11 Secrets Motivating Your Intelligent But Unmotivated Teenager In (2024)

You’ve advised, persuaded, yelled, lectured, and even pushed your teenager to change. But your efforts have failed.

What are you doing wrong? What would trigger your teen’s motivation? 

Find answers to your burning questions in these secrets for motivating your intelligent but unmotivated teenager.

Let’s dive right into it.

Motivating Your Intelligent But Unmotivated Teenager
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1. Understand and Respect Their Development

The teen brain is a developing brain. As a parent, you have to understand this, since how you influence their growth will either make or break them.

At this stage, your kid’s brain is strengthening its connections, learning to think for itself, making decisions partially as an adult and as a child. The independent decisions they make may seem rebellious, senseless, and lazy.

Nonetheless, respect them, viewing them in the context of where they are in life and not where you want them to be. 

After all, no matter how you try, your child won’t think like you. And to be honest, you weren’t thinking as you do now when you were young.

So let them know their choices matter by listening and letting them follow through to see the outcome. This way, they develop problem-solving skills and you maintain communication with your teenager, a channel you can use to influence your informed ideas.

This secret on the teenage brain is the foundation of how you carry out the other tips. So let’s move on.

2. Aim for Internal Motivation

Are you tired of punishing, rewarding, and providing motivational lectures? Well, that’s because they’re not sustainably motivating.

Performing well to please you is a motivation that fades. Doing chores to avoid punishment can end when they get used to being grounded. Simply put, external motivation never lasts.

What you should aim for is a motivation that emanates from within them. Internal motivation happens when your adolescent:

  • Sees personal value in what they’re doing: Your son or daughter wants to know “Why am I doing this? Why should I care?” You can tell them  “Because I told you so or you’ll get in trouble” but it won’t work. Determine where their values meet with the purpose of the task. And to do this, you have to get to know your child.
  • Is able, willing, and ready to change: You can encourage them to be willing and ready but they need the ability(no disability is hindering them) to do the particular task.
  • Gets a safe and empowering environment: Your relationship with your teenager is the environment that should be characterized by acceptance and positive influence.

You can NEVER force change in someone. You can only influence a person to see their particular value in changing. So help your teen value tasks so they can develop willingness and readiness to change through a motivating relationship of acceptance and empowerment.

3. Help Them See the Big Picture

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay 

When you tell your teenager to study, they might think something like, “It doesn’t matter, I don’t need a high GPA anyway.”

But you need to help them see it matters what they do. Don’t declare or lecture but elicit that vision with the right questions.

Let’s say your son said they want to become a journalist. Here are questions to help your teenager see the big picture:

  • “You said you want to become a journalist, right?”
  • “What are the requirements for becoming a journalist?”
  • “Which college do you want to go to for your journalism studies?”
  • “What are the requirements to get in?”
  • “Are you currently meeting those requirements?”

When you ask questions, you wake your teenager from delusions of having time and motivate them to contemplate ways of achieving their dreams.

Also, explain to them that sometimes we do things we don’t enjoy doing so we can get to what we want to do. Even if they don’t need a high GPA for their career, they’ll still enjoy better options if they do their best. Even if they don’t need a certificate, following through with one stage of their life means they’re not a quitter. Explain why it all matters to their future.

4. Help Them Set Goals the Right Way

To be motivated, your adolescent must move towards something — a goal. But to rightly motivate them, let them create their goals instead of stating what they should be.

Ask questions like:

  • Do you want to perform well in school?
  • Do you want to graduate?
  • Do you want to be the best at your hobby?
  • Would you want to be a student who finishes homework?

Whatever you think is good for them, ask them if they’d want it? When the teenager states what they want in their own words, it registers in their brain as their goal and motivates them to reach it.

But you won’t be done yet. You have to help them set their goal the right way. What do I mean?

  • The goals should be process-oriented instead of outcome-oriented. Rather than focusing on the goal “I’ll get Bs in the next term,” lead them to focus on what they’ll do to attain that so the main goal would be something like, “I’ll revise one past paper every day from 5 to 7 p.m.”
  • The goals should be precise in that your kid shouldn’t settle with “I’ll study harder.” Seek to develop a goal that has precision like the one in the example above. That way, both of you can measure progress.
  • A long-term goal needs to have short-term goals since accomplishments fuel motivation. Also, small goals/tasks seem attainable to the adolescent and hence are motivating. So help your kid create a couple of “stepping stone” goals that lead to the eventual goal. 
  • When setting goals, use action-promoting words to develop a motivating mindset in your child. Rather than “If you do X,” use “When, Once, As soon as you do X” and other words that presume they’ll do whatever you’re discussing.

5. Empower Them to Stay Accountable

Without accountability, other secrets for motivating your intelligent but unmotivated teenager would be in vain. 

If your child’s behavior isn’t consistent with the goals they stated, you have to motivate them to see where they’re going wrong and lead them to develop a solution.

Ask your teenager questions that show you seek to understand why they’re not behaving in a way that will help them reach their goal. 

  • “You wanted to get As at the end of the year, right?” 
  • “When creating the action-goals for attaining the As, you said you’d revise one past paper every evening, right?”
  • “Are you on track with your plan?”
  • “What do you think is the reason you’re not staying on track?”
  • “What do you think would help you stay on track?”

You know the answers, but you keep them to yourself.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

See? Reminding your child to do homework isn’t the end of helping them stay accountable. You need to help them realize where they are as far as their goals are concerned.

Your kid doesn’t need you yelling “You’re not studying! And it’s because of these friends you hang out with! They’re a bad influence!.” That will only lead to arguments, bad feelings, and demotivation. 

They need you to help them remember what they committed to. They need you to help them understand that they’re not following through. They need you to help them discover what they can do to get back on track and stay on track. Parents need to come off as confused, wanting to understand, not behave like they have all the answers.

6. Take Resistance Out of Your Relationship

“You don’t study,” You say “I do,” They say. “You’re lying!” You retort. “I’m not, I hate you!” They retort back.

You’re tired of arguments. Done with constant fights about your teenager’s lack of motivation. You keep telling the people how your child resists change, common sense, studying — how they resist everything you’re trying to show them.

But the brutal truth is, your teenager is resisting you. They’re resisting the relationship they have with you. But you can change that by stopping arguments.

Look back, they bear no good fruits. 

Arguments need a topic and at least two people for it to happen. When you take one person (You) from the equation, arguments can’t occur. This helps mend your relationship and promotes communication, which fosters motivation.

Maintain an interest in your child’s affairs but when things start escalating to arguments, tell them you trust they know what they’re doing. Keep on asking questions to stay involved but quit dictating what they should do.

This surprises kids and when they see you’ve genuinely ditched your controlling behavior, they might just come to you for advice. Plus they’ll get motivated to do the right thing.

7. Praise and Reward Effort More Than Outcome

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Many parents only praise a kid for excellent results and not their effort. However, that demotivates those incapable of fulfilling the parents’ desires and also those capable of achieving more than their parents’ benchmarks. Let me explain this further.

Picture two brothers, Scott and Adrian. Scott is intellectually able to get As. But Adrian can only get a C at his best. The grade their parents think is okay is B. Scott doesn’t study beyond the normal classes and brings home Bs but Adrian works hard on academics but only gets Cs. Since their parents view B as a success, they always praise Scott without caring whether or not he’s doing his best. Adrian however, gets scolded for not getting a B like Scott, something that makes him feel unloved.

As you can see, Scott is praised and rewarded for grades he doesn’t put much effort into since he’s naturally gifted academically. This isn’t motivation. Instead, both Adrian and Scott should be praised only for putting effort into their academics.

Praising and rewarding effort is the best way to motivate your teenager. You teach them that effort is commendable whether it provides great results based on set standards or not. Quit trying to control the outcome and lead your children to love effort. This motivates them to get tasks done, an action that can improve results.

8. Let Them Fail and Learn

It’s very tough to let your kids fail when you have the answer. But if you don’t let them fail, how else would you expect them to learn? 

Your only job as a parent is to show them what’s best. Whether they’ll choose the best you want for them, that’s their choice. The best you can do is motivate, not impose.

When a teenager fails and learns a lesson, they get motivated to do better next time with the information they’ve acquired so far. But if you rob them of that chance by preventing them from failing, you demotivate them and hinder their growth.

So stop forcing outcomes and motivate them to learn from failures.

9. Make It Fun

To many unmotivated teens, tasks that matter in the long run are boring. But like many people of other age groups, teens feel motivated to do fun things.

Let’s say they like playing chess. You can tell them to play chess with you and if you beat them, they have to do chores. Or they throw dice and if a particular number shows up, you’ll tackle some math problems with them.

What fun thing can get your adolescent to do the task you need them to do?

Also, when trying to make them understand the importance of something, use scenarios based on something they love. If they love video games, develop scenarios around them, if they look up to certain celebrities, base your examples on that.

10. Get Help

If you’ve tried your best but haven’t been successful in motivating your intelligent but unmotivated teenager, you can seek a teen life coach, teen therapist, or other professional to apply a different approach that might just work for your kid.

Getting other students to help with academic work and other tasks can also help. The teen might be more comfortable working with them than you for various reasons. An older student might help tutor and even expose your teen to other useful habits.

11. Love Them No Matter What

Photo by Albert Rafael from Pexels

Teenagers face a lot of challenging ideas that affect their self-esteem. They start wondering whether they’re good enough to be loved the way they are and if they’re important enough for anyone to care about their existence.

Your job is to love your kid, come rain come sunshine. Remind them they’re somebody as they are and learning only makes them somebody better.

Love them no matter what they say, do, and believe. For love is a great motivating factor in a relationship.

Related: Low Self-Esteem Treatment Plan – 11 Helpful Techniques 

Questions on Motivating Your Intelligent but Unmotivated Teenager

If you’re a concerned parent like my clients are, you probably have the following burning questions in your mind.

Why does my teenager have no motivation?

Some reasons teenagers lack motivation include:

  • Lack of intrinsic value in tasks
  • Overwhelming difficulty in tasks
  • Lack of a chance to take charge of their choices
  • The overwhelming quantity of tasks
  • Overwhelming expectations
  • Fear of failure
  • Learning disabilities
  • Anxiety and depression
  • They have developed a fixed mindset instead of a growth mindset

Instead of superficially labeling your child’s behavior, seek to understand them with the question style illustrated above. They might know what’s wrong with them but need someone to elicit clarity. 

Also, watching the following video on unhappiness during adolescence will help you understand your child better.

How do you motivate an unmotivated teenage girl?

The secrets for motivating an intelligent but unmotivated teenager apply to both a teenage girl and boy. Go through them and apply the tips provided. You can also seek a more in-depth understanding of these secrets by reading the book Motivating Your Intelligent But Unmotivated Teenager by Dennis Bumgarner, a renowned solution-oriented therapist, and consultant.

How do you motivate a lazy teenager?

“Lazy” or “unmotivated” are labels many parents use to describe the same thing. For starters, stop declaring what your kid is or isn’t and use the motivation-eliciting questions to understand what’s going on. Then use the above secrets to motivate your intelligent but unmotivated teenager.

How do you keep your teenager motivated?

After they develop motivation, you can support it by repeating the above strategies that worked for your teen. Keep in mind that a motivating relationship that’s accepting, empowering, and devoid of resistance is the foundation for keeping your adolescent motivated.

Final Word

You don’t need to bark, yell, and fret about your child anymore. Motivating your intelligent but unmotivated teenager is about letting them make their case for change — guiding them with mindful inquiry to elicit motivation from within them.

How have you been handling your teenager? Now that you know these secrets, what are you planning to do better? Let’s chat in the comments!

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About The Author

Bijan Kholghi is a certified life coach with the Milton Erickson Institute Heidelberg (Germany). He helps clients and couples reach breakthroughs in their lives by changing subconscious patterns. His solution-oriented approach is based on Systemic- and Hypnotherapy.