How to Inspire an Unmotivated Teen

Do you have a teen who doesn’t ever give their best effort? Do they hide behind screens with no interest in extracurricular activities or finding a job or determining a future path? Many teens seem to struggle with motivation and the confidence to move forward. It could be due to the fact that teens have become more reclusive in their virtual worlds. Or, it may be that parents aren’t as proactive in encouraging independence. Whatever the cause, lots of parents are struggling with teens who lack self-motivation.

Parents with unmotivated teens want to fix the problem: change them, inspire them, light a fire under them! The truth is that you cannot force your child to change; you cannot persuade your teen with your brilliant logic; you cannot find that one perfect reason your teen will latch onto; you cannot bribe, threaten, nag your teen into rational thought; and you cannot scare them with your predictions of disaster. Until your child wants to do something about his or her situation for his or her own reasons, anything you say or do will fall on deaf ears and likely damage your relationship.

Inherently, people tend to only really listen to one person – themselves. So, the real trick to motivate someone is to get them to convince themselves to make a change for their own reasons.

That does not mean that you can’t do anything to improve the situation! While we can’t force anyone to change, we can encourage our children to find their own reasons to instigate change. Whether your adolescent son or daughter is unmotivated to do their homework, engage with others socially, find a job, determine a future, or set a goal, here are a few tips for parents who want to inspire their indifferent youth:

Be inspiring. Children, even teens, are most likely to behave in ways that are role modeled to them. Ask yourself if your behaviors are inspiring. Be honest with yourself: what are you demonstrating to your teen? Are you enthusiastic about your work? Are you excited about your own future? Do you have dreams that you work towards? If not, you are role modeling an adulthood that looks disappointing to your teen. Instead, work towards learning new things and finding experiences that excite you. More than likely, you will soon find that your teen will do the same.

Give more freedom. This one is counterintuitive. When our teens are unmotivated, we want to try to control them more, but many times this can cause more problems. Your teen needs the freedom to fail on their own and to also succeed without having to give you the credit. They need to feel the responsibility of their actions. In fact, when we try to control our teens, we are subconsciously communicating that we don’t believe they are capable of handling things on their own. So, instead of giving your teen a plan, ask them, “what’s your plan?” This makes it clear they are still in control of their own behavior.

Help your teen feel more competent. Teens often hear all the things they are doing wrong. In our efforts to help them improve, we can actually tear down their self-worth. If we are constantly fussing over their failures and mistakes, they will feel resigned and apathetic. Instead point out positives you see. Remind them of things they have done really well in the past. Compliment their efforts. When teens feel they are capable of doing more, they tend to rise to the occasion.

Avoid nagging. Your child knows that you want him or her to stop a bad habit or start a good one. They already know! Telling your teen over and over isn’t helpful, and could in fact be demotivating. You may have some excellent reasons he or she should change, but since only his or her own reasons will ultimately influence them to take actual steps toward making the change, your reasons will likely create more resistance.

Seek to understand. The things that motivate parents, absolutely do not motivate teens. You need to find out what’s important to your teen because those are the things that will ultimately propel them forward. Try asking open-ended questions to determine what is important to your teen.

Plant seeds based on your teen’s interests. The best way to get someone inspired is to tap into their natural interests. Consider what things your teen really likes to do and set up experiences that will connect their talents with an activity or a future. For example, if they like music, maybe you can help them get a part-time job at a music store, or if they like science, maybe you can set up a job shadowing experience for them at a local lab. Connect their interests with real-world experiences.

Teach money management. More and more young adults continue to live with their parents after schooling is over. To help ease your child into financial independence, encourage them to get a part-time job in high school, create a budget, and save for items they want. You should not supply them with everything they want or ask for. They need to work for things they want and feel the satisfaction of earning them for themselves.

Control your anger. When you see your child procrastinating on chores, skipping homework, or engaging in a destructive behavior, it clearly will make you mad. But, expressing that anger will not help motivate your child. Although your anger is understandable, yelling at your teen will not stir up your child’s own reasons to change their behavior, and it might actually reinforce those behaviors.

Final Thoughts…

As a parent, don’t forget to consider what may be behind your teen’s behavior. If your teen appears unmotivated or uninspired, be sure it’s not masking a larger problem. Apathy can play a very protective role in an insecure teen’s life. By not caring or committing to anything, a teen can feel they are protecting themselves against failing. Another reason for lack of motivation could be anxiety and stress. Teens feel a lot of pressure in their academic and social lives. Your efforts to motivate and inspire your teen will fall flat if there is an underlying problem that is not resolved.


  • Everything that was said in this article makes prefect sense but as a single parent it is overwhelming to see my daughter struggle in many of the ways I did as a teenager. Although I went to school and completed my assignments and was an okay student. It was when I went to college where my procrastination and lack of motivation really was a problem. I managed to get a degree but I have never really pursued my vocation and have worked hourly waged jobs most of my life. I absolutely don’t want my mediocracy to taint her abilities. She has not had a good school career for most of it, she has been bullied and criticized by many.
    She began her high school years during the pandemic and had asynchronous classes which she only attended to get the attendance credit and barely did any of the assignments but never turned them in on time. But unfortunately her teachers gave her grades and she moved forward. This no child left behind mentality has made it so kids can slide through school not being held accountable for the grades and we as parents struggle to provide the boundaries and hold are children accountable because of fear that they may harm themselves. We have been to therapy which has never progressed we still talk about them same issues as when she was in elementary school. I know that my constant discussions, nagging and the like are not helping the situation. I tell myself that I will not nag her or look at her grades but then the teachers are emailing me to let me know this or that. The social media and smartphones make the situation worse. At least in my observations she never takes a break from the constant bombardment to social media like
    tik tok and the like. She says she does but i don’t believe her.
    I think these are the rants of a very frustrated mother who has tried to be less of a helicopter mom, less controlling and more supportive but I do not feel like anything has changed in 2 years plus years. I want some one to give me a tailored- made plan to help my child because I am at my wits end. It is comforting to know that i am not alone in my struggles. Thanks for reading this.

    • You are definitely not alone! So many teens are struggling with motivation (and the online learning during the pandemic definitely made it worse), and so many parents are struggling with what to do! We affirm your efforts in trying to be supportive and also seeking therapy – well done! Sometimes, even with our best efforts, our teens can be so resistant to anything mom says. Consider trying to find her a mentor – another adult who is inspiring to her in some way. Contact the United Way in your local area to see what nonprofits are offering youth programs. For example, there might be community youth centers that offer fun activities during out-of-school time where the adult staff can act as informal mentors, or the nonprofit Big Brothers, Big Sisters can connect your daughter with an adult woman to be her mentor. Sometimes it just takes another adult in their life to offer a different perspective. Hang in there – you’re doing a great job, even when it doesn’t feel like it!

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