We all want the best for our children. We want them to work hard, to go far, to do great things – all while being supremely happy and the nicest and kindest kid on the block.
But it’s really hard. To tell them they’re capable of more without criticising what they’re already doing. To encourage them without nagging. To motivate without comparing them to others or damaging self-belief that’s often pretty fragile as it is. To know how to start a conversation that will be genuinely two-way – helpful, constructive and showing how much you care.
As we watch our teenagers shape their futures, this is something we think about a lot. How do you ‘motivate’ teenagers successfully?
We began by looking up the original definition of motivation: “a reason for acting or behaving in a certain way”. This turned out to be a great start – helping us to remember to keep it clear and simple. We firmly believe that keeping it basic and real means that it’s possible to motivate while at the same time reassuring them and reaffirming that they’re pretty great already.
|What the teens have to say:
The best advice that mum gave me when I was studying was to make a note of the hours I was putting in as I went along. Turned out I was doing a lot less than I thought I was! Now I can make sure I’m doing what I need to without being constantly reminded.
There are thousands of quotes and ‘inspirational sayings’ out there, but so often they can have the reverse effect. We’re not so keen on anything that hints that they’re the proverbial ‘lazy teenagers’. We’d feel uncomfortable telling them “Push yourself, because no one else is going to do it for you” or “Great things never come from comfort zones” but we’re happy to say “We know it’s hard, but get another hour of revision done. You’ll feel so much better and then you can come and have a biscuit/hug”.
| What the teens have to say:
Make suggestions that are really specific, to help tasks seem achievable. And don’t forget bribery always works a treat!
Even something that at first glance sounds pretty positive can still hint at inadequacy. Take, for example, “Winning doesn’t always mean being first. Winning means you’re doing better than you’ve done before.” That just says to us that they’re not winning now… We’d rather talk about being happy with trying their best than how they should be always striving to improve.
And as for “Make each day your masterpiece”? Oh, please. Some days are for watching movies, eating pizza and playing on the PlayStation. (Just not every day!)
|What the teens have to say:
Top mum: suggesting I revise downstairs, not in my bedroom, so I could really relax when I wasn’t working
Top mum ever: having an endless supply of my favourite foods for meals and snacks in my breaks
Even better if: there’s no blabbing on about when my next revision session starts when I’m taking a break…
Rather than saying “You can achieve the impossible”, stop and listen to how they think life is going. Talk to them –don’t judge, accuse, compare or endlessly tell them what’s possible. Yes, of course they need to understand that they need to make an effort and be responsible, but the most important message of all is to tell them they’re doing well and that you’re around to chat and help work out problems whenever they need you.
As always, we’d love you to comment with what’s worked best (or gone badly wrong!) for you. We still have a lot to learn!
Louise & Anna x