Parents often complain that their sons and daughters aren’t reaching their full potential. They know they’re capable of much more, but they don’t know how to motivate them to go for it. The truth is, it’s very difficult for parents to motivate their kids.
The single biggest reason parents find it a challenge to motivate their kids is that motivation is intrinsic; it comes from within. Parents — or teachers, for that matter — can’t force a young person to get motivated. The more they try, the more resistance they receive.
Of course, there’s the proverbial carrot on the stick approach. “If you get better grades, you can earn a ___.” Incentives, or bribes, go only so far for so long.
So what does get a student motivated?
Our experience at SuperCamp’s summer enrichment program and in our in-school Quantum Learning for Students programs has shown us that confidence precedes motivation. A young person, or an adult, who is fearful is less likely to be motivated to pursue a goal.
That’s why at SuperCamp, we create several “mini-success moments” for each camper over the course of the seven-day and 10-day programs. The mini-successes don’t have to be grand, and more often “success” is defined by the effort or attempt rather than the achievement of a goal.
In time, the camper begins to feel more confident and is willing to step outside his or her personal comfort zone. In fact, another way of building our campers’ confidence is by providing them with multiple opportunities to move outside their comfort zones. The more they do so without experiencing pain, rejection or failure, the more confident they become.
In turn, this confidence breeds a desire to try new things and accomplish more. Before you know it, the young person is more motivated, and the motivation has come from within.
Another tactic we use at our academic summer camps to help young people gain motivation is to position challenges and opportunities in the context of what the end benefit is for them. At SuperCamp, we call this strategy WIIFM (what’s in it for me).
Teens and pre-teens are so into instant gratification that it’s hard for them to see the big picture. So when a parent can calmly — without lecturing — open a young person’s eyes to the longer-term benefit of accomplishing a task, there’s a much better chance for the intrinsic motivation to kick in.
Of course, feeling passionate about achieving a goal is a big part of becoming motivated, as is feeling equally passionate about overcoming any obstacles that stand in the way.
At our teen summer camps, we stage an event near the end of the 10-day session that helps students identify an important life goal and mentally break through their biggest barrier to achieving the goal.
We pass around 12-inch-by-12-inch pine boards and markers. We tell campers that this activity is not about breaking a piece of wood. It’s a metaphor about life. It’s about how you can get what you want in your life. It’s about breaking barriers to grab on to your goals. Today is about going for it no matter what.
They have the power to break through any barrier. It has nothing to do with body size or physical condition. The skinniest, smallest teens will break through the board almost as easily as the hulking, muscular ones.
Campers can’t just walk in off the street and accomplish this feat, no more than parents can motivate their son or daughter with a pep talk. That’s why we put it close to the end of the session. By now they have a much higher level of confidence and focus than they had when they arrived.
We talk to the campers about the reasons they might have had for not reaching their goals in the past. Maybe they got lazy and decided it wasn’t worth the effort. Maybe they failed and let their fear of failure hold them back. But this exercise is about putting the past where it belongs. Today is about making new choices.
By this point in the program, they’ve all chosen a goal to pursue. We ask them to think of the goal they’ve set for themselves. We ask them to envision achieving that goal, to make it a reality. Then they write their goals on the boards.
When they’re finished, we ask them to flip the boards over.
“Where is your goal?”
“Under the board.”
“This board is the obstacle that has come between you and your dreams. What is it that’s holding you back from what you really want? Get honest. Get real. What barrier, what fear has ripped you off over and over again?”
When they have their answers, they pick up their pens and write their obstacles on the board — on the opposite side from their goal. An inch of pine now stands between them and their dreams.
Now it’s time to get in state. They’re expert state-managers by this point, so when we tell them to get into a state of focused excitement, the energy builds at once. Powerful music swells loudly. They get into a powerful physical stance and repeat, “I am centered, focused, confident and powerful.”
“Be ready for success. It’s yours — if you choose it.”
When they can feel their commitment, they’re ready.
The facilitators and their teammates gather around. The support is strong. One by one, they break through the barriers and grab their goals.
All around us teens are laughing, crying, hugging and holding up the broken pieces of their boards. The confidence radiating from their faces is beautiful.
The camp session ends one day later and the campers head home with their broken boards in tow and a level of motivation they’ve never before felt. It’s a beautiful thing.
While orchestrating an event of this magnitude in one’s home is a little unrealistic for parents, the value of helping a child break through a personal barrier simply by being there as moral support can not be overestimated. That’s why, whether a child attends SuperCamp or not, we provide parents and students with advice and support at our Web site and in a free monthly newsletter, which we invite everyone to sign up for.
— Bobbi DePorter is the co-founder and president of SuperCamp, a learning and life skills summer program for students in grades 6-12 and college, and Quantum Learning Network, an education company that provides teacher and student training in schools throughout the United States.