It’s not an oxymoron…

You can put “teen” and “motivation” in the same sentence.

Yes they need more sleep for their growing brains and bodies. They aren’t lazy, just truly lacking energy at times.

But I’m talking about those times when they are clearly fully awake and you just can’t get them to do anything…

Computer games, cellphones, social media all seem to take precedence over things like picking up their clothes, doing laundry or helping with the dishes.

And can you blame them? Those tasks suck.

So how do you motivate a teen to a truly unfunny task?

And how do you sidestep the dilemma of teens who seem to do the exact opposite of anything simply because you asked. What’s that even about?

Teens aren’t rebelling against YOU they are rebelling against the task!

The first thing to know is that teens aren’t inherently incapable of tidying (for example). Some love it. It’s just that their brains are generally still developing and some don’t exactly excel at organization and task follow through. Even if they wanted to clean their room, they would likely get distracted. It’s natural. We’ve all been there.

Why am I giving you this example? It’s not necessarily to cut them some slack (though that’s not a terrible idea from time to time), but rather to share with you that your teen isn’t struggling with motivation, they are struggling with interest.

Have you noticed that when it comes to something they are passionate about they have no issue focusing on it for hours on end.

Teens are all about immediate gratification.

Delaying pleasure is something we associate with adulthood, as a sign of maturity and growth. Which is realistic. It is a skill that needs to be developed. They are working on developing that skill.

In the meantime, if you want to motivate your teen to do an unpleasant task, it will be helpful to approach them in two ways:

1) validate their perspective that the task sucks
2) appeal to their “interest”

Here’s what it looks like:

What we typically do: “Chris, I really need you to tidy your room and put your dishes in the dishwasher. I’ve asked you a million time. No PS2 until you get it done.”

Result: Welcome to eye roll city! Population: Chris.
You likely will get a grunt and an annoyed “moooommmm leave me alone I’ll do it later”

Very pleasant. What a fun trip you just took.

Here’s the exact same thing but phrased slightly differently:

You: “Chris I have an absolutely dreadful awful horrid boring task. It is the worst task on the planet and I need your expertise to help me get through it. It’s an urgent matter. Are you on board?”

Chris: Sounds terrible. I am playing a video game.

You: “I know. And this totally disrupts that. Luckily the faster you get to it (and I am willing to time how speedy you are to see if we can break records) the faster you can get back to something fun again.

Chris: “What is it?”

You: “There are three things I need you to pick up in you room and put away, and I need your plate and cup placed in the dishwasher. It needs to be done now, with no negotiation room. It’s a matter of urgent “homeland” security. Are you the person for the task? Can you handle it? Are you going to break world records? GO GO GO. Don’t worry I will play your game for you until you complete this task…

Chris: “MOM NO!!” *runs to do task*

Now – clearly this was all said in a spirit of fun and playfulness. Your child may get on board and have a laugh. OR they may grumble. But they will do it.

Overtime, a few things will happen:

1) they will get in the habit of doing the task first
2) they will grumble less because it will become a silly game to them as you amp up your ridiculousness and urgency each time (“OMG THE PLATE IS ON THE COUNTER. IT’S THE FIRST THING THE ENEMY WILL BE LOOKING FOR. YOU HAVE TO HELP US KEEP OUR COVER. REMOVE TARGET NOW NOW!!!”)
3) They will not think of you as a nag as much because they will see their responsibility in household tasks
4) they may be so annoyed at the whole thing they do their work just to avoid the game (yeah, it’s possible your kid won’t find it as fun but hey they did the work, right??)

Bottom line: It’s ok to be silly and not so serious. It’s a pandemic and somethings just need to be fun again. Making boring awful tasks enjoyable is the main thing to motivate teens who truly are struggling to enjoy themselves these days.