06-04-2020 10:18 AM
Ask a Child and Family Professional
Motivation: My teen is really struggling with motivation and I am concerned something is wrong. What can I do?
Teen behaviours are guided by their emotions, how they feel about a task will over-rule their logical thinking. Teens either like it, don’t like it, hate it, or sometimes just don’t seem to care at all. What you are describing is a common struggle for parents of teens. If you are feeling alone with this, perhaps consider chatting with other parents on this forum. Understanding why teens behave the way they do will help you to manage your expectations. It might be helpful to learn a bit more about brain development during the teenage years.
It can be helpful to think about teenage behaviour as the fight, flight, and freeze response. Fight – they respond with lots of energy. Flight -they avoid. Freeze - when they appear to not care at all. With this in mind, teens will often avoid a task when they feel there are too many obstacles.
For example, a teacher is always asking a teen about their homework – it’s due, have they finished it, when will they submit it, are they falling behind? Teens won’t walk away from this interaction with a renewed drive, ready to complete the work so that they are not asked again (the rational thinking response). More often, they will respond emotionally - freezing or avoiding the homework. They may decide that the teacher is not supportive, so “switch off” and no longer want to do that subject.
This is an emotional response, not a rational one. This is where as adults we can help our teen to identify the barriers to completing the task - is it too hard, not the right day of the week, are they tired, or is it as simple as not knowing how to start (a common stumbling block!).
If we can help our teen identify their feelings and the obstacles in their way, then we are on track to getting them back to task and hopefully with increased motivation. Remember to be curious when helping your teen to problem solve, the barriers may seem obvious to you, but might not be to your teen.
This is a journey of learning with your teen- be patient and remember to continue to put effort into connecting with your teen. Praise their efforts, no matter how small, and show interest into the things that do motivate them- whether that’s their friendships, computer games or TV shows. Small gestures will go a long way!
Child & Family Professional, The Benevolent Society
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We also partner with The Benevolent Society to offer free personalised one-on-one support for parents and carers of teens over the phone and online.
For more information: https://parents.au.reachout.com/one-on-one-support
09-09-2020 06:50 PM
Thank you very much for this. Most useful. I can well and truly recognize our son going into avoidance over these barriers. Some times he's built up these barriers in his head and they seem insurmountable but when we've managed to get him to share what's going on, sometimes we do get into a bit of back and forth and about how he can tackle the obstacle. Can he phone a friend or contact his teacher? Once we've started to get the ball rolling, he usually comes up with something. I've asked his teachers to email me periodically and that's been very productive. He has year 11 end of year exams next week. The only email we received back reassured us he was doing well and listed what was needed, pointed out a form I needed to sign and got the ball rolling.
The wheels have fallen off during Covid this year. I know for myself, I've also been frozen, overwhelmed and am feeling the loss of my own friendship networks. I was attending a parent support group at the school and it was really helpful with information like this and I really miss it, which is why I've come here. This year as a parent can feel quite lonely at times.
09-14-2020 03:29 PM
Hi @Birdwings , thanks so much for sharing your experiences - it's great to hear that you can help your son to overcome his avoidance sometimes by helping him to take those first steps. It sounds like you're doing a great job at striking that tricky balance between helping him to develop the skills he needs to help himself, and giving him some scaffolding to get the ball rolling.
I absolutely hear you on this year being an incredibly challenging one for parents, I have two kids myself and I think in many ways it's been one of the toughest years as a parent of my life. It sounds like you have a lot of insight and empathy into how this year has affected your son as well as how it's affecting you - have you been able to do other things for self-care for yourself?