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How can parents help their children enhance motivation and focus?

Tim Elmore Founder and President of Growing Leaders Growing Leaders

Focus—especially long-term focus—is extremely challenging for Generation iY (the younger part of Generation Y, born in the 1990s and after, and defined by technology and the Internet).

In Daniel Goleman’s latest book, Focus, he explains that when technology increases, there is always a trade off where life becomes streamlined and convenient. At the same time, however, users experience a reduction in the ability to remain motivated for long periods of time. For today’s kids, teens and young adults, inward motivation is quickly replaced by outward stimulation. The smartphone, the tablet, the device and the gadget is at our fingertips. We now have a Google-reflex.

But we can begin to undo what culture has done to our kids by creating a counter-culture within our environment and our home. Parents must try to develop personal and inward motivation in their kids. This article offers advice on where to begin.


Do understand what cultural realities hinder motivation in kids

Kids have way too many choices. Although we all love the cafeteria lifestyle, having so many options cannot only paralyze adolescents, it can reduce their motivation. Why stay committed to something when we know something else-- probably something better--will come along soon?

We live a fast-paced lifestyle in a world of speed. This is evident in every area of our lives, such as Instagram, Snapchat, high-speed internet access, fast-food and microwave ovens. Unfortunately, when we have to wait on very little, we never learn to delay gratification. As a result, kids naturally experience diminished motivation.

The realities of the credit bubble are evident. Students who have grown up in a world where they and their parents have purchased “wants” on credit will find it difficult to wait or remain motivated. Credit is a leading cause of our inability to cultivate motivation.

The self-esteem movement is real. Our tendency to praise our kids so often actually reduces their motivation. Think about it: If I am told that I am awesome just for playing soccer, how motivated will I be to improve my soccer skills? The self-esteem movement has actually fostered entitlement and narcissism.

Do recognize how media affects motivation

Consider the fact that millions of people follow the lives of a small group of celebrities. These stars are often portrayed as ignorant, while reality TV shows portray dysfunctional people getting rich because of it. We seem to worship bad behavior, not self-discipline.

Additionally, social media has altered reality, enhanced self-promotion, and offered people a “fake” sense of who we really are, as opposed to who we appear to be. Technology is not bad, but it is like fire: It serves a great purpose, but when used imprudently, it can get out of control and become dangerous.

Do get kids used to only one choice

Once in a while, agree on a decision and do not offer a myriad of options. Help kids to learn to live with what is in front of them—a meal, a task, a project, etc.

Do slow down the pace and help kids soak it in

Agree that your kids will actually “stop and smell the roses.” Make a conscious effort to ease up on the superficial pace and go deep as you converse.


Do not forget to set goals and make kids wait to reach them

Post photos or images of their goals, and talk about these targets often. But be careful not to circumvent the process by offering a prize before they have worked and waited.

Do not overlook the need to celebrate those who model discipline and motivation

Instead of Miley Cyrus or Kim Kardashian, why not discuss the stories and virtues of those who labor to add value to others and serve those in need? Find true celebrities.

Do not underestimate the power of a technology fast

A break from technology won’t work unless you agree on it. Decide on a period of time where you will turn off the “ping” of that cell phone text or tweet and the endorphins it creates.

Do not fail to match your praise with actual achievement

Once your children understand your love and belief in them, choose to only affirm achievement and match your words with it. If it is not awesome, don’t call it that.

Jumping cartoon

Parents must help undo what culture has done to today’s kids by creating a counter-culture within our environment. To be successful, we must get kids used to only one choice, slow down our pace, set goals to achieve, emulate role models of discipline and motivation, take technology breaks and match praise with real achievement.

More expert advice about Being a Better Parent

Photo Credits: © Petro Feketa -; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Tim ElmoreFounder and President of Growing Leaders

Dr. Tim Elmore is a leading authority on how to understand the next generation and prepare tomorrow’s leaders today. He is a best-selling author, international speaker, and Founder and President of Growing Leaders, a nonprofit that helps develo...

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