How To Help Your Teenage Son Find Motivation & Vision For His Life

So what motivates teens?

Teenagers are often motivated by the three F’s – friends, freedom and fun. In contrast, parents are often motivated by the desire for freedom from anxiety.

Teens want to feel connected and accepted within their peer group, which may often feel like it is more important to them than eating, sleeping or breathing. They want to have a sense of freedom to make decisions, go where they want to go and generally choose for themselves. And lastly, teenagers want to have a good time, which is why often times school, work & responsibility takes a backseat to the more pressing matter of chillin’ as they might say.

But, ultimately teens want to grow up and they want to feel empowered. If you can find out what motivates your teenage son, you can be successful in supporting him through these important transitions.

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Here are some possible ways to motivate your son.

1. Provide an incentive

For better or worse teenagers often have a me-centric view of the world with a strong now-orientation. If they can figure out “what’s in it for me” they may just be willing to work hard. This may not be a character flaw. In truth everyone one of us needs a reason or a purpose to accomplish any task. Your teenager may need some help finding a reason to get himself moving. Some people would say that providing an incentive is the same thing as a bribe, but that may be very appropriate. The incentive can be a material object or money, as we all know that teens are motivated by money. It could be something else, such as an experience or an opportunity, like earning the privilege of driving Dad’s classic car or something like that. The incentive could even be Mom or Dad’s approval, some sort of honor in the family or even bragging rights.

2. Issue a challenge

Teenagers, especially boys, may respond to a friendly challenge. “I bet you can’t wash all those dishes in ten minutes” or “I wonder if you can beat your score on that last Science quiz.” Competition with others can be healthy at times. Encouraging your son to compete against himself may just be the trick to get him going.

When I was a teenager, my mother provided me with a challenge that included an incentive. She told me that if I could get a 3.5 GPA in school that she would buy me a new drum set. Now, I loved playing the drums and still do, but my set at the time was not impressive and I really wanted that new Pearl World Series drum set. I worked extremely hard to earn it. It was an amazing accomplishment for me and I had all kinds of positive self-esteem as a result.

3. Make it fun

As I said before, teenagers live for the three F’s, which again are freedom, friends and fun. Fun is an essential ingredient and it is surprising what teens will do when they are having a good time. Jump in and do the task with your son. Use humor and playfulness to motivate and engage him. Help your son to imagine his future and make it fun. You could go on a road trip to visit colleges, play video games with him and talk about life together or just find any reason you can to laugh together.

4. Speak his love language

Find out what your teenage son responds to and what helps him feel loved and supported. Does your son prefer words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time or physical touch? Does he need to hear you say, “You’re doing a good job son.” Would he respond to a gift that is given to help him explore life options, such as an iPad? :) Could he use more hugs or pats on the back or even more wrestling time with Dad to feel connected and supported? Teenagers will often respond more positively when they feel cared for and encouraged by their parents. This may be challenging, but creating a strong relationship with your teenage son is essential to having an influential voice in his life.

5. Help him think about the future

For a teenager, considering the future may involve figuring out what they are going to eat in the next 15 minutes. It can be difficult for them to envision what next year will bring or even what they want to accomplish after high school. Even though he may think he has it figured out, your son needs you to walk this road with him and assist him in planning for a meaningful and successful life. The truth is that he needs your help with this step, because his brain is still developing and building an orientation towards the future is a definite skill. But of course, keep it fun, because this step can easily become a lecture and a sure way for your son to tune you out.

6. Use his peer group

If there is anything sacred to a teenager it is their connection to their community. This peer orientation can be damaging and lead your son down the wrong path, but it can also be used for his benefit. Talk to your son about his friends and what they are excited about. What types of activities are they involved in? What kinds of interests do they have? Praising respectable or honorable qualities in your son’s friends may actually encourage him to follow along. This may be hard at times if your son’s friends don’t seem respectable, but even kids that are rough around the edges can have a good heart. You may be able to use their influence in a positive way. And of course, if all your son’s friends are getting good grades and headed to college it is easier for him to adopt similar goals that are acceptable to his social group.

7. Use modern technology and social media

I was only half joking about the iPad that I mentioned earlier. With young people today, if you add technology to any pursuit it can make it more engaging and interesting. This could mean using the internet to research various careers, the military or colleges to attend. This could mean encouraging your son to “Like” the Facebook pages of influential people, or colleges or other social causes. This could mean texting your son with supportive comments or reminders, but only if he is OK with this of course. I don’t often think of the TV as technology, but there are some great documentaries, movies and TV programs that could influence and encourage your teenager in positive directions. Whatever the application, it may be critical to use technology to communicate and motivate him towards a fulfilling and interesting future.

8. Provide opportunity for small successes that he can build upon

When teenagers think about the future with their sense of uncertainty and all the unknowns can be truly overwhelming. It is helpful for all of us to find ways to feel successful with each step on the long road to our goals. This has been referred to as the snowball effect, because the progression builds confidence and self-esteem in the same way that rolling a snowball increases its size, little by little. You can help your son to make small achievements and feel acknowledged and positive about each one.

9. Encourage your son to “re-invest” in a passion or interest that he was formerly excited about

This point is self-explanatory, but your son may have had a previous interest, such as drawing, music or sports that he may benefit from picking back up. Often adolescents, caught up with school and peer culture, forget what they loved as kids. Often these things can be adapted to be acceptable to the teenage mind. A passion for doodling could turn into interest in graphic design, playing in the school band could turn into playing in a garage band with friends and interest in sports can of course be applied to any phase of your son’s academic career. This is the key part about finding out what he loves and helping him take steps towards those things.

10. Give your son a structured way to consider his future

As I mentioned before, whether they accept it or not our kids do need our help in this process. Providing a structured way for your son to engage on the topics of motivation and future planning may be easy or it may be quite challenging. This could take many forms, from volunteering at the Humane Society to getting a job or participating in a summer program. Often teenagers don’t know what they like until they experience it first hand. I thank God that my Mom didn’t let me off the hook every time I complained about doing something unpleasant. So giving your son a structured way to consider his future can be a very positive and crucial experience.

A influential man name Jim Rohn said, “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan.”

Ways that parents can support & motivate their teens

So, what can you do to help? I have to preface this information with talking about the importance of your relationship with your teenage son. There is no parenting strategy or Top ten list that can replace a trusting, mutually respectful relationship with your son. It is from a place of security in your love and belief in him that your son will respond to your encouragement and your efforts to help him move forward. If you are a safe place for him to come to, when he succeeds or when he feels defeated or ashamed, then you can more effectively offer your much needed support. This is just so important and often times people need help with this relationships piece and that is why they seek counseling during this phase of life.

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About Uriah Guilford

I am a child and teen counselor and I focus on working with boys. I use my specialized training along with humor to help my clients learn and grow.