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How to Motivate Your Teenager to Find Employment

"Hi Mark, I am so glad I found your web site, my husband and I have just started reading it and we are putting assignment 1 into place this week. I am actually a stepmother to my husband’s eldest boy (16yrs old) that we have been having terrible trouble with for many years but in the last 2 months things have become quite horrendous. To help you with the overall picture, his two brothers (12yrs & 15yrs) and himself live with us week about, 1 week with his mother and the other week with us and my 11yr daughter lives with us full time.

He is a very bright boy, but school just didn’t interest him and was getting into trouble, didn’t want to go, wouldn’t do any work, unmotivated and incredibly addicted to computer games – exactly what you have outlined in the start of your web site, it explained so much. It’s the old scenario his Dad felt sorry for his kids after the divorce and indulged them way too much, but he did the best he could at the time. He has since left school around 2 months ago, wants to go into the Police Force when he is 21 because in Australia to get into the Police Force you need to finish your Higher School Certificate or have a trade or certificate 3 in some sort of profession.

He is currently working part-time at McDonalds and some weeks only getting 1 shift a week and he feels this is enough and eventually McDonalds will give him a management role which will help get into the Police Force. But he would sit around all day, meet his friends after school and not look for another job. His father has offered him help with his resume, he has offered to take him to different organizations to find work. But he refuses to go. We have taken the internet off him altogether in both houses, because that would encourage him to stay home play computer games and not look for a job. Our question to you is how do we motivate him to work?"


There are many reasons why teenagers lack motivation to do what moms and dads want them to do. (You'll notice they don't lack motivation to do what they want to do, such as talk on the phone, skateboard, shop, party, etc.) For now, I'll mention just a few:

  1. Parents need to be kind and firm while holding teenagers accountable once they have agreed upon a plan. It is just as easy to be kind while reminding as it is to be unkind -- actually it is easier, because everyone feels better and the job gets done without a power struggle.
  1. Kids aren't allowed to explore the relevance for themselves. They are "told," but they don't explore. How many moms and dads "tell" their kids what happened, what caused it to happen, how they should feel about it, and what they should do about it? It is much more effective to ask what and how questions.
  1. Moms and dads are more interested in short-term than long-term results. For example, "I'll make you do your homework now - even if it means you will never do your best because you are too busy rebelling."
  1. Moms and dads don't allow their kids to learn from "failure," which is an excellent motivator. Paradoxically, one of the best ways parents can help kids learn to be responsible (i.e., motivated) is to be consciously irresponsible. Allow them to fail, and then be empathetic and help them explore what happened, how they feel about it, what they learned from it, and what they could do in the future if they want another outcome.
  1. Moms and dads don't help kids learn time management skills through involving them in the creation of routine charts. The key word is "involving them."
  1. Moms and dads don't know how to say, "I love you, and the answer is no."
  1. Moms and dads don't teach their kids problem-solving skills through family meetings and individual barnstorming sessions.
  1. Moms and dads expect teenagers to "remember to do their chores" as though it were an indicator of responsibility. Most responsible adults were not necessarily responsible teenagers. Even though teenagers are "more" motivated to follow a plan they have helped create, they will still forget because it is not high on their list of priorities. This does not mean they are irresponsible. It means they are teenagers. A friendly reminder doesn't have to be a big deal. Use your sense of humor and remind with your mouth shut (e.g., point, use charades, or write a note). If you have to say something, ask, "What did we agree to that you have forgotten?"
  1. Moms and dads give their kids too many privileges and material things and then wonder why they fail to be appreciative -- and instead just want more, more, and more.
  1. Moms and dads "nag" and invite resistance.
  1. Regarding motivation to do chores, work, etc.: Again teenagers are too often “told” instead of “invited to brainstorm” and come up with a solution that works for everyone. Teenagers are much more motivated to follow a plan they have helped create.
  1. Teenagers feel "conditionally loved" (e.g., "I'm okay only if I live up to your expectations"). This hurts and they get revenge by failing to meet parental expectations.

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