What to Say to Motivate Your Teenager

By Denise Rowden, Parent Coach

This mom sums up what a lot of people are experiencing: “My child will not take her college applications seriously! She has to take an interest in her grades, her college applications, her test scores. She just blows it off. Why won’t she take this stuff seriously?! It’s HER future!”

Sound familiar? You want your child to be excited about going to college. They aren’t. You want them to understand the importance of good grades, high SATs, and completed college applications. You want them to care about their future happiness, their security, the opportunities that will open up for them if they’d just do the work. They don’t care. You’ve talked until you’re blue in the face, telling them what they’re risking if they don’t get on top of these things. Threatening them with dire images of their un-educated future isn’t working. Plying them with images of their dream careers, or even promises of college parties, isn’t working. No matter what you do, your kid just doesn’t seem to take their future seriously. So frustrating!

The reality is, you can’t make someone care about something. No perfectly well-reasoned argument, no eloquent speech is going to make your child care about their future the way you do.

And to be honest, that’s a good thing.

Why? Because it means you can stop working so hard. Trying to convince your child to take these things seriously is a power struggle, and power struggles never work.

A far easier – and far more effective – approach is to use what your child values in order to get what you value. If you want your child to complete her college application, use natural consequences and relevant currency to motivate her. Instead of the usual power struggle, your conversation might look like this:

“I know you’re not interested in college right now. That’s fine. However, you do need to finish your applications, as that is a requirement in this household. You need to complete one application each week, by Friday at 3 pm, in order to have the car over the weekend. If you haven’t completed an application by 3pm, you will not have access to the car, and you’ll get to try again the following week.”

Debbie Pincus offers this advice to parents struggling with motivating their teen:

“You want to help your child define for himself who he is, what’s important to him and what he’s going to do to make those things happen. Our responsibility is to help our kids do that, not to do it for them.” -Debbie Pincus, MS LMHC, Creator of The Calm Parent AM & PM

For more on this challenging topic, Unmotivated Child? 6 Ways to Get Your Child Going is a great article.

Look for the completion of tangible tasks, rather than frustrating yourself trying to convince your child to be excited about the future. Give it a try and see how it works! And let us know how you’re doing. We’re always here for you.


Denise, Empowering Parents Coach

About Denise Rowden, Parent Coach

Denise Rowden is a parent of two adult children and has been a parenting coach since 2011. She has worked in Special Education, Alternative Education and adolescent group homes. She has a BS in Psychology from the University of Southern Maine and is currently working on her Life Coach certification from the International Coach Federation.

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