Motivating Your Unmotivated Teen Part 2: Understanding Change

Teen AngstIn part one we started discussing the importance of having a good relationship with your adolescent in order to help facilitate motivation and change.

Often times, too many parents try to motivate their child instead of developing motivation as a function of their relationship with their child. That means that you have to serve as a source of motivation in someway.

You can’t expect your teenager to want to do something different if you haven’t demonstrated motivation and change behavior in your own life, or if your efforts to motivate them include constant nagging and criticism.

Sometimes that is all that is needed, for a teenager to be in a relationship with other people that are inspiring.

For example, I have a running partner who is a much better runner than I am, yet running with him has motivated me. He encourages me sometimes, but for the most part, I run to not disappoint him and because I enjoy his company. In the process, I became a better runner which motivated me to continue running. The key factor in that is the relationship with my running partner that helped start the process and the motivation to continue it.

It would have been nearly impossible for me to find motivation in our running relationship if he was always cancelling or if he showed up just to show me up. The same principles apply for parents trying to help their teens find motivation. They have to have a motivating relationship.

Motivation Is Change Oriented Movement.

That is the simplest definition of motivation. This definition focuses on motivation as a matter of change that is directed towards behavior, not thinking. When it comes to motivation, it’s often more important to focus on changing the behavior and not the thinking, but changes in thinking generally follow changes in behavior.  But why do people change? What makes people, especially teenagers, decide to do something different? What factors and circumstances have to come into place to facilitate change?

Why Do Adolescents Change? 

Many people believe that people change to avoid discomfort. Often however, unpleasant feelings and experiences actually decrease the chances of someone taking action, which is another reason punishments often don’t have the long term effect they were intended to have.

There are three conditions that need to be in place for change to happen:

1. The change has to be associated with intrinsic value.

Even external consequences that have intrinsic value can work, but the teen has to find intrinsic value in the change in order for it to occur and be long lasting. You have to have a relationship with your child that allows you to discover what is intrinsically valuable to your child. Trying to do that through punishments and groundings is usually futile.

2. Your teen has to be able, willing and ready to change.

This is where a lot of parents fail, not understanding that their teenager won’t change until they are capable of making the change, are willing to make the change and then is willing to make the change. You can not push your teenager into making a change they are unwilling or not ready to make, all you are going to get is defiance and discord.

Change can not be forced on anyone, no matter how important you think the change may be or how much it makes sense. Change will only come when your teenager is willing, ready and capable of making the change required.

3. The teenager has to be in a safe, empowering and accepting environment.

Your teen’s primary environment is their relationship with you, which means you have to provide a safe, empowering and accepting relationship if you want to see your teenager make positive changes.

The number one factor in providing this type of environment/relationship is having unconditional positive regard, where your teen can feel free to express their thoughts and emotions without criticism. This doesn’t mean that you will tolerate uncivil or inappropriate behavior from your child, but it does mean that you will not try to change their thoughts.

Communication is also key in developing the type of environment necessary for change.

This means having open, non-judgmental conversations about the problem and sometimes this alone can be enough to facilitate the motivational and change processes. This can be hard for parents to do because they are used to talking, dictating and teaching, when listening to their teenager is often more  productive.

Your teenager wants to be listened to. Dictating to them what they need to do is usually a sure way to kill motivation, not induce it.

Accept your teenager for who they are.

By accepting your teen for who they are, you make room for motivation and change. If however, you criticize your teen for who they are, they are more likely to actually feel unmotivated to make any changes you would like to see them make. Acceptance facilitates change, but it doesn’t guarantee it.

Acceptance doesn’t mean that you approve of your teenager’s behavior, it just means that you are not going to criticize or judge them. There is a right time for useful criticism that we will discuss in another segment.

Next post we will discuss indecisiveness and the stages of change which are important to understand when trying to understand the change process.

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