How to Get Apathetic Teenagers to be Engaged

While a certain amount of apathy is considered typical teenage behavior, it can be trying when your child shrugs off questions about school, activities or future plans with a "who cares?" or "I dunno." Your teen's apathetic attitude can be even more frustrating if he rejects spending time with family, loses interest in schoolwork, or stops participating in activities that used to interest him. However, because teens can use apathy to mask larger issues, you'll want to find out what's causing this behavior, and then create a plan to overcome it.

Talk to your teen. If your teen's apathy has been brewing for a while, the first step is to open the lines of communication. Ask him what's frustrating or bothering him. According to an article in "Psychology Today," teenagers use apathy to express their indifference about the world around them or, in other cases, their self-centeredness. However, they can also use apathy as a defense or to mask an underlying issue, such as defiance, boredom or substance abuse. Whatever the case, be patient and open-minded when speaking with him, and eliminate distractions: put away the smart phones, turn off the TV and just let him talk.

Take baby steps. Depending on the reasons for his apathy, your teen might not be willing to open up the first time you try to talk with him. Don't give up. Instead, try approaching the matter periodically -- being careful not to nag-- and continue to let him know you'll be ready to listen when he's ready to talk. Don't assign ultimatums because they can backfire and lead to more defiance. Instead of telling him, "You'll come to Aunt Sarah's with us or else," try telling him, "I'd really enjoy having you come with us when we go to visit Aunt Sarah. She'd be happy to see you." You could even offer non-material incentives if he agrees, such as staying out a little later on a weekend or letting him skip a chore or two for the week. By continually offering encouragement and praise when he agrees to participate in a family outing or event, he might -- gasp! -- start to enjoy himself and offer to participate on his own, without prompting.

Talk with his teachers. If he attends a traditional high school, your teen probably spends 35 to 40 hours of his life at school each week. As such, his teachers might be able to help you root out the cause of his apathy, especially if he's struggling in a particular subject. Perhaps he's being bullied by students in the class; perhaps he's asking a number of questions, skipping homework or failing tests and not quite understanding the subject; or perhaps he's sleeping through class and not paying attention at all. If the problem seems to encompass more than one class, talk to his guidance counselor, who could set up a meeting with all of his teachers to discuss his attitude and behavior in class.

Seek professional help. If your efforts to motivate your teen don't seem to be helping, it may be time to seek professional help. According to an article in "Psychology Today," apathy can also be a sign of depression, especially if your child has recently experienced a traumatic event or loss 1. In that case, your child might feel hopeless or feel as though his life has no point, which likely requires professional counseling to get him back on track.


If your teen's apathetic statements sound even remotely suicidal -- for instance, if he says that he wishes he was dead, or that he feels like dying -- seek immediate help from a medical professional.