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Ask the Expert: My Son Has No Summer Plans. How Do I Motivate Him?

Dear Your Teen:

I am very concerned about my son. He is 15 years old and has no summer plans, preferring to sit inside all summer. He has very few friends and the ones who he connects with are on the computer. Also, he is on the heavy side and refuses to get any exercise and has absolutely no summer plans. I have talked until I am blue in the face. Do you have any suggestions that might motivate teenagers like him?

EXPERT | Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D.

For young people, developing internal motivation is very complex. For parents, talking until you are “blue in the face” doesn’t work! If your son has no summer plans, he needs to develop interests outside of home and school. He needs to learn what he would enjoy doing. Luckily, now is an optimal time to find summer opportunities for teens that can help.

By 15 years old, teens should be expected to work outside the home or participate in organized summer programs where they have opportunities for leadership, understanding, and friendships. Your son needs to develop his interests.

He needs more autonomy and independence in a setting that engages him and his interests.

I am a proponent of community service. Research shows it provides teens with the opportunity to develop 21st century career skills as well as compassion for others. Through volunteering, teens learn to overcome obstacles in the real world and to communicate with people outside their families. The right volunteer job will give your son a structured way to become involved, make friends, and regularly get out of the house. It will also expose him to adult role models and other teens that may also feel isolated or have similar weight problems. These volunteer groups create their own sense of community—one that your son could belong in.

Your son could also look at picking up work. Maybe he’d enjoy a summer camp or getting involved in summer semester extracurricular activities, as a few examples.

I recommend setting expectations for your son for what he will accomplish outside the home during the summer.

Find a common ground where he can have his computer and alone time but also be involved in a structured program that gets him out of the house.

You can help by guiding him through the process of finding the right opportunity and giving him some examples to choose from. But remember, it is important for teens to choose based on their interests, not yours!

If your son still refuses to budge, get a family counselor involved!

Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D. is a developmental psychologist, researcher, and Fellow at the Institute for Social Innovation at Fielding Graduate University. She studies how youth become engaged with meaningful goals and blogs on positive youth development at Roots of Action and Psychology Today

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