Motivating Adolescents

This was written as part of a project developing a handout for parents of teenagers in a pediatric practice. This was partially written with the parents of the specific patient population in mind, although the studies referenced weren’t. See those at the end.


Helping your adolescent become or stay motivated is one of the biggest challenges of parenthood and has been the subject of much research. Below are a few things to keep in mind as you tackle this part of the growth process.


Focus on the process and not the results. It is easier to motivate to learn than to achieve certain grades.

Be patient, sensitive and understanding. Spend time listening.

Allow and encourage lots of physical activity. Pent up energy may be displayed as frustration and the inability to concentrate.

Explain the “why” behind studying. Focus on short term rewards that adolescents can understand. For instance, studying hard now means they don’t have to spend their time cramming later.

Enlist the help of a mentor. This may be a cousin, aunt or other friend of the family. This helps them let go of the stress of peer pressure.

Start with small goals and habit building. Use weekly and monthly goals to help them learn time management. Allow them to achieve success regularly.

Help them concentrate on the task at hand rather than worry about failing.

What adults see as “laziness” is most often a sign of frustration, low self esteem and being accustomed to failure.

Help them learn that ability is something that can be developed through practice, and does not exist at a fixed level.

Stay in close contact with teachers.

Give your teen healthy food and lots of sleep.

Show your confidence in them. 


Tell them how important a particular lesson will be in life. Instead, help them live this one week powerfully.

Compare them to other students. Help them achieve to the best of their ability. Adolescents are already self-conscious enough. Provide feedback in terms of their own level of development.

Try to control them. Intead, help facilitate their decision making. Help them arrive at their own healthy life decisions.

Criticize. Act more as a resource and less as a judge. React to errors as natural, useful parts of the learning process and not as a sign of failure.

Bribe or punish. These are quick fixes but do not encourage internal motivation.

Tell them what they’re feeling and thinking, even if it’s accurate.

Spend time working on weakness without identifying and using strengths.

Belittle their response to stressors.

Use sarcasm.


Whether a teen shows it or not, what they most want is their parent’s approval. You are their greatest champion.


Brophy, J. E. (1998). Failure syndrome students. Champaign, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education, University of Illinois.

Ames, C. (1987). The enhancement of student motivation. In M. Maehr & D. Kleiber (Eds.), ADVANCES IN MOTIVATION AND ACHIEVEMENT: VOL. 5. ENHANCING MOTIVATION (pp. 123-148). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

Dutta, D. (2019, January 14). 20 Ways To Motivate Your Teenager To Study. Retrieved February 4, 2020, from

Dweck, C., & Elliott, E. (1983). Achievement motivation. In P. Mussen (Ed.), HANDBOOK OF CHILD PSYCHOLOGY. VOL. 4. SOCIALIZATION, PERSONALITY, AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT (pp. 643-691). New York: Wiley.

Wormelli, R. (2014). Motivating Young Adolescents. Educational Leadership, 72(1), 26–31. Retrieved from