Let me just be clear: Teens aren’t lazy!
They also aren’t as apathetic as they seem, despite the numerous variations of “I dunno”, “whatever” and “hunh” answers you get to questions.
So why is it so so hard to get teens to, um….do anything? Literally anything at all beyond playing video games, scrolling through social media, and finding your stash of secret snacks.
Yup that fun little skill our frontal cortex oversees. Things like prioritizing, sequencing, organization, impulse control. You see, teens just don’t have much of that yet.
Their brains haven’t quite completed those neural pathways. And so while they are being given more responsibility (necessary to create those pathways and develop the skills), the skills don’t come naturally. Not an easy combination: More work, less know-how! yikes.
So you can imagine what that means: everything feels much harder and more overwhelming for them!
Not only that, with impulse control still at a very low level, it’s extra hard for them to do the stuff that needs to get done in the face of all the things they would rather be doing. Remember, teens are fuelled by emotions and emotional gratification, not logic and rationality. It doesn’t matter that they’ve left their socks all over the house and can’t find the homework that’s due tomorrow. Their friend Sarah just posted the most hilarious meme!!!
Here’s another issue: chances are their homework is delivered online. And while they fully intended to log in and access it, they had to go through the labyrinth of digital temptations to get there.
We used to be able to spread our books out on the floor, shut our bedroom door, and only be distracted by the sheer monotony of it – with boredom being so palpable that just doing the darn work was the least we could do to stay entertained. Occasionally we could be taken off course by a phone call (I mean, if someone wasn’t using the internet).
Not so anymore! Today’s teens can’t get through one sentence before a text comes in. And …they just HAVE to check it.
So how do you motivate a teen when there are distractions everywhere, those distractions bring delicious hits of feel good dopamine, and the tasks they are required to do mean they have to use skills they don’t yet posses. Those certainly aren’t conditions that would inspire the best in me, either!
What do you do when you are overwhelmed? You shut down. And say “I dunno”, “whatever” and “hunh”.
Step one to motivating your teens? Remove distractions.
HAHAH! Oh what a funny joke. Good luck.
Let’s try step two: HELP them develop the executive functioning skills that will make the rest of their life so so so much easier! It starts with improving their confidence and autonomy.
Teens do better when they know they CAN do better.