Motivating your underachieving adolescent

Motivating your underachieving adolescent

Your teenage son moans and groans about his schoolwork, says he “doesn’t care”, that it “doesn’t matter”, and that “it’s boring”. He seems to be completely unconcerned about the effect of his lack of motivation on his grades, and the consequences of those poor grades. However, although he is not motivated to do what YOU want, he is indeed motivated. What he is most motivated to do is resist you, underperform, and do nothing. This takes a great deal of effort, effort that is not being spent on working hard and achieving in school.

There are a variety of reasons a teen may exhibit underachieving behaviors. Some of these reasons include anxiety about failure, reluctance to be challenged and meet their responsibilities, embarrassment about school-related difficulties, shutting down because of pressure from parents or others, lagging skill development, feeling stressed, needing to be in control, not wanting to deal with people’s expectations, or poor confidence in their own abilities. If you feel that your teen has significant emotional reasons for avoiding schoolwork, such as clinical depression or anxiety, speak to him or her and seek professional help from a psychologist or therapist. Otherwise, teens are typically preoccupied with friends, going out, or engaging in activities they enjoy, such as sports or music. Schoolwork/homework are seen as a “drag” for many teenagers, and are not priorities.

What can parents do to increase the likelihood that their adolescent will demonstrate goal-directed, intrinsically motivated, academically-related behaviors?

Don’t nag, shout, beg, argue, or lecture. Don’t complain about your teen’s lack of drive. Use positive statements, and compliment them when it’s called for. Use humor.
Let them know their performance matters to you even if it doesn’t to them.
Help them segue from an enjoyable activity such as internet surfing to homework.
Offer to help them with difficult tasks, but don’t do the task for them.
Help your teen set up a schedule with time blocks to provide structure.
Enhance opportunities to create intrinsic motivation in your teen. Don’t make his/her effort solely dependent on external motivators. Make schoolwork an issue between your teen and his/her future, and not an issue between your teen and you.
Hold your teen accountable. Discuss natural and artificial consequences of failure to do homework and/or chores. Follow through with love, calm and respect. Let them earn cell phone, TV and computer time.
Monitor your teen’s computer use and take advantage of parental control settings. Move your teen’s computer and phone to the living area.
Try to get your teen to think about his/her future and how to attain the things he/she wants.
Don’t take it personally, and let your teen learn from their mistakes.