Seeking motivation and responsibility?

When I write and speak about the stress the college admissions process causes families, I often hear from earnest parents who wish their student felt a little bit more of it. Some kids avoid the stress better than others. But some do it to the point of not engaging in the process. And that’s when parents express concerns like:

We just can’t seem to get him motivated.

I wish she’d take some responsibility so I’m not the only one thinking about college

I don’t have a quick and easy solution for this. But I can say that it’s hard for kids—and adults, for that matter—to find deep motivation around subjects or activities that are mandated to them. The motivation is much more likely to come when we have some influence over what we let into our lives. And if we’re given some leeway to choose, it’s natural for us to take responsibility for those choices. Kids can’t blame the consequences of their choices on Mom and Dad.

I’m not suggesting parents remove all semblance of expectations and limits. It’s your job to set those.

But if you have a student who spends most of his time after school watching TV, it’s unlikely that enrolling him in an activity of your choice will light a pre-college fire under him. Instead, set your limits, but offer him the choice.

“You can make your own choices around what to do after school. But it can’t be six straight hours of television in your room. If you make that choice too many days in a row, the TV has got to go. The same goes for playing on your phone, by the way.”

Does this guarantee he’ll go out and get a job, or volunteer, or do something else that you, colleges, and the world would approve of? Not necessarily. But you’re a lot closer to some semblance of that outcome without the TV blocking the path. He’ll make the choice he’s motivated to make. And he’ll have to take responsibility for that choice.