How to cultivate teenage drive is the $64,000 question, and while I am not a parenting expert, I do believe that the secret to motivating a teenager is the relationship. A shared experience can be a powerful agent of connection, and it is that connection that allows an adult to motivate an adolescent.

  1. Collecting Dance. Developmental psychologist Gordon Neufeld explains the “collecting ritual” in his book Hold On To Your Kids. The collecting dance is akin to making a baby smile before picking it up. The same holds true for a teenager: you must catch the eye and establish a connection in order to be a source of motivation.
  2. Enthusiasm. Most teenagers are more interested in their friends than in their parents and the SATs. In fact, the more into the friends they are, the harder it will be to get their attention. A peer-oriented teenager will need more enthusiasm and initiative from the parent to become motivated than one who is oriented toward adults. Given Ethan’s level of peer orientation at the time, I needed to deploy radical enthusiasm.
  3. Parental Involvement. Remain interested and involved, even if your teenager is resistant. I saw with my own eyes that adolescents do better academically when parents are involved beyond monitoring homework, and I believe Neufeld’s work with adolescents confirms my experience.
  4. Invite the Connection. The most potent source of motivation for a teenager is attention and interest in what they are doing. A shared project says that the child matters and is special. The relationship that results from this sustained proximity allows for the parent to act as a compass in the child’s life and to activate motivation.

Read a related post: Motivating a Teenager to Study for the SAT


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