How to Motivate Your Apathetic Teen
I would say across the board with my friends, my homeschool circles, and social media groups parenting teens is the most talked about subject. I admit, I have Googled the very title of this post myself, at least once. I am sorry to say that Google did not supply a quick answer for me like it did when I asked: “how do I get silly putty out of hair?” or “how to get the pee smell out of my bathroom.” #momofboys
Google: “how do I motivate my apathetic teen?”
The answers varied. But, none of them worked. Trust me, I tried.
I remember finding myself smack dab in the middle of this conundrum about 3 years ago.My then 12-y-r old son, Jayden, went from being not especially jazzed about being homeschooled, but still finishing his work in a semi-neat and timely fashion (in order to get his promised 1 hour of Minecraft) to suddenly NOTHING motivating the boy. It was like waking a dead person every morning, and by morning I mean 10:30. I tried everything in an effort to get him excited about learning, nothing moved him. I was researching learning styles, buying Lego themed curriculum, and switching to computer based programs to appeal to his techy nature.
Zero appreciation for my effort, and no spark was lit in his heart.
We went two long years on this road. It was sucking the joy out of my day and our homeschool. Every single day felt like a trip to the dentist for a root canal. My husband would talk to him. We prayed about. I had no answers. I was concerned about his future. He had no desire to learn. And he really just didn’t care. I was uncertain what happened to my curious little boy who was obsessed with John Deer tractors and random fascinating science facts.
As I thought back to the days when Jayden was little I remembered another difficult season. I was 6 months pregnant with my 3rd child, and had spent the entirety of my pregnancy with extreme nausea. I had a two-year-old and Jayden was about to turn four, and he was still not potty trained. I was obsessed with getting him trained. For one thing, he was about to start a preschool that required he be fully potty trained. Secondly, I was about to have to buy three sizes of diapers! I bribed, I begged, I pleaded, I cried. Jayden wanted to please me, but the accidents kept occurring. With my gag reflex and frustration at its peak, I was done. I finally realized, the more I wanted it, the less he did. Something about the pressure and expectation were too much for him.
I can look back now and see that God’s grace gave me a glance into the window of Jayden’s heart. Somehow, I was able to relax, let it go, and just like that Jayden “got it.” Like someone turned a switch on, he was potty trained.
I decided to try the same approach with his teen apathy. I could see the more I wanted it the less he did. So, I let it go. My fears, my worry, my expectation, my stress, all of them. In a moment of clarity and sheer desperation, I whispered to God to take them. I sat at breakfast the next morning with Jayden and instead of going through all his required assignments and chores for the day, we just talked. We began a conversation about our identities in Christ. I shared a few verses I read and told him what God says about him.
You are holy.
He delights in you.
You walk in His favor.
I looked up to see his eyes full of tears.
Oh. My heart.
That moment I saw how Jayden was struggling. I completely backed off the nagging and constantly asking about assignments and what he needed to accomplish for the day. I just trusted him, and I told him that. At an age where he was trying to figure out who he is, what he really needed to hear who God says he is.
Jayden began asking to attend public school late last year. We had much discussion and prayer about it. It was a decision we did not take lightly. Jayden was the reason we began homeschooling. At the time he needed something that he could not get in public school. And for 6 wonderful years I gave that to him. But, now he needed something else. I am so thankful for the ability to choose and make the best choice for each of my kids as individuals.
If it seems like I am giving you a simple answer that will work for all your teenage woes, I am not. I am only telling you what worked for my ONE teen. Something that may not work for the teen in my house that is right on the heels of Jayden. God is prying my hands off, one finger at a time. He is showing me my worry and stress change nothing. He is teaching me to trust and rest in Him. I know it’s easy to say, and much harder to do. Sometimes the work of letting go can feel harder than the work of holding on.
But, the release is so freeing.
I read somewhere recently that a caterpillar’s DNA is actually that of a butterfly. Before it is transformed externally, it has all the coding it needs to be what it is created to be. It has a dormant stage where it does nothing but rest while the changes take place. No amount of worry, or sleepless nights will speed the process.
Jayden is flourishing in high school. He is very motivated without one word from me. He is able to play baseball, which he loves. I cannot explain the peace I have with Jayden’s future. It is beyond understanding, God’s peace. He is with Jayden and He loves him more than I can even imagine. My prayer is that Jayden will always know this too. I pray his motivation always comes from who he is in Christ and not what my expectation is or what the world says.
Ephesians 3:16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Enter His Rest.
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