how to motivate a teenager

5 Keys to Helping Your Young Adults Claim Their Lives and Live Forward

I remember the day our son barely graduated high school. He was seriously unmotivated when it came to “what’s next,” so we had to learn how to motivate a teenager. We were prepared to pay for college but we didn’t force him. We did, however, implement “Plan B.” He had to claim his life and live forward. “Charlie,” we said. “You need health insurance if you’re not in college. And if you plan to live at home, you’re going to have to pay rent. Get in your car and go find a job. Don’t come home unless you’re employed.”

That was 10 in the morning. Twelve hours later, he rolled into the driveway, having just been hired at a large retail chain. But that’s not the good part. One month later, after another long day retrieving shopping carts from a parking lot, he said he wanted to talk. “Mom, dad,” he said, “is the tuition offer still good? I’ve decided I need a college education. This week, I enrolled in community college for the fall semester.” Once our son claimed it for himself, it was his life to make. But he may not have made it if we hadn’t followed these 5 keys to helping your young adults claim their lives and live forward.

1. Teach them, but expect them to make their own decisions.

These are their lives now. Your job is to raise them well-loved and well-equipped. This initiative begins before kindergarten, long before you have to motivate a teenager. Ownership of life-decisions is a process. The result is learning to claim life and live forward.

2. Allow your children to experience the consequences of their decisions.

Too many of us rescue our children as a matter of course. If consequences do not follow decisions, then nothing is learned. If you kick the bailout can down the road long enough, the can turns into a landmine. (Read “Using Natural Consequences to Teach your Kids”.)

3. Do not browbeat or scold. Let the consequences do the talking.

Allowing your young adult to experience a tough natural consequence is more loving than losing your cool. Allowing your young adult to experience a tough natural consequence is more loving than losing your cool. “I know you didn’t intend to break the window. But we said no baseball in the front yard. You will be working the next two Saturdays to pay for it.” No acrimony, just real life.

4. Encourage and support productive decisions.

It is more effective to encourage positive choices than lambast poor ones. Again, this begins early. Be in the habit of presenting children with choices. Help them evaluate alternatives. Then go big when it comes to reinforcing positive decisions.

5. Make sure any safety net is well-hidden.

When my mother was six, circa 1937, she got mad at her dad. So she packed a little suitcase and said, “I’m going to Germany to tell Hitler to drop a bomb on you!” My grandad followed at a discrete distance. He snagged her when she got lost at the train station and started to cry. He was there all along. She just didn’t know it. In the same way, we can be there for our young adults while they live forward.

Sound off: How have you allowed natural consequences to prepare your teen for life?

Huddle up with your teenager and ask, “What’s your road map for the next five years? How can I support you as you prepare for the future?”