How Parents Can Motivate Teens

Notoriously fraught with conflicting interest, relationships between parents and teens require sensitivity -- especially when communicating about tough subjects. Parents may want to motivate teens on numerous topics during this tumultuous stage, with goals including better grades, wiser social choices, applying to colleges, helping around the house or easing into the workforce 2. Because not all teens view their parents as savvy citizens or viable role models, it’s worth trying out several strategies until arriving at a combination that feels authentic for your family situation.


One of the most basic ways parents can motivate teens to action is to model desired behaviors themselves 2. It’s hard to convince a teenager that follow-through is paramount if she can look out the window and see unfinished backyard projects, for example. Motivating teens to be honest citizens will be difficult if they have observed parents being less than forthright in social or business situations. No one is perfect, so aiming for high standards but being honest about personal failings or challenges can be an effective way to build relationships and inspire action.


Entering teen years, adolescents sometimes feel suspicious about being spoon-fed platitudes from adults rather than being invited to participate in authentic, adult conversation. Motivate teens by engaging in conversation about the types of behaviors you would like to see, whether it’s landing an after-school job to help save for college, enrolling in tutoring to boost grades or spending quality time with younger siblings. Know your teen -- pointing to statistics to enhance credibility about the economic viability of a college diploma might be effective with one child. Another teen might appreciate hearing personal anecdotes about overcoming sibling rivalry when you were younger.

Peer Modeling

Parents can also motivate teens by acknowledging the accomplishments of their peers. Keep this positive by avoiding comparisons between high-achieving friends and your own child; this will only create resentment. Don’t just talk up those teens whom you find to be accomplished and appropriate role models; instead, find positive attributes within teens that your child has already selected as friends. Teens will be motivated and encouraged by the accomplishments of other teens they consider social or academic peers.


Sometimes teens stagnate because the idea of meeting too-broad goals feels overwhelming. For example, a teen might feel unmotivated to earn better grades because she doesn’t know where to begin. Helping her break down this large goal into smaller, manageable steps will make the task feel feasible. Create a checklist that includes cleaning out her binder, locating all textbooks and upcoming deadlines, making appointments to meet with teachers to discuss missing assignments and selecting a peer study buddy.

Extrinsic Rewards

Parents always have the option to employ extrinsic rewards to motivate behavior 2. For example, some parents might motivate teens to spend time with the family by planning outings to theme parks 2. Others might offer to pay for car insurance in order to motivate better grades. This strategy has its risks, though. Teens might become unwilling to work toward goals unless tangible rewards are dangled in front of them, and they may not develop important skills such as internal motivation or personal drive 3. Parents opting for this route might require that behavior be sustained over long periods of time. For example, consider offering a preferred summer activity only if grades are maintained throughout the school year.