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July 13, 2023

My Teenager Refuses to Do Anything: How Can I Help Them?

When faced with a teenager who consistently refuses to participate in anything, it can leave us, as parents, feeling a range of emotions, from frustration and anxiety to a deep sense of concern. We see our once energetic, lively teens now appearing to lose their drive, their passion fading, and their zeal for activities they once couldn’t get enough of now on the brink of extinction. It’s not only alarming to see this change, but it also opens up a floodgate of questions – Are they okay? Is it something we did? Or didn’t do? Is it normal teenage behavior or a sign of a deeper issue?

As parents, we are called to embrace our responsibility in nurturing our teenagers, engaging in meaningful dialogues that empower them to navigate life’s complexities with wisdom and grace. In John 14:25-27  we are reminded that “… the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in [Jesus’] name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything [Jesus has] said to you.” Remember, our role as parents isn’t just about finding immediate solutions but also about starting those crucial conversations, one at a time, that help our teens navigate their own paths.

Pay Attention to Your Teen’s Behavior

By observing our teens’ behavior, we can gain important insights. Are they uninterested in activities they used to enjoy? Are they isolating themselves or showing signs of depression or anxiety?

Understanding their behavior is the first step toward helping them. Careful observation can help us discern patterns in their behavior, giving us clues about their emotional state and the underlying issues they may be struggling with. Importantly, this vigilance will also show them that we are here, ready to support and guide them.

What Lowers Teens’ Dopamine System

Our teens’ dopamine system, an essential part of their brain’s reward and pleasure center, plays a significant role in motivation, focus, and overall mood. Factors that disrupt this delicate system can lead to apathy, a lack of drive, and even resistance to engage in routine activities. By understanding these factors, we as parents can better equip ourselves to support and guide our teens through these challenging times. Let’s explore some of these factors:


Living with ADHD can be challenging for a teenager. According to the CDC, nearly 10% of children in the US have been diagnosed with ADHD, and up to 60% will carry that diagnosis into adulthood. The constant struggle with focus and organization can lead to feelings of incompetence or failure. This can further diminish motivation and make them feel as though any effort is futile. It’s important to understand their struggle and provide empathy and guidance, reinforcing that while things might be difficult, they’re not impossible.


High-stress levels can dampen a teen’s dopamine system, leading to low energy and motivation. Chronic stress might also result in burnout, causing teens to withdraw from activities and responsibilities. According to the American Psychological Association, long-term stress can lead to high blood pressure, weaken the immune system, and contribute to diseases such as obesity and heart disease. Stress not only impacts a teen’s physical health but also has profound effects on their mental well-being. Prolonged feelings of being overwhelmed can increase reluctance to take on new tasks or even complete existing ones.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse can also significantly alter a teen’s brain chemistry, including their dopamine system, which directly impacts their motivation levels. Regular substance use can cause dopamine levels to fluctuate, often leading to a depleted state that hinders motivation. It’s vital to be alert to any signs of substance abuse, as early intervention can prevent further damage to their dopamine system and overall health. For additional resources on addiction and teenagers, check out our Conversation Kit on Addiction.


Trauma, such as the distressing experiences outlined in our Parent’s Guide To Sexual Assault, can also negatively affect a teen’s dopamine system. Traumatic experiences can fundamentally alter the way a teen views the world and themselves. They may become disconnected, lose interest in things they once loved, and struggle to find motivation. Understanding and addressing trauma is complex and often requires professional help.

Mental Health

Mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety, can significantly lower a teen’s motivation. These disorders can lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair, effectively lowering dopamine levels and reducing their drive to participate in life. Our articles on Signs of Teen Depression and Signs of Teen Anxiety provide more insight into recognizing these conditions.

Even as adults, navigating life with a mental health condition can often feel like bearing a burdensome weight that saps one’s energy and motivation. For teenagers, this experience can be particularly bewildering, as they may not have had ample opportunities to learn effective coping strategies for mental health challenges.

It’s crucial to remember that mental health is just as important as physical health. Just as we wouldn’t expect a teen with a broken leg to just ‘snap out of it,’ we need to extend the same understanding to mental health issues. Our Mental Health Check-In is a great resource to utilize when opening up a helpful dialogue about mental health with teens.

Find Out What Motivates Your Teen

Every teen is unique, and so are their motivators. Finding out what stimulates a teen can provide valuable insight into rekindling their drive. Whether it’s a particular hobby, a social cause, or a personal goal, identifying these motivators can help tailor strategies to encourage our teens to be active again. It’s important to note that this process is not about controlling or coercing a teen’s interests but rather about leveraging their inherent interests to guide them toward a more fulfilling and engaging life.

How to Help a Teen Who Refuses to Do Anything

When it comes to raising teenagers, there is no such thing as a quick fix. However, as parents, taking these tips as stepping stones towards a more engaged and motivated teenager may help create a supportive environment that respects our teens’ individuality while also encouraging them to overcome their resistance to doing anything.

Be Patient and Persistent

Change takes time, and patience can be our strongest ally during this challenging phase. Try not to expect immediate transformations. Persistence in supporting them through these tough times sends a powerful message to our teens – we’re there for them, no matter how long it takes. In this journey, remind yourself of the wisdom in the Biblical saying, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

Be a Calm and Clear Communicator

Open, honest communication is essential. Our article, 10 Tips on How To Talk to Your Teenage Son, offers practical advice for fostering meaningful conversations. Remember, it’s not just about talking but also about active listening. When it comes to interacting with teenagers, practicing active listening becomes crucial because validating their feelings and empathizing with them can make them feel genuinely heard and understood. This fosters trust and understanding, allowing your teen to open up about their feelings and concerns.

Choose Your Battles

It’s essential to understand that not every hill is worth dying on. Prioritize what’s important and let the small things slide. Recognizing the difference between crucial issues and minor ones can save unnecessary conflicts and preserve peace at home. This strategy may create a less stressful environment, which can play a crucial role in your teenager’s willingness to participate more.

Give Effective Consequences

If a teen’s lack of participation is disruptive, there may be a need for appropriate consequences. But these should always be proportionate and fair, not dictated by anger or frustration. Constructive consequences can teach them the value of responsibility and accountability. This approach helps them understand that their actions have repercussions, which is a critical life lesson.

Build a Relationship with Them

Creating a bond based on trust and understanding can help us navigate these challenging times. Spend quality time with your teen, engage in activities they enjoy, and let them know you’re not just a parent but also a friend. This can create a safe space for open dialogue and mutual respect. A strong relationship forms the foundation for healthy communication and mutual understanding, paving the way for our teenagers to share their struggles.

Praise Good Behavior

Acknowledging and appreciating good behavior can be a powerful motivator for teens. By focusing on their strengths and achievements, we can boost our teens’ self-esteem and confidence, empowering them to engage more willingly in activities. As parents, our praise serves as a strong motivation affirming their efforts and encouraging them to continue on their path toward change.

Understand the Natural Consequences Experience

Helping our teens understand the consequences of their actions can motivate them to participate more actively. It’s about guiding them to realize that their choices today impact their future, instilling a sense of responsibility that can drive motivation. This understanding can also foster a sense of accountability and consciousness of their role in shaping their lives.

Promote Dopamine Activities

Encourage activities that naturally boost dopamine levels, such as physical activity, music, art, or other hobbies your teen enjoys. Creating a dopamine-friendly environment can significantly improve their mood and motivation levels. Remember, these activities should be their choice to ensure they’re something they genuinely enjoy. Also, allow them the freedom to explore different activities, reinforcing the idea that trying new things can be both rewarding and enjoyable.

Teach Your Teen Problem-Solving Skills

Even as adults, when we feel like we don’t understand any part of a problem, it can feel really overwhelming to know where to begin fixing the problem. And our teenagers are built the exact same way. However, as parents, it’s important we teach them ways to overcome issues. Even if there isn’t an immediate solution to their problems, our teens can develop critical thinking skills that will empower them to conquer obstacles. This process not only boosts their motivation but also cultivates independence and resilience. By mastering the art of problem-solving, they will feel better equipped to handle various tasks and responsibilities, leading to an enhanced motivation to wholeheartedly embrace life.

Understand Their Perspective

Sometimes, the gap between our world and our teens’ can feel vast. Taking time to understand their perspective can help bridge this gap and offer insights into their refusal to participate. Keep in mind that adolescence is a time of rapid change, and what may seem like an unwillingness to engage could be a manifestation of their struggle to navigate this transformative period. They may feel overwhelmed by the expectations placed on them, and understanding this can offer a path toward empathy and support.

In this digital age, teens face unique challenges that we, as parents, might not fully grasp. Social media, online gaming, or other internet-related pressures could play a role in their current state. Spend time talking with them about their online experiences, using resources like our Conversation Kit on Emotion as a starting point. Remember, our aim is not to intrude but to empathize and support. This shift in understanding can serve as a catalyst for meaningful conversations and a renewed connection with our teens.

What is Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is a condition in which a child consistently displays defiant, disobedient, and hostile behavior toward authority figures. If you suspect your teen may have ODD, it’s important to seek professional help. Our article How To Talk To Your Teen About Going to Therapy can guide you through initiating this delicate conversation.

In addition to disruptive behavioral patterns, ODD is often characterized by frequent temper tantrums, argumentativeness, and a tendency to blame others for personal mistakes. Teens with ODD might challenge rules and refuse to follow directives, leading to ongoing power struggles with authority figures. This can result in academic difficulties and strained social interactions.

It’s essential to remember that if ODD is suspected, a mental health professional should be consulted for a comprehensive assessment. Keep in mind that as daunting as this diagnosis may sound, there are effective treatments available, and a diagnosis can often serve as the first step towards understanding and addressing your teen’s behavior.

It’s challenging when our teens refuse to do anything. Remember, they may be struggling with issues that are overwhelming to them. These issues could range from boredom, as we explore in our Parent’s Guide to Boredom, to more complex issues like mental health, substance abuse, ADHD, stress, or trauma. If your teen feels distant, this article on What to Do When Your Teenager Shuts You Out can be helpful.

Remember, every journey begins with a single step. The first step might just be a conversation, one that we at Axis aim to facilitate. We are not the final word, but the conduit for the conversation. So, let’s start talking, one conversation at a time. Join us and stay informed about the latest cultural trends and insights with the Culture Translator, a weekly email on what’s trending in culture and how it’s affecting your teen’s world.

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