Helping Your Teenage Son Stay Motivated
One of the unfortunate stereotypes about teenage boys is that they are unmotivated. You’ve likely heard all the negative descriptions. I hear them in my therapy office all the time. “My teenage son is self-centered”. “My teenager is lazy.” “My teen only wants to play video games and eat snacks all day.” “My teenage guy doesn’t care about his future!” While some teenage boys struggle with motivation, most are like the rest of us and are simply trying to figure out what gets them going in life. In my experience, teenage boys struggle with motivation due to negative beliefs they have about themselves and because they have not quite learned the difference between internal and external motivation.
Negative Beliefs Impact Motivation
Every teenage boy has core beliefs that determine how he sees himself, other people, the world around him and his future. These core beliefs come from many different places including family values, society and his own inner critical perspective. While many of these core beliefs can be positive and healthy, some tend to be negative and unhealthy. Core beliefs usually operate beneath the surface. Think of an iceberg. About 5% of the ice is above the surface of the water. The remainder (95%) is below the surface. While your teenage son may rarely express the core belief that he’s not intelligent, that belief influences how he views himself, how he interacts with his peers and how he performs at school.
Negative core beliefs impact a teenage boy’s motivation. Here is a list of three common negative core beliefs that I see affecting a guy’s level of motivation:
- Nothing I do really matters: I hear this all the time in therapy. My teenage clients grew up watching superhero movies where a single person overcomes an obstacle and saves the world! Many of them are on a steady diet of watching YouTubers climb in their number of subscribers, income and cultural influence. Their negative core belief that nothing they do really matters is often linked to a belief that they are insignificant. The way I address this belief in therapy is to break things down and try to get them to see that their actions do have an impact on their friends, family and even pets. If they did not feed their dog, eventually they’d get sick and die! Helping a teenage boy see that what he does (or doesn’t do) has a real impact on important aspects of his life begins to challenge this core negative belief.
- I am not intelligent: This is one of the most common core beliefs I encounter. Even if your son is very smart, a competitive high school environment can reinforce this core belief. Once a teenage boy starts to believe this about himself, he will struggle to put in the effort we all know he’s capable of when it comes to school work. This core belief is usually reinforced by a belief that intelligence is something static; intelligence as a trait that someone is born with and cannot grow or improve. The way to challenge this core belief is to help the teenage boy see that intelligence is something more malleable; intelligence is something that can grow and develop over time with the right effort and persistence.
- Mistakes are failures: Teenage boys who struggle with anxiety often get stuck in this negative core belief. They make a poor grade on a quiz or paper and they see themselves as failures. They make a bad decision with a friend or girlfriend and they beat themselves up for being a “screw up”. This core belief results in a quite a bit of fear about the future. Teenage boys worry that a low SAT score or broken relationship will be catastrophic and prevent them from moving forward in life. Therapy can help address this belief by challenging its fundamental assumption. Instead of seeing mistakes as failures, what if a mistake is an opportunity to learn and grow?
Internal vs External Motivation
Teenage boys can struggle with motivation when they have not adequately grasped the difference between internal and external motivation. External motivation is when someone is motivated to perform an activity for a reward or to avoid punishment. A teen boy is externally motivated when he works hard to complete an assignment so he can get the best grade in the class. He is externally motivated when he tells his parents the truth about the senior party because he does not want to get his phone taken away for a week. Internal motivation is when someone performs an activity for its own sake and for personal meaning and fulfillment. A teen guy is internally motivated when he works hard to complete an assignment because he enjoys the subject or wants to improve his score from the last one. He is internally motivated to tell his parents about the senior party because he values honesty and wants to maintain trust with his parents.
We should encourage our teenage boys to find the right balance of external and internal motivation. In a perfect world maybe we could all operate out of an internal motivation compass. However, we do not live in a perfect world and sometimes we have to act in a way that takes into consideration things like grades, a salary and negative consequences.
In therapy I find that boys appear to be unmotivated when most of what they are required to do has been presented to them in an external motivation framework. Many of them are struggling to complete their assignments because they’ve been trained to see school as an opportunity to make good grades rather than an environment of learning. Teenage athletes lose interest in their favorite sport because what once brought them intrinsic joy and excitement is now something they feel their coach or parents are expecting them to do. Helping our teenage guys understand the importance of internal motivation can help them reconnect with their passions and propel them to stay the course even when it’s difficult.
3 Ways To Help Your Teenage Son Stay Motivated
Explore their ikigai
The Japanese have a word ikigai (pronounced Ick-ee-guy) that roughly means “the reason for getting out of bed in the morning.” According to Hector Garcia, author of Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, a person’s ikigai is found at the intersection of what:
- You love
- What you are good at
- What the world needs
- What you can get paid for
Exploring your teenage son’s ikigai means that you encourage him to reflect on these four areas. Instead of simply encouraging him to make the most amount of money or simply doing what he loves, you can challenge him to wrestle with what he can be doing that both fits his passions/strengths as well as paying the bills.
Praise his effort (in addition to his traits)
If we simply praise our teen’s positive traits, they may develop the core belief that personal value is dependent on success or performance. The other side of that belief is that mistakes and setbacks are signs that he is not valuable or worthy. Acknowledging and rewarding your son’s effort reinforces the positive core belief that intelligence and ability are things we can work on and feel better about over time.
Encourage them to be proud of themselves
In order to reinforce the importance of internal motivation, parents and teachers can begin to ask teenage boys if they are proud of their own actions and behaviors. If your guy hits a homerun during the game, ask him if he’s proud of himself for that instead of simply telling him he did a good job. If your son doesn’t do well on a math test, you might try asking him if he’s proud of the grade. Asking these sorts of questions can create an opportunity for your son to really consider what’s important to him and even to explore ways of improving the situation in the future.
Counseling Can Help
The goal of CBT is to help the client change the patterns of thinking or behavior that are contributing to the lack of motivation. CBT is based on the theory that events in themselves are not what upset us but rather the meaning we attribute to these events. Most of us have an internal dialogue in our heads, as though we were talking to ourselves. The tone of this inner dialogue is extremely critical and the perspective usually negative. CBT is useful because it helps the person understand what is happening in their mind. It helps the person step outside the cycle of automatic thoughts and question whether their thoughts are actually true or useful. CBT would encourage your teenage son to identify their negative core beliefs, challenge and reframe them and develop a behavioral plan for that would help increase their motivation.
Counseling is a financial and time commitment, but it pays off. Many teen guys find relief and build coping skills that can last a lifetime when they seek out professional help. Please do not hesitate to reach out today and call for help!
Begin Counseling at Our Center in Katy, TX
If you are ready to help your teenage boy manage his negative thoughts, the therapists at The Center at Cinco Ranch can help! To begin counseling in Katy, TX, follow these three steps:
- Contact our office to set up an appointment or to get more information about CBT.
- Meet with one of our skilled therapists
- Start taking control of your thoughts and experience greater freedom.
Other Counseling Services: Other Services at the Counseling Center at Cinco Ranch
Our counseling services at The Counseling Center at Cinco Ranch include counseling for children and adolescents dealing with depression, self-injury, and school issues. We also provide services for family therapy, counseling for young adults, trauma counseling, anxiety treatment, couples counseling, eating disorder treatment, and group counseling. Our therapists strive to regularly post blogs with helpful information on a variety of mental health topics. To learn more about our therapists and our counseling services, please reach out to the Center today!