How to Motivate a Teen Who Is Not Trusting

By Anna Green
Motivating a teen and earning her trust both require consistent communication.
Motivating a teen and earning her trust both require consistent communication.

When a teen is mistrustful of parents and authority figures, it can be difficult to motivate her to make good choices and achieve her maximum potential. Thus, motivating a teen who is not trusting involves both regaining the teen’s trust and helping her look at her behaviors in the larger context of her goals and life plans. Ultimately, to both motivate a teen and build up a trusting relationship with her, the parent and the teenager need to communicate regularly.

Display respect for the teen while still emphasizing the importance of achievement, taking into consideration the teen’s personal goals and desires. Social worker James Lehman of Empowering Parents suggests motivating teens by focusing on their wants and goals. He suggests that if a teen’s goal is to get a car, parents might broach conversations about motivation in terms of what behaviors the teenager will need to display before he can get that car.

Show a caring attitude. In his book “The Good Enough Teen,” child psychologist Brad Sachs explains that when teens say things such as “you do not love me,” they may actually be articulating fear that their parents do not understand them. To foster trust and motivate a teen, parents can address these insecurities by demonstrating a caring attitude and genuine interest in the teen’s needs and feelings. Further, by setting realistic expectations of the child and accepting his failures as well as successes, parents can foster both trust and motivation.

Use positive reinforcement for appropriate, motivated behaviors, which can be vital to building trust with teens, states Megan Vivo of Aspen Education Group. She explains that building trust can take time and might be marked with setbacks. “Ups and downs are all important parts of the process, and even small failures can result in stronger bonds,” says Vivo. Thus, praising a teen’s efforts, even if they are minimal, can go a long way in rebuilding trust and fostering motivation.

Pick your battles and roll with resistance. From a developmental perspective, it is normal for teens to test limits. Sometimes, this involves being argumentative with parents and authority figures. When trying to motivate a teen who is not trusting, engaging with the teen in arguments and power struggles often does little good to either build trust or motivate the child. Given this, parents may want to pick their battles carefully and “roll with resistance,” explains David Maxfield, author of “Influencer: The Power to Change Anything.” “If your daughter takes a position on one side, don’t rise to the bait and take the other side,” states Maxfield. “That would turn your conversation into an argument. Instead, roll with her resistance -- reflect back what she has said.” Such techniques validate the teen’s perspective and may encourage her to consider other perspectives.


If you are unable to communicate with your teen without arguing, family counseling can be a good step in rebuilding the parent-child relationship.

About the Author

Anna Green has been published in the "Journal of Counselor Education and Supervision" and has been featured regularly in "Counseling News and Notes," Keys Weekly newspapers, "Travel Host Magazine" and "Travel South." After earning degrees in political science and English, she attended law school, then earned her master's of science in mental health counseling. She is the founder of a nonprofit mental health group and personal coaching service.