As the parent of a teenager, the words “I don’t care” may sound like fingernails on a chalkboard by now. Feigned apathy is teenager 101. Seeing your teen laying around the house, doing nothing, is bad enough, but when they tell you they don’t care about schoolwork, chores, or even the activities that they used to enjoy, it can be really frightening. But what does it mean? Do they really lack motivation? Or are they actually trying to tell you something else? Most importantly, is it something that you can fix, or is this actually a sign of something more severe?
It’s easy to think that your adolescent son or daughter is lazy. Fortunately, this is probably not the case. It’s also easy to forget that they’re in a transitional phase in life. They’ve lost interest in their childhood activities and aren’t really involved yet in adult activities. They’re in a kind of free-time limbo.
Tell Them WHY
Teenagers question and debate things — this is perfectly natural. It’s not always fun for you, the parent, but it’s a part of growing up. It’s not enough for you to tell your child to do something, and it’s not enough that it’s required by a teacher. They need to know why. “Because I said so” is not a legitimate answer — if anything, that answer will draw stronger resistance. If you can express the real value of the task, it will be much easier to convince your teen to try to accomplish it. Put it into their terms — explain how it will benefit THEM.
Another reason that teens push back is that the teen feels that the task is designed for the parents’ convenience. This situation actually presents an opportunity for the parent to not only motivate the adolescent, but to make a connection. Ask the teen for input regarding the task. If you engage the teen by giving them a say in what they do, they’ll take ownership of the task. For example, rather than just assigning chores, give them several choices of the chores they can do. It also helps to let them set their own deadlines — allow them to do their chores when they want to do them, but stick to a schedule that they set.
Let Them Fail
One of the pitfalls of parenting that is so easy to fall into is the mistake of always fixing things when they go wrong. If you’re always there to pick up the pieces when your teen makes a mistake, they’ll learn that they never really have to do anything. Why bother doing homework if Mom will do it for me? This last motivational tool may be the most difficult — let them fail. Give your son or daughter a taste of what happens when they blow off studying for a test. Let them know the disappointment of failing a class. Then talk to them about the rewards of accomplishing something on their own. It’s a tough thing to do, but sometimes letting your child make a mistake is the best way to teach them not to do it again.
Should I Be More Concerned?
An adolescent lacking motivation for things like schoolwork and chores however unpleasant, is completely normal. Adolescents are in a difficult part of their development, and real motivation can be difficult to find. The danger, however, is that you have a legitimately depressed teen. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the signs of depression include:
1.Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
2.Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
3.Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
4.Irritability and restlessness
5.Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable
6.Fatigue and decreased energy
7.Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
8.Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
9.Change in appetite
10.Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
11.Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems
If your teen is experiencing one or more of these symptoms, the problem is more than just a lack of motivation. You need to sit down and talk with them, one-on-one. Try to get to the root of the depression. You should also make an appointment to see a physician who can determine the severity of the problem and recommend treatment. It may sound like a big jump, but depression is a serious problem, and the sooner it’s treated, the less likely it is to have lasting effects.