“I cannot believe you have procrastinated again. What will ever become of you?” “How many times have I told you to get your homework done? Why can’t you be more like your brother?”  “You keep wasting all your time on social media. You should be ashamed of yourself!” “What will become of you if you can’t do the simplest things?” 

It’s a rare person who doesn’t procrastinate from time to time especially when facing a task we don’t want to do. If someone made comments like this to you when you were struggling with getting your work done, how would it make you feel? Would it motivate you to get your work done or would it leave you more discouraged than before? Think of someone who has motivated you. What did this person do that was different? Probably, that person was encouraging and this engendered positive feelings. Teens respond in the same way: they usually do better when they feel good about themselves. 

So how can you motivate a teen who keeps putting things off? Here are some useful tips: 

  • Use encouragement instead of criticism. It is a big mistake to think that using criticism will motivate your child. Criticism might only further discourage your child and only further demotivate them. Instead, discuss possible areas of improvement with questions like “In what areas do you think you are doing well? In what areas do you think you need improvement?” This can provide a starting point for discussing ways to move ahead.
  • Use encouragement instead of praise. Praise may appear to help teens improve their behavior but the long-term effects are that they become reliant on approval from others, often becoming ‘pleasers’. Using encouragement, on the other hand, invites self-confidence and independence. Instead of saying,”You are so smart!” say, “You gave it your best. I’m proud of how hard you worked on this.”
  • Listen without judgment and validate their feelings. Teens want to be heard. Listen to them and hear them out. Help them brainstorm solutions to problems but don’t solve the problems for them. Allowing them opportunities to work through their issues helps them develop important life skills.
  • Teach your teen that mistakes are opportunities for learning. Teens can be very critical of themselves when they don’t achieve their goals or meet their expectations. Many teens are particularly sensitive to their perceived faults as this is a time when they are feeling more self-conscious. Consider sharing examples of times in your life when you made mistakes and learnt from them.

If you want to read more about how to motivate a teen by Jane Nelson and Lynn Lott click here. Also consider reading Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen, which is a book that talks about how we can use kindness and firmness to encourage our children.



Nelsen, J. (2006). Positive discipline: A classic guide to helping children develop self-discipline, responsibility, cooperation, and problem-solving skills. Ballantine.