My 12-year-old son is a good kid, but he is extremely unmotivated to do literally anything unless I or his mother are constantly riding him the whole time. As a young child, he was "easy" to raise because he could always entertain himself. There was no fussing on long car rides, no running around grocery stores uncontrollably, and very little rambunctiousness or getting into trouble when he got bored. He was always a pretty compliant child and has always been an introvert more or less.

The problem with that though, is that when discipline was necessary, time-outs and loss of privileges were never really an effective tool, because he'd just sit there in the corner perfectly content with getting lost in his own imagination. Motivating him has always been a problem, but things have just gotten out of hand in the past year (I know, welcome to the teenage years, right?)

Here are some examples of his behavior:

  • He takes a very long time to complete even simple chores. 30 minutes to clean the cat box, 45 minutes to empty the dishwasher, 1 or 2 hours to clean his room, etc. He seems to examine every little thing before putting it away, or in the case of the cat box, he sits there stirring the sand around like it's some kind of zen garden. When getting dressed, he moves move like a sloth, sometimes sitting on the edge of his bed with one sock on, looking around aimlessly like "where's my other sock?"
  • He uses often ridiculous excuses when we call him out on taking so long to do things. When getting dressed, for example, he'll say he can't find his pants or something (which are in his drawer where they always are), or when doing homework, he will say his pencil ran out of lead (he knows where the extra leads are). He will also pretend to not know how to do things he clearly knows how to do. With the dishwasher, he will pile half of it on the counter and claim he doesn't know where they go. Or that he forgot how to do simple multiplication when doing one of the steps to his math problems.
  • He puts more energy into stalling than it would take to just do whatever he's supposed to do. This last winter we had an unusually heavy snowfall and I needed his help shoveling the driveway. I told him that if he kept moving his body he wouldn't be cold, and the two of us could get it done quickly. But after a few minutes he decided that shoveling snow was hard so he just stopped. I said he wasn't allowed to go inside until the driveway was clear. I got tired of barking at him to move, so he just stood there shivering his butt off in the frigid cold for an hour while I did it. Earlier this month while the whole family was outside doing yard work, he spent the whole time pulling on a sapling that had taken root by the foundation of the house. I told him there was no way he'd get it out with his bare hands, but he clearly preferred working up a sweat on that one stupid tree than the easy job of pulling weeds in the back yard (which is the job his mother asked him to do).
  • He has started lying about things. This is entirely new behavior in the last year. He never used to lie about stuff. Now he lies all the time. Lies about his chores. Lies about having done his school work. When it comes time to do school work, he'll say he has to poop and then he'll lock himself in the bathroom for an hour. We've had to confiscate his phone a few times because he will lie about being on it when he's not supposed to. He got an F on a book report because he lied about reading it and just wrote a nonsense essay about the picture on the cover. He even lies about stuff that there's no reason to lie about. Like what video game he was playing during his screen time. There's nothing inappropriate to play, and it was his time to do with whatever he wanted, so why lie about it?

What I have done to try and correct this:

We found a neat little free app called Chore Monster for his phone. We load it up with chores he's supposed to do and assign a point value to them. When he completes a chore, he marks it done on his phone and then we get an alert on the parent app so we (usually his mom) can verify and award the points. You can set up prizes in the app that he can win by accumulating enough points. We set up a point system for almost everything he's expected to do; brushing his teeth, doing his school work, showering, and (obviously) chores.

For a while this worked great. He won a couple of things he really wanted and was even asking for extra things to do so he could get more points! That only lasted for a few months until he started half-@$$ing things. Like he would just run the water for a couple minutes without actually brushing his teeth. For the cat box, he'd just scoop out the obvious turds and then pour a bit of fresh litter over the top so it looked clean. When we stopped approving those chores, he just kind of gave up. Now when he does actually complete a chore we have to remind him to log it so he can get the points. He barely cares anymore.

What do I do to motivate him? This is only going to get worse as he gets older. My wife and I feel horrible because we're basically yelling at him all the time now. I think the lying is a result of him getting into trouble so much. He just will not do anything at all unless we're cracking the whip so to speak. So far he hasn't gotten into back-talking yet, but I fear that will come soon enough.

Later this year there is a big retro video game convention in a city about 4 hours from here that he wants to go to. I'm going to make it a weekend just for us. I decided not to carrot-and-stick this one because I think he needs some man-to-man time with his dad and I'm hoping he'll open up a bit on the trip. But I worry because he has started to display a lack of interest even in that and it's still 4 months away.

  • 4
    This may be an obvious question, but have you actually sat and talked with him about the forest, and not the trees? You mention punishments and chores, but if that conflict has become your relationship with him, perhaps the solution is just trying to understand each other? Does he feel differently than he did a year ago? In his view, what has changed in that time? Tell him you know he's lying and stalling, so what is wrong? Tell him you don't want to be a nag, or to punish him, but if you can't resolve things politely that's the only alternative. Commented May 16, 2017 at 13:37
  • You say that he is lazy, which says a lot about your (understandable) frustration, but maybe less about your son. Perhaps he is just bored. I can't recall a time when I was more bored in my life than when I was 12. Commented Jun 15, 2017 at 6:53
  • This may seem like a cop-out, but have you considered that he might have AD(H)D? This sounds a little like me when I was younger, and I didn't get diagnosed until my late 20s.
    – John Doe
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 2:25
  • 1
    It's scary to read two people living in the same household communicate tasks via app and it's even more scary to read there is a rewarding system for someone doing the chores which should be a natural act for kids this old. Probably I, if such a game was made out of the chores, would have thought ok if all that happens is just not get praised - well I can live with that. I know this question is old, but to all parents who find themselves in this question, be aware that if you make games and fun out of everything then your child will understand everything as nothing else but a funny game.
    – puck
    Commented Apr 18, 2020 at 6:22

4 Answers 4


This sounds like a scarily accurate description of me when I was that age. So I'll give you my personal insight.

The lying is most likely a way to get you ,or anyone else, to leave him alone ,even if only temporarily, at any given moment. It works, so he keeps doing it.

The main problem is that he is trapped in a life, as are all kids of that age in 'modern' society, that is essentially meaningless.

The chores he gets asked to do are menial, the school work is meaningless busy work designed to keep him occupied.

He has no way to effect the situation he is in to change his circumstances, the rewards for jumping through the hoops that others have setup for him are of little actual consequence and the same really can be said of any punishments or consequences for his lack of cooperation.

There is a good paragraph from a Paul Graham essay that sums it up well

If life seems awful to kids, it's neither because hormones are turning you all into monsters (as your parents believe), nor because life actually is awful (as you believe). It's because the adults, who no longer have any economic use for you, have abandoned you to spend years cooped up together with nothing real to do. Any society of that type is awful to live in. You don't have to look any further to explain why teenage kids are unhappy.


This explains the reason why he focused on pulling up that sapling, because it was actually hard, something to challenge him.

I can only suggest you give him something real to do.

  • 2
    What would you suggest?
    – Wes Sayeed
    Commented May 14, 2017 at 3:38
  • 1
    +1 about the lying. I've seen similar behavior with my 13yo. She mostly just wants to be left alone and will say anything to get that.
    – Daenyth
    Commented Jun 1, 2017 at 18:03
  • From the information presented, this sounds to me like a case of normal 12 year old growing up. He has lost interest in childish rewards and concern for childish punishments.
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 3:34
  • @WesSayeed What does he want to do? Like, if he had a $500 budget, what would he want to do? Also, how much sleep does he get a night? Commented Aug 21, 2018 at 16:44
  • "the school work is meaningless busy work designed to keep him occupied" ... or ... you know ... to provide an opportunity to learn something. It may not be interesting (now), but it is information and learning is never a fruitless endeavour. Commented Aug 21, 2018 at 20:42

Motivation and punishment do not mean the same things to you as they do for your teen.

Yes, you still will have expectations for getting chores and homework done, but perhaps your interest in them has to change.

If your son is not late for school inspite of taking a long time to dress, ignore it.

If he misses breakfast because it takes him so long to get ready, ignore it, but give him a yogurt or granola bar to take to school.

If he is late for school, the school will punish him. If his marks are poor, he loses things like telephone or device privileges, to make time for study.

If he doesn't make or pack his lunch -- he'll live until dinner.

If he examines the cat litter -- ignore it. If the litter isn't clean -- ask him to do it again and perhaps charge him the extra fee for unneeded cat litter replacement.

Do not help him with a chore. He can do part of the driveway. You do part and then send him out to do the rest. It won't get done by standing there and he can't come in to dinner or TV until he's done his share (until it is a health concern). If the driveway doesn't get done, he misses out on drives to places he wants you to take him.

Put a list on the fridge and expect those chores to be done -- but homework, brushing teeth -- clean clothes are on him. You do not ever remind him about the 'normal' stuff. If he smells, it is fair to tell him he does. Do not tell him to bathe or put on clean clothes -- but sure, if he stinks, he might find friends and family are not going to sit near him.

My 'cure for a dirty room' is to remove things. My kid hated having no sheets, blankets or pillows and lasted one night without them. She did the laundry and started looking after that stuff.

Bottom line -- quit arguing. Let him make his own choices and then face the natural consequences for his actions.

Use choosing language. Let him know that it is up to him to get things done.

I'd start by telling him you're not going to treat him like a little kid. He is old enough to start taking responsibility for his actions -- or lack of them, and that you are not going to remind or ask him more than once to do anything. Then do what you've said.

Don't forget to tell your son when you are happy with him and to tell him that you love him even when you aren't happy with his choices. You aren't walling him off -- you are just not fighting with him.

I have not read this entire ebook, but it might have some helpful ideas.

  • 1
    Very nice suggestions.
    – user27143
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 1:50

Motivation comes from three things

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

Autonomy is the need to control your life. You have to have the power to choose what to do or how to do it. If there are chores, let him pick which one to do first. Mastery comes from learning. Honing you skills to be better at something. For some learning itself is the purpose, others compete against the clock, and some just want to create perfect results. Purpose comes within. Why would he want to clean up kitty litter? Does that help the cat or is it just an another chore? Is the best part drawing zen like waves to the sand?

Great leaders, athletes, and experts in every field have found their purpose. What does your son want?

For me it looks like he doesn't need to do anything. You'll push him over the fence of challenges anyway. He'll get to the other side. You'll push him up to the next level with or without his help.

Where would he like to go?


You did not mention any friends.

Is there any chance to organize a sleepover with a couple of friends or schoolmates? It would be even better if he stays at someone else's house.

He would have a first-hand impression of how other families organize daily duties and interact with each other.

In my own experience, group outdoor activities have the power to wake up almost everyone. It worked for my brother and me. It works for my son (only child).

A summer camp or joining a scout troop or any other young activities that include outdoor/camping could also bring him out of his "lazy" comfort bubble.

  • We cancel dull chores on sleepover days, so he may come back with the idea other kids don't get any chores to do.
    – WendyG
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 8:58

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .