Motivating Teens: Developing Self-Determination

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How do You Motivate Teens? Teens Need Self-Determination!

What is self-determination? When we act with self-determination, we  rely on our own “natural” or “intrinsic” tendency to behave in ways that help us to be effective.  When people are intrinsically motivated, they do things because they are personally interested or enjoy what they are doing. When someone is extrinsically motivated, they will only participate in something because they believe they will get some sort of  external incentive or reward.

Why is self-determination important for teens? Parents, educators, or other professionals living or working with teens get to see adolescent decision-making in action everyday.  Self-determination is one of the biggest factors feeding their ability to make healthy choices.   Clearly, we want teens to make healthy choices, and we want them to have the strength to stand up for their convictions in the face of pressure. Research tells us that self-determined teens know what they want and how to get there. They know how to choose among different alternatives.

Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, founders of Self-Determination Theory, shared the following statement:

“When self-determined, people experience a sense of freedom to do what is interesting, personally important, and vitalizing.”

How does this statement apply to you? The teens in your life?  First, think of your own life….do you find yourself only doing things that you think are interesting, personally important, or vitalizing?  The answer is probably “no“. But, does that mean that you are not internally motivated or self-determined. The answer to that is also probably “no”. Internal motivation is not always linked directly to the specific act or event.  Often times we engage in different tasks or activities because they are “means to an end”.  I bet we can all think of times when we did something that we were not all that interested in, so that we could do the things we were interested in. Let’s say you want to go to Paris, but you are terrified of flying.  Sometimes you have to get on your plane to get to your destination.  Now, let think about teens.  Teens can be more spontaneous then adults.  They love to live in the moment and are passionate about the things that are important to them.  They too sometimes have to jump through hoops in order to do the things they like.  Maybe it is a teen finishing house chores Saturday morning in order to go to the party Saturday night, or maybe it is finishing high school math in order to be accepted to a liberal arts college.  The motivation to do chores or finish math does not necessarily come from internal interest or enjoyment in chores and math. Instead it comes from the desire to achieve a larger goal.

Motivation Tip: Help teens find purpose in their lives. Work with them to make the connections between what they want and what they have to do to get it.  While it may seem obvious to adults, teens need help seeing the linkages and understanding the larger picture.

Help them see relevance and work toward their goals!

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