What are three things you need to do next?” That way, it isn’t just a yes or no answer and it will be clear whether they know what they’re doing and how they’re going to do it. And as the parent, you don’t necessarily need to know what those steps are - you’re mainly just looking to see if they can even answer rather than checking the accuracy. Not that the taking the right steps isn’t important - but right now, we’re just on the lookout for the alarm that they don’t have any clear steps.
Okay, the third root cause of a lack of motivation is not believing that the effort it requires will be worth it. Not believing that the effort will pay off. And this is where their past experiences really come in. If your teen has had situations previously where they’ve put in a lot of effort only to end up with a disappointing result, then you’ll be well aware of this.
Now if this happens once or twice, then usually they can pick themselves back up - hopefully also learning why that happened, go back and listen to episode 35 with ‘Questions That Create Success’ and Episode 13 - assessment post-mortems - for more on that - and build on it next time. But, if this continues to happen, again and again, can we really blame them if they start to lose motivation? Most of us would lose the motivation to do something that takes a lot of time and effort and gives little reward.
And this is where things can start to spiral down. The dents in their confidence get bigger and bigger. And then their goals or expectations get lower and lower. They start to doubt their ability. And so then they don’t even aim for the results they used to or that they want deep-down, because they don’t want to risk being disappointed again. And this is when you might hear things like, “I don’t care what I get as long as I pass.” or “I’m not bothered about the result, it doesn’t count towards my final grade.”
And you might suspect, as I often do, that really that isn’t true. But it’s the coping mechanism that they’ve developed in order to not feel that disappointment or feel that failure - at least what feels like failure to them - whatever that result or grade that might actually be.
And so how do we turn that around?. There are strategies like having a strong why, for example. And I do cover this with students, but for many students, they don’t know what career they want, they don’t have a tangible reason yet for getting a certain result. Of course, better results can give more options, and that in itself can be a good ‘why’, but here’s the thing. In my experience, even that isn’t a full solution. Because even if they really, really want something and ARE willing to work hard to get it, if they still aren’t clear on the WHAT or the HOW, those first two root causes, then success is going to be difficult.
So, what I like to do is suss out the root cause and then get to work on solving that.
And if it’s believing that their effort won’t pay off, then we need to start turning that around. Having them experience success again. Having them gain reward for effort - whether that’s them getting tasks done more smoothly and easily, or getting better results in them - or even better - having both of those things happen - which I can tell you is totally doable. I have two students in particular in my head in relation to exactly this right now. Both called Josh in fact. There was one Josh who told me how he used to feel demotivated because he had all these tasks to do but never really knew how to tackle them and he was just kinda guessing each time.
And then there was another Josh who had been starting to lose motivation until he got the skills and training from the 10WGT and then started seeing results and as his mum said in an email - the effort is now worth it for the result. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to work hard, it was just that he wanted to see some reward for it.
And I know that this is easier said than done and there isn’t necessarily just one solution. It is likely a combination of these causes and may they be different for different situations, different subjects or types of tasks or assessments. But I do think the first step is figuring out what’s really behind that lack of motivation. Going back to when the decline started or figuring out why they’re feeling that way with things in the moment. And from there, identifying some proven and fast-return steps to turn things around.
So, this is why my goal is to get every student clear on the HOW in their study. How to achieve certain criteria, how to tackle an assignment, how to select the best evidence in an essay or report, and of course, that good old phrase that I personally think is overused and barely ever explained - HOW to actually work smarter not harder.
So, if you have a teen who has had a disappointing result and you want to get them back on the positive spiral, then check out the 10 Week Grade Transformation Program where I train them in knowing WHAT to do for any question or task AND HOW to respond and have them get for themselves the results they really want and do it all in a smooth and streamlined way.
I hope you have a brilliant week, take care and I’ll see you back here next week. Bye!