My Teenager Won’t Listen: 3 Ways to Motivate

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I was at lunch the other day with one of my family friends. Let’s call her Debbie for the sake of this post. Debbie has a teenager named Josh and, like most Moms, feels like she has to nag him 24/7 to get him to do anything.

Debbie, you are not alone.

If you are a parent of a teen and get frustrated when you have to nag then this post is for you. Entire sections of bookstores have material on motivation, but for the sake of simplicity I want to provide three practical ways to motivate your teen without nagging.

How to Motivate Josh

1.    Ask him two irrational questions

2.    Think of this word with every request

3.    Help him find his superpower

1.) Ask these two irrational questions

Okay, let’s say Josh is not studying or doing his homework, and you want to motivate him without nagging. Yale Professor Mike Pantalon has a great technique you can use called ‘Motivational Interviewing.’ Here is how it would work to get Josh to do his homework:

Question 1 (You speaking)

‘Josh, on a scale of 1-10, how ready are you to do your homework?’

Josh says he is a 3.

Question 2 (Your response to Josh)

‘Okay Josh, you are a 3. Why did you not pick a lower number?’

By asking these two questions, Josh begins to come up with his OWN reasons for doing his homework. When Josh starts stating why he is not a 1, he begins to convince himself of the importance of homework.  Josh adheres to his reasoning for doing homework over yours (sorry Debbie).

If you want to know how to respond if Josh answers a 1 out of 10, then watch this video.

2.) Think of this word with every request

The word you need to think of, every time you ask Josh to do something, is ‘why.’ Here is WHY:

A research study conducted in a grocery store tallied what percentage of customers were able to cut the line upon request. Group 1 was instructed to ask politely: ‘Do you mind if I cut in front of you?’ while Group 2 was instructed to state in a rude manner ‘I need to cut you because I am late to a meeting!’

The results? Group 2 was successful nearly 70% more of the time than the group that asked politely. As humans, we are motivated at a much higher rate when we understand ‘why.’ Your tone of voice and the way you communicate to Josh is important but not as important as him understanding WHY.

Adding a simple ‘because’ in the middle of your request will do wonders as long as you don’t use ‘because I said so!’

3.) Show Him His Superpower

A few years back economists from MIT, the University of Chicago, and Carnegie Mellon conducted a study on motivation in the workplace. What they found was that purpose (NOT pay) led to the greatest performance in businesses. The same holds true for students.

Teenagers that know what they want to do after high school statistically have the highest performance amongst their peers. The economists in this study were able to communicate that pay might work in the short-term (like nagging), but it rarely has positive long term effects.

If you want to lay the right foundation for Josh, show him what he is good at doing. I like to call this his superpower. We all have different superpowers, and you can help Josh discover his own.

Here are a few tools that will help Josh discover why he has a bright future:

  1. StrengthsFinder 
    1. This resource will show Josh how he has the opportunity to do what he is best at on a daily basis.
  2. The Element 
    1. The Element is the point at which natural talent meets personal passion. When people arrive at the Element, they feel most themselves and most inspired to achieve.
  3. Our Free Session
    1. Martin Luther King Jr. had Dr. Benjamin Mayes. Michael Jordan had his personal shooting coach. Harry Potter had Dumbledore. All successful individuals have had someone in their corner guiding them in the right direction. Our free session is a way to provide your teen guidance at no cost.

Motivation is a Quest

Every student is different. Do not expect your teenager to ‘just get it’ all of a sudden after you use these three techniques. For a further understanding of how to motivate your teen here are my three favorite books:

  1. Drive by Dan Pink
  2. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
  3. Ready, Willing and Able by Mandy Savitz-Romer / Suzzane Buffard.

Have questions, comments or concerns? Email me at and we can chat.

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