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How to Motivate Your Teenager to… Well, Anything!

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One of the toughest parts of parenting is figuring out how to motivate your teenager. Motivate your teen to do what? Well, anything! To take school seriously, to do chores, to get out of bed. I remember my mom asking, “Are you getting up today?” on many a Saturday morning. It started out kind of jovial but quickly led to a mom-ism that felt like nails on a chalkboard to 14-year-old me: “You’re gonna sleep the whole day away!” That’s the goal, Mom. That’s the goal.

But eventually, I did get out of bed and so will your teen. How? Check out these 6 ideas for motivating a teenager that run the gamut of tough love to inspiring.

How to Motivate Your Teenager to Comply

End the power struggle.

It’s easy to think that teens are not motivated when you have to repeat yourself 25 times. But you have to realize your teenager is motivated—to stay comfortable and to retain power. So end the power struggle now.

When you raise your voice, lose your cool, or get into a sparring match because of their resistance, you’re giving them power. Instead, state the request and the consequence that will happen if they don’t do what you’ve asked. Try using an autonomy-supportive tone. It’s clear communication that leaves little room for negotiation.

Take life one day at a time.

When my sons were born, we lived in three-hour cycles: nurse, change diaper, nap, repeat. I didn’t look ahead because it was overwhelming and I’d lose sight of what was needed at the moment.

For teens, set small daily goals and rewards. What can your daughter do to earn her phone today? Homework and chores are done? Great. Here’s the phone. We’ll do this again tomorrow.

How to Motivate Your Teenager in School

Connect the dots.

When you’re a kid, it feels like you’re going to be in school forever. There’s another test, another dress code, another class schedule. It’s overwhelming and can zap motivation, especially for kids who are short-sighted. So help them connect what they’re doing today to what they want tomorrow or in 10 years. This works for grades and chores.

“If you don’t improve your math grade, you won’t get to play in Friday night’s game. Time to study.” Or “If you want to use the car this weekend, you’re going to need gas money. Gotta knock out those chores.”

Make room for natural consequences.

You can connect the dots until you’re blue in the face, but for some kids, unless they experience the natural consequences of their actions, it’s just not going to sink in. If their lack of motivation leads to bad grades, getting kicked off the team, or losing privileges at home, you have to let it happen. The consequence of not allowing your child to experience consequences is scary. It’s a young adult who lacks independence and accountability.

How to Motivate Your Teenager to Aspire to Something

Ask questions.

Generations of parents have pointed a finger and said, “If you’re going to amount to anything, you’d better buckle down and study.” First, we need to be careful not to associate our a child’s worth with what he or she does for a living. Society will do that for us. Second, has that line ever really worked? A better approach than making scarring predictions is to ask inspiration-sparking questions.

“What do you see your future looking like? What kind of house would you like? Do you see yourself working in an office or outdoors?”

“What is something you are good at or interested in that they don’t teach in school?”

Affirm and compliment them. 

Teenagers hear from every direction that they are trouble. It’s tempting in the heat of the moment to tell them they are being lazy or useless (but remember, no more power struggle!). As their mom, you’re in the position to use words that build them up and show them you believe they are special and capable.

You don’t have to be fake or pretend that you don’t see their lack of motivation. Compliment any progress or good choices and inspire them with things like, “I’ve always believed you are special and will do great things. I want you to see what I see.” Or just a simple, “I love you” is powerful when they are acting very unlovable.

What struggles are you having with motivating your teen? Tell us what you’ve done that has worked. 

Need help with younger kids? Check out these 10 Ways to Motivate your Child.


What kind of house would you like someday?

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