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.