It can often be challenging working with adolescents who appear to not care. Teachers and parents can become frustrated after encouraging a young person to strive for more while receiving attitude in return. Adolescents appear insensitive to the thoughts and feelings of the adults who are trying to help them be successful. My experience working with adolescents has taught me that while it appears these young individuals are insensitive to the feelings of others, they are actually highly sensitive to other people’s comments. Moreover, adolescents tend to lack self-confidence and present as being apathetic as a means of defense.
Adults should consider a few items when attempting to motivate an adolescent who appears to not care. When interacting with an adolescent who presents as apathetic, be cautious with giving general praise statements. Adolescents often perceive praise as disingenuous and may actually feel worse about themselves receiving praise that feels general. It is more impactful to provide praise about a concrete behavior. This makes it more difficult for the adolescent to dismiss the compliment when something specific is praised. Adults should also be mindful of negative comments made out of frustration. An adolescent’s negative view of self can be reinforced when adults make negative comments towards them out of frustration. It can be challenging to be sensitive and thoughtful when talking to a young person who may appear to be highly insensitive with their responses, however, being mindful will provide long-term rewards.
In my opinion, the most important factor to consider when attempting to motivate an adolescent who appears to not care, is to teach successful failure. As adults, we may easily become frustrated when encouraging a young person to complete a task such as taking a math test seriously or taking a leadership role in a youth group at church. If the adolescent refuses, it is likely they already attempted to complete the task on their own and failed. Adolescents can get stuck in what I like to call absolute thinking. The adolescent thinks if they fail at a task once, they will always fail. It is important to explain to adolescents many people fail several times before success occurs. Additionally, when teaching a young person, it is important to be patient and to check in with the individual to ask if they understood your instructions. At times, adults will have to modify their communication or teaching style to explain how to complete the task because the young person will most likely not volunteer they did not understand.
Finally, please remember you are not alone if you feel frustrated when interacting with a young person who appears to not care. Anyone who has worked with adolescents knows how challenging it can be to motivate young people. If you remain patient and remember the individual is listening, even though it may appear they are not, your relationship with them can have an incredible, positive impact on their lives.