Teen motivation has been fragile over the last couple of years – for parents, too! Many of the teens I work with share that they are struggling finding teen motivation for day to day things – cooking, cleaning, assignments, getting out of bed, etc. Even finding the motivation for the things they want to do is difficult.
This is a big part of why I developed my signature 4-month coaching program for you and your teens – The Happiness Pill Program. Your teen will receive several 1:1 coaching sessions with me, as well as weekly group sessions with other teens who are also feeling a lack of motivation. For you, there are parent office hours to connect and ask questions while we work together to guide your teen to their best life.
Before the program is even complete, you will begin feeling like a weight has been lifted – your teen will be finding tools for motivation and getting back to their old selves. You will feel empowered to walk alongside them. You can find the details here:
For, understanding why your teen is feeling unmotivated can be a helpful starting point.
Here are the top five reasons teens share with me for struggling with motivation:
Lack of Teen Motivation Cause #1: Stress
Stress is the #1 thing that zaps motivation – and there certainly hasn’t been a shortage in the last couple of years! When your teen feels stressed, or overwhelmed, like they have too many things to do, it depletes their motivation.
The more stressors your teen has to manage, the more it zaps their motivation. It is something that needs to constantly be managed right now.
Lack of Teen Motivation Cause #2: Lack of Desire
Whether or not your teen ‘should’ complete a task or activity is a different question than their desire to do so. If your teen doesn’t like the task/activity at hand, or isn’t seeing the benefits of doing it, motivation can easily be zapped.
Chores and school assignments are two common areas that come to mind. Especially right now, with all the changes in school throughout Covid – things have been delayed, changed, and even cancelled. The mentality of ‘what’s the point’ tends to set in in situations like this.
Lack of Teen Motivation Cause #3: Big Picture
As parents it’s helpful to recognize that teens have an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain that’s responsible for reasoning, thinking things through, and problem-solving. It is in charge of how your teen evaluates things; their higher thinking structures to figure things out.
Your teen has the ability to problem solve, judge, and rationalize – of course – but these skills are still under construction. This makes seeing the big picture/long-term benefits harder for your teen to consider, in comparison to instant gratification. When a project is due next week but your teen has been invited to hang out with friends, for example: Your teen may not be thinking long-term – seeing that they will likely feel high pressure and stress with completing the assignment last minute. The short-term instant gratification of hanging out with friends right now is a much bigger push for motivation.
While your teen’s frontal cortex is still developing, their limbic system – emotional centre – is highly developed and is often in charge.
This can happen in many other areas as well, including chores at home 😉 Your teen won’t be thinking about the nagging from you later, if they don’t complete the chore. They would rather get instant gratification now – finishing their video game, being with friends, etc.
Lack of Teen Motivation Cause #4: Instant Gratification
With your teens limbic (emotional) system being in charge, they are driven by pleasure; the rewards circuit in their brain. Their brain will respond a lot quicker to things that feel good in the moment, than things that are long term in nature. The instant gratification of watching a few more TikTok videos, as opposed to getting off and going on their bike, or hanging out with their family, will usually win over. This is especially true if your teen is already feeling a lack of motivation.
Lack of Teen Motivation Cause #5: Externally vs Internally Driven
If a parent, teacher, etc. is telling your teen to do something, oftentimes it isn’t as motivating because it isn’t linking to an internal sense of reward or value to get the thing done. When I say ‘reward’ I mean pleasure from doing it, or seeing another value or benefit.
If you’re asking your teen to do something that also triggers an internal drive, it is likely to get done quicker.
Part of what I do with you and your teen in The Happiness Pill Program is create a roadmap of where your teen wants to go. Your teen is fully involved in creating the plan, so the steps we take to get there are intrinsic motivators. This is done on ‘Ready-Up Day’, a 1:1 session between you, your teen, and myself. You can book a free 20-minute consultation to discover if The Happiness Pill Program is the best way to motivate your teen and empower your parenting HERE.
Now that you can see some of the things that are zapping motivation for your teen – stress, overwhelm, lack of desire, trouble seeing the big picture, instant gratification, and externally driven tasks – it’s important to talk about how you can support your teen to feel more motivated.
Here are five ways you can help:
Increasing Teen Motivation: Take A Break
In talking to a teen client recently, they shared that taking a step back from some of the stressors in their life was really helpful to get motivated again. The 24-hour rule is a good one – allow your teen to sleep on it, and then things will look different the next day.
Allowing your teen to take a break, or create some distance, gives them the opportunity to rest, reset, and re-energize. It can give them a new perspective for when they come back to the task, activity, goal, etc.
Increasing Teen Motivation: Evaluate the Goal
You can help your teen to check-in with themselves on why what they are trying to get done is important to them – a school assignment, meeting a health goal (working out, joining dance, etc.). You can guide your teen to ask ‘why did I want to start this in the first place?’ Getting back into the WHY behind it. Understanding the values and hopes behind a goal can bring the motivation back to life.
Increasing Teen Motivation: Destress
With stress being the #1 zapper of motivation – and with no shortage of it right now – it’s important that your teen has opportunities to destress (and you too)! Think of people as having various internal batteries – physical, mental, social, etc. – that gauge how you’re doing. The more stress you have, the more those batteries are drained.
When your teen isn’t doing well – their mental battery is drained – it’s difficult to think clearly, make good judgements, or stay focused and concentrated. When the physical battery is drained they may be feeling tired, lethargic, etc.
Reducing stress in your teen’s life allows their batteries to recharge. It also allows them space to think about what it looks like when their batteries are fully charged and in the green zone. They may show up in a different way than they were before.
You can help your teen think about things that destress them. For some it could be spending time alone, connecting with a creative project, enjoying social interactions, increasing play/laughter, leisure activities (reading, watching movies), being outdoors, hanging with animals, etc.
It can be helpful for your teen to come up with a list of 5-6 things that they know help them to destress. Keep the list somewhere they can easily access, and make sure they are using the things on the list over and over again.
Increasing Teen Motivation: Set Smaller Goals
Your teen can create small tasks to achieve, a short list, or try a daily challenge. The important thing here is to help your teen to create tasks that are small enough for your teen that they know they are going to achieve it. Creating small things your teen can cross off the list (or place a checkmark beside) triggers the motivation and reward circuit in the brain – the “I’ve done this AND gotten the reward” mentality.
A school assignment, for instance, can be broken down into smaller pieces, like reading 10 pages of chapter three in my social studies textbook. Wanting to take a dance class can be broken into smaller tasks – looking on the website at three dance organizations in my neighborhood is an achievable task to build your teens motivation/reward circuit.
Increasing Teen Motivation: Enjoy the Moment
When your teen is not feeling motivated – ruminating or thinking about past things, or getting stuck thinking about future orientated things in a stressful way (I have a lot to do, what if I can’t make it, etc.) Replaying past things. Not enjoying the moment can zap motivation in the moment. Take delight in what’s happening now. Invite your teen to grab a tea instead of going straight home to do homework, check out a really cool skyline with the mountains in the background. Taking a moment to enjoy what’s happening in the now and allowing that to be wonderful and joyful in the moment.
For further support helping your teen with lack of motivation, you can download our FREE Anxiety Toolkit for Parents Raising Teen Girls HERE – it includes 10 tools as well as several mini webinars delivered right to your inbox. These tools will give you control over what to do next, and take away the overwhelm.
And don’t forget that in just four months, you and your teen could be on the same page, feeling motivated to create your teen’s dream life with The Happiness Pill Program – it includes 1:1 coaching, group coaching, parent office hours, creating a roadmap together AND many online tools & resources. Find the whole list of what it entails here:
Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.
Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.
Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with.