One of the most difficult challenges facing parents, teachers and coaches is the age old question of motivating teenagers and young adults.
They’re notoriously jaded and can put fear in even the most experienced speakers. Working with this demographic requires some special methods and tactics to be successful.
Here are a couple of strategies I’ve found for motivating teenagers.
Unfortunately with teenagers, it’s all about the time of day.
They’re so finicky that the right idea at the wrong time of day will have no chance of success, but the right idea at the right time of day may very well be a slam dunk.
When motivating teenagers If you can avoid complexities in the morning, it will go great lengths in helping them understand what you’re trying to convey.
It’s unfortunate but true that this generation often doesn’t eat breakfast, and since many teenagers don’t yet drink coffee you might find yourself presenting to an audience of people who have not eaten in 16 hours, slept far less than 8 hours, and are now being presented with complex ideas.
The words “passive aggressive” don’t begin to describe how hostile this situation can be. Often times, an hour or two after lunch is the best time for motivating teenagers and young adults on important matters.
If you’re not flexible about time, you might try some “mind teaser” exercises to help them wake up a little bit instead of diving right in.
Grabbing your audiences attention and keeping it is a foundation of communicating to any audience. Motivating teenagers today is tougher than ever with all the distractions.
On top of constantly worrying about themselves, their peers, and the perception by others, they now have text messaging, angry birds, and the entire internet right in their pocket: this is what you must compete with.
A strong opener with a focus on something related to their lives will go a long way in making sure your topic garners the attention it deserves when motivating teenagers.
Also, varying your pace to outline important elements will help them know when you’re moving to an important idea, and when you’re just getting ready to talk about the next idea.
If possible, ask questions to frame ideas. If you have a particularly jaded audience, make them rhetorical questions.
It’s human nature that even if they don’t answer the question in front of their peers, they’ll be thinking of the answer to themselves, and are now primed for your next point.
This is a prime way of motivating teenagers.
Time and time again you’ll hear people describe their favorite teachers from school, and time and time again you’ll hear those people talk about how that teacher “made it so real” or “related it to what was going on in the world” at the time.
This is one of the ways human innately learn, by looking for patterns. If back in the caveman times you saw a snake bite and kill your friend, chances are you’d be very cautious of an animal that looked different but still has scales.
Today, not much has changed. If you can tie in something experiential to your topic, it will hit home that much harder and go a long way in motivating teenagers.
While reading Julius Casear, a teacher friend of mine asked how he could help engage his class in the dense Shakespearian text.
I haven’t read about the Ides of March for more years than I probably should admit, but I suggested he start his lesson one day by not talking about Caesar, but by talking about betrayal.
After his students dialogued about ways they’d felt betrayed, he’d discovered a simple way of motivating teenagers and his students started into the text with excellent results.
Defining A Win
If you find yourself working with this age group and motivating teenagers, make sure you have lots of patience.
Even if they look like they aren’t listening and your words are falling on deaf ears, or busy thumbs text messaging, it may very well just look that way.
You won’t be able to reach everybody, and you may not win every time, but by using these strategies for motivating teenagers you can hopefully reach more young people than you would have without them, and hopefully make a meaningful difference in their lives because you got them to listen — even if for just a few moments.
James Malinchak is a world renowned motivational speaker and author with a specialty in motivating teenagers.