Why is it that some teenage boys seem to be so incredibly unmotivated?
You know the typical stereotypes. Teenage boys are JUST self-centered, lazy creatures who only want to play video games, avoid homework, never clean their rooms and have questionable personal hygiene.
You might think, wait a minute those aren’t stereotypes, those are facts! Well, the truth is that there is much more to the story.
In this post I am going to give you a quick understanding about the psychology of motivation and also 3 practical tips to get your teen engaged with his life.
As children grow up they develop important beliefs about their intelligence and their abilities. These beliefs directly influence their motivation. It’s the same for kids, teens and adults. If we feel motivated we will be much more likely to actually do something, i.e. achieve our goals.
I made a handy little graphic to illustrate this point.
Note: The image reads from the bottom to the top. My wife said I should have done it the opposite way. Oh well!
>> Click the image above to see a larger version
If you are like most parents you absolutely want your teenager to be successful. But have you ever wondered what the ingredients are for success? Why is it that some people seem to be ambitious and persevere in the face of challenges, while others get frustrated and give up?
I know that I definitely want to help my kids develop that quality of tenacity and stick-to-it-ive-ness. That may be a made up word, but I think it makes sense. 🙂
Here are three important factors that affect your son’s motivation:
- What he believes about himself
- How he understands his intelligence and abilities
- How he responds to failure
What your son believes about himself influences so many of his decisions. Not to mention whether or not his self-esteem is mostly positive or negative.
Core beliefs are the very essence of how we see ourselves, other people, the world, and the future.
Here’s a quick personal story.
When I was a teenager I had some pretty rotten core beliefs. I was convinced that I was not smart and that if people really got to know me they would not like me, or even worse they would make fun of me and reject me. Oh man, that made life and especially school a fairly torturous experience. My grades suffered because I didn’t believe I was smart, so I didn’t really put in much effort. I didn’t talk to people at school so I felt alone and depressed.
Life was quite miserable and my motivation was at an all time low.
You get the idea. Core beliefs are powerful. You may not hear your son say any of these things out loud, but I guarantee he is thinking about them and his core beliefs are in the driver’s seat of the car.
Helping teens develop positive core beliefs and turn the negative ones around is a hugely important task in my therapy work.
Their are two possible beliefs when it comes to intelligence or ability. What your son chooses to believe is tremendously important.
Either . . .
Intelligence and ability is something he is born with, he either has it or he doesn’t and it cannot be improved.
Intelligence and ability is something that can be increased through effort and time.
This has a huge impact on how your son deals with failure, especially in the school setting. If he believes that his intelligence is fixed, then failure (i.e. bad grades) will make him feel worthless. But, if intelligence and ability is more about effort then he will be more likely to stay engaged and be inspired to work harder.
Check this out. Psychological studies have proven that a positive attitude towards failure predicts better academic performance.
So, what is the big lesson that we want to teach our teenagers?
Here it is.
Persistence in the face of failure can bring huge rewards.
It’s a simple concept, but accomplishing hard tasks leads to legitimate self-esteem. That is why you and I feel the biggest sense of accomplishment from the most difficult things we have tackled in our lives.
Think college degrees, child birth, running a marathon, building a successful career or staying married. Makes sense right?
(Maybe I should add surviving the teenage years to the list of hard tasks!)
Here is the final question. What can you do as a parent to help your son be more motivated and engaged in his life?
While there are a ton of ways to answer this question, I am going to give you 3 practical steps to consider.
1. Praise his effort and not his traits
I know your kid is smart and talented (so is mine), but be careful how you talk to him about it. Of course, you want him to have positive self-esteem. But telling him he is smart and talented could be a setup.
Whether it sounds like this . . .
“Look at this 4.0 GPA, I always knew you were the smart one!”
Or, like this . . .
“You are so intelligent, why aren’t you getting good grades?”
If he is successful he will think his value is tied to performance. If he fails or faces setbacks, he might question himself and feel like he is not good enough.
However, if you praise his effort he will be more motivated because it is something he can actually control. He knows when he is not really trying and he also knows that he can work harder. It’s a matter of choice, not whether or not he is intelligent or capable.
Research has shown that praising effort can help create motivation and a positive view of intelligence and ability. Simple, but effective!
So, run your questions and comments through this filter . . .
Am I focusing on my son’s traits or his effort. Choose the latter whenever possible.
2. Encourage your son to play video games
Surprise! You didn’t think I was going to put that on this list, did you? You might think that video games are exactly what is sucking away his motivation and sinking his grades.
Now, I don’t know your situation and this could certainly be true. But, try to read this next part with an open mind.
I just spent the last hour reading a fascinating research study on the benefits of video games. Here is the short version: playing video games has positive cognitive, motivational, emotional and social benefits.
Specifically, playing video games can increase problem solving skills, enhance creativity and help teens tolerate failure. Not to mention, they are fun and can improve general well-being.
Here is a direct quote from the study. (Don’t worry I will translate it!)
Although playing games is often considered a frivolous pastime, gaming environments may actually cultivate a persistent, optimistic motivational style.
Translation: playing video games can help teens believe that they can do hard things and overcome challenges.
I love it!
Quick parenting suggestion: Observe your son playing video games. Try to notice the positive qualities that he brings to his gaming, i.e. not giving up, working well with others, focused attention, etc.
There are two options from here. You can praise his effort. Just make a positive comment and leave it at that. He might look at you weird, but that could be entertaining. 🙂
Or you can use what you notice to create a metaphor to help him accomplish things in real life.
Example: “I noticed how hard you worked on (fill in the blank with challenging video game task) . . . “I bet you could apply that to tackling your chores.”
While it may be tricky to do, there are so many possibilities to use gaming as a metaphor to life.
Here are a couple things to keep in mind.
You have to pay attention to the games he plays so you know enough to not sound silly. Don’t force the metaphor and let it develop in a conversation. Be playful and curious in the process. What do you have to lose? Give it a try this week.
3. Lastly, help your son connect with positive mentors and role models
This is a huge one. So many teenage boys struggle to even imagine what motivation, success and achievement might look like. It always helps to have someone to look up to and even follow in their footsteps.
This could be a coach, an influential teacher, a martial arts instructor, a camp counselor, a successful family member or wait for it . . . even a therapist!
There are so many possibilities. Some may develop naturally, while others you may have to force a bit.
Having supportive adults involved in your son’s life is invaluable. I’m sure I don’t have to convince you of this. Whenever I hear a teenager say, “I don’t have any adults that I look up to. All I need is my friends” I get pretty concerned. Of course friends are priority #1, but role models are crucial.
Do whatever you can to connect your son to positive, encouraging mentors.
So, there you go. That is my 3 step formula for motivating teenage boys.
I will leave you with another of my Sharpie masterpieces.
>> Click the image above to see a larger version
Do you want more ideas to help your teenager get motivated? Check out my post on 10 Tips To Help Your Teenage Son Find Motivation.