by Franco Soldi
Let’s start with the fact that it’s impossible to motivate a teenager. Seriously, it’s impossible to motivate anyone, regardless of their age, gender, race or socioeconomic status. All motivation is self-motivation.
But that said: How can we help our teen children begin the process of self-motivation?
Let’s start with some questions: where does motivation come from?
Let’s think for a moment about the two environments where our kids spend the most of their time: at school and at home.
What happens at school?
Unfortunately, we have a broken educational system. How we grade and evaluate student performance is perhaps the most critical and most harmful process our kids are exposed to from the time they enter school.
The system is very simple. You either earn a percentage out of 100, a number of out 10, or a letter grade. You start with the best grade and from there, every mistake you make loses you points.
Late for class – lose half a letter grade. Didn’t follow instructions just so – red ink and fewer points. Not able to explain the material like it was taught it in class – minus 5 points.
Where do you think exposing our kids to this kind of process on a regular basis will take them? Do you think this motivates them? This process, instead of motivating, provokes fear and ultimately inaction.
I’d rather not do it, not say it, or take the risk. I’m not going to do that or they’ll dock my grade.
How am I going to want to do something again? What if I make a mistake? What if I do something that wasn’t asked of me? What if I do something differently from the way the teacher described?
Dad, I can’t do it that way. The teacher told me to do it this way. I have no choice.
How many times have you heard something similar? I remember when a teacher gave my daughter a 90 instead of 100. It wasn’t because she did something wrong in her work, but because she used pink sticky notes instead of the regular yellow sticky notes the teacher said she wanted her to use. I wanted to use the pink sticky notes, dad, because I thought it looked better that way. WOW! 10 points docked for that. Docked points for “thinking” and for taking initiative. For trying to make things look better. And don’t we want kids to be able to think critically?
It’s not the grade that really ends up damaged here. What is really damaged is the possibility that my daughter will want to try to do something differently with the intention of wanting to achieve a better result. What is lost is creativity, incentive, and most certainly motivation.
Can you imagine the impact these types of situations, repeated over and over again, must have on our kids throughout the 12+ years of grade school?
In contrast, do you know what they use in business and in marketing to motivate buyers? Upgrades. What industry is an expert in upgrades? The gaming industry—and that’s why games are so addictive.
In one game, I start the game as a typical Greek warrior. With each challenge, fight, and mission accomplished, I get upgrades: new weapons, powers, and skills that transform me from a typical warrior to a real legend, just like in Homer’s famous epic. I can successfully finish the game and still be motivated to play again simply because I haven’t gotten 100% of the upgrades. I have the green credit card—I want the silver one, then the gold one, then platinum of course, and now, OMG….the black card. Upgrades.
Upgrades are synonymous with growth, development and future expectation. Upgrades spark a lot of motivation.
And…what happens at home?
The numbers showing how little parents and their teenage children communicate are terrifying. In the U.S., a teenager is exposed to about 40 hours of screen-time a week compared to 7 minutes of conversation with their parents.
WOW!!! How did we manage that? What’s the impact?
And sadly, when parents and children do actually speak with one another the word that stands out the most is NO. Our precious time is spent on correction and discipline, but does that spark any motivation? At school they dock my grade every time I make a mistake and at home they come down on me too no matter what I do.
Motivation comes from expectation—an expectation for future improvements. The possibility to keep discovering who you are and becoming good at what excites you. The possibility that you’re going to make the best of life with all the potential upgrades, skills, and “weapons” that you’ll acquire every time you meet a goal or overcome a challenge. But you to do this you have to play “the game.”
Do you want to motivate your child? Begin by asking yourself the following questions:
What can you do to put them into a situation that will push them to discover who they are?
What can you do to help them discover what their potential is and what they can do with this potential in the future?
There are as many answers as there are teenagers and parents in the world, but my recommendation is this: TIME. Quality time where you son or daughter can face challenges that will help them discover little by little who they are and where they want to go. These challenges could be problems they work on in your company and with your advice. Challenges that will help them figure out what they’re good at and how they can get even better at it. Experiences that will help them find possible “upgrades,” but require them to come up with a strategy to find their rewards.
The time you spend doing things with them can help them realize that their future is right around the corner, and that the future can be exciting and full of adventure. And if they play their cards well, they might end up becoming a “true legend” in their own life story. This is the expectation that can start the ignition…that’s motivation.
So what kinds of activities are these? That’s a subject for another blog post, but in the meantime, use your imagination. Venture into your kid’s world and from there, offer up activities and different things to do that could bring them closer to the professional world of adults (for example, the world of business, or law, or communication, or marketing). Enhance their experience with activities that will help them discover their energy levels and emotions through sports and art. But be sure to do it together—you with them, and them with you.
This is time invested in your kids, and it is highly valuable. In the process, you might even make your own self-realizations that will bring you and your relationship with your kids to a whole new level. And you both might get a new valuable upgrade in life.