Teen Motivation: Money Generally Doesn’t Work


I workout in the fitness center of the local high school from 5:30 to 7 Mon. to Frid. Over the last 2 months about 13 players from our football team come in for strength conditioning. The team didn’t do it last year due to a number of factors and it showed in their record (1-7). The young men have had a slow start and more times then not they are just standing or sitting around. However, that slacking time has been decreasing as the players get into the program and they are starting to see the results of their labor.

While most of the players come in about 6am there is one that comes in at 5:30. He is a big kid for his 14 years of age and generally finishes his lifting routine at 6am. From 6 to 7 this guy then just sits around and often takes over the desk and computer of the fitness room instructor. Over the past few weeks I have gotten to know this guy and we have been having some nice talks about his current grades, why he is playing football, his desire once he gets out of school and what he likes to do in his free time. His grades are C’s and could be much higher if he applied himself a bit to doing his homework and extra credit that he currently neglects. When he graduates he’d like to be a Marine. He would like to be a helicopter pilot but also like infantry.  Like his father, this young man is into guns and often he is watching the Russian gun guy on YouTube (FPS Russia) at the computer.

The last couple of days I have been testing to see if I could get this guy to use his time in the fitness center a bit better. So far my efforts and those of the fitness room instructor, who is also the football teams line coach have had slight success. In the last week we have gotten him up to actually walk on the treed mill for 10-20 minutes. The last couple of days we have been trying to get him to start doing dips and pull-ups. We have tried to get him o the machine in a number of ways including encouragement, setting an example, shaming him, showing him what his teammates can do on and yet we have not gotten him onto the machine. Despite our failure to this point we still continue to try and get him on it!

Today I thought I’d use the incentive of money. I offered him $10 if he could do 3 quality dips and pull-ups by Holiday break. Surprisingly, this only produced a slight perk of interest from the young man and he still didn’t try the machine. It seems money is not much of an incentive for him since he showed me the AK-47 he has as a gift for his father. We pushed him a bit more and practically held his hand and walked him over to the machine later in the morning and he actually tried it! It was a small victory and his form and effort was next to horrible but it was a step in the right direction!  Later I talked to him more about football and pointed out that he was big enough to be on the varsity team if he put forward the effort and wanted it. His response was less then enthusiastic so I dug deeper and found out he’d prefer to stay on the modified team because his friends are there.

We’ll keep working with this guy and hope he keeps coming and continues to develop. Bottom line is that it takes quite a bit of effort to get a teen to ‘want’ to do something. Often money is not a motivator, because the teen is given everything by their parents. As such we as mentors, educators and parents must dig deeper into our resources and find what works best for that individual. Putting aside frustration and the desire to give up is hard to do, but the reward from eventual success with any student is an amazing feeling that makes all the effort worth it! As Jane Nelsen stated: Most teens don’t lack motivation to do what they want to do: text, skateboard, computer games, shop, party, veg out. A better question might be, “How Do You Motivate Parents to Use Effective Methods to Motivate Teens?”

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