So many of the parents I’m talking to are struggling with this one. In many cases, their teens are finding it hard to get out of bed, participate in any family or social activities, or look for work. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that they are lazy. And it’s worth saying at this point that some teens might well be lazy and may not yet have grasped the basic concepts of work ethics and work values. It’s a good idea to have these discussions with our children throughout their childhood. I’ll dedicate a post to scripting the kind of conversation to have about work ethics later. But apparent laziness can be a symptom of other issues – sleep deprivation, depression, anxiety, or other internal struggles. If your teen seems to be more sluggish than usual and is displaying other signs of anxiety or a distinct lack of motivation that is out of character find an opportunity to talk to them about it. Try the “walk talk” or the “truck talk” – teenagers are more comfortable talking in situations where there is reduced eye contact such as in the car or whilst out walking. Make an excuse to take them on a longish car journey or go for a hike together.
At some point in their lives, everyone has struggled with finding inspiration, motivation, and energy. Teenagers and young adults are no exception. It is completely understandable why they feel that way. When they finished school, a part of their life – the safe, cocooned childhood part – ended too. Suddenly they are expected to step out into the adult world, get a job, and pursue a career. It’s not helped by the fact that the education system is lagging behind radical changes in how we work so for many they don’t feel prepared for the working world. There is an ever-increasing skills gap between what they learned at school and the skills employers want them to have or the skills necessary to set up a business online. Teens today know a lot of stuff but have little practical skills to apply the theory. For this reason, many young adults deem their skills to be unfit for today’s rapidly changing labour market with its demand for highly advanced technological skills. This is depressing enough for teenagers without the ongoing pandemic which is fuelling the global economic crisis so finding offline jobs is more difficult than ever. I really sympathise with them but on the upside, the internet has lowered the barrier to entry for so many jobs and there are infinite possibilities for learning and ups killing online, much of it free.
I talk about fear of the future and finding work, so they can become independent of their parents, as one element that may be causing your teen stress and in turn causing extreme lethargy. The big question is what do we do about the lethargy (which can look like laziness)?
The psychological issue of motivating teenagers who are lethargic is complex. We’re all motivated by one thing or another. If your son or daughter plays video games all day, then they are motivated – to do just that. And with a roof overhead and food laid on, why should they be motivated to behave like an adult and take responsibility? But fighting with them every day and forcing them to get out of bed, simply won’t get you anywhere. The more frustrated you get, the more resistant they’ll get. We’ve all been there!
But you can help. You likely remember feeling demotivated and lacking energy yourself when you were growing up. I remember quite clearly the fear that would grip me when thinking about what my future would be like. You can use your personal experience to acknowledge your teenager’s feelings, sometimes with just a few words (oh no…) or a sound (mmm…) whilst you hold their hand. Most of the time our teens are not looking for us to solve anything they just want to know we’re there, listening to them and understanding how hard it is to be a teenager! Commiserate with them! Accept their feelings (I really understand how you must feel with Covid and now you’re finished school and your friends are spread around the country, or everything is just so complicated with the pandemic, you don’t know what’s happening with your exams or if that will affect your working life but you know it will be okay, we’ll go through this with you every step of the way) then direct them a little bit, provide guidance (let’s see if there are any ideas we can come up with to normalise this and get you to change how you see it and be excited about the adventure ahead of you).
So, no need for drastic action like kicking your son or daughter out of the house, for example! Try getting to the bottom of the problem instead. Create a situation where you can talk with them (car, walk). Find out what’s the problem. During this conversation, be patient, non-judgmental, and supportive. If you sound short or make like you’re invading their privacy, they may refuse to talk to you. Make them understand that their situation is not bad compared to many. Be straightforward and clear about your expectations and if they’re not participating ask what they would do in your shoes.
In relation to the skills gap and finding work so they can flee the nest, this can be addressed through online training in everything from e-commerce businesses to managing social media, to content writing or podcasting. Much more on this in the coming months. Online jobs are plentiful, and most are low barrier entry so teenagers can learn how to make a living online with little or low investment of their hard-earned pocket money. There are endless opportunities for Gen Zs as long as they know where to look.
Help them to check out online career opportunities and to apply for jobs and volunteering positions. The truth is teenagers’ brains are still growing and developing until they are 24 years of age. They’re kids in adult bodies. I don’t say that so you forgive them everything. There must be standards and the way I insist on standards is to talk about behaving in a responsible way towards each other and towards the environment. Gen Zs are highly aware of and protective of the environment, they get that. So explain that they’re not getting out of bed for you, they’re getting out of bed so they play their part in making society function, by volunteering for a cause or visiting Grandma, or having a job (however small). Take time to research opportunities, to encourage them to master necessary skills via free online courses, look for opportunities to volunteer in the community or do internships or better still apprenticeships.
Finally, if your teenager is behaving way out of character and you feel a total lack of engagement from him or her, like they’re somehow at the end of a long tunnel and way out of your reach, you should seek professional help. We know our children. For the main part, (we hope) we know when something feels not quite right, or they are simply not themselves. A psychiatrist or clinical psychologist can help you. Sometimes it is easier for a teen to confide in someone other than the closest family member or friend. A mental health professional might help them open up about their ongoing struggles. Once they face their fears through conversation, they can work together with the psychologist or psychiatrist to come up with an effective plan of action. When dealing with mental health issues, you’ll need to forget about being a parent and become a mental health professional yourself. With the help of the psychologist you can work out the very specific scripts you can use (you’ll have to master certain skills here), specific words and phrases and utterances of encouragement. Your constant support and encouragement are crucial. Your son or daughter will be building up their self-confidence and needing someone to draw inspiration from. As the parent, you can make sure he or she has the wind at their back.
Remember there’s no such thing as a perfect parent, just an effective, empowering one.