Motivating teenagers can seem like a battle we are never going to win as parents.
We yell, punish, remove privileges and even offer incentive for (read: bribe) our kids all in an effort to get them to change course and become motivated about high school learning. We do this because we want our kids to learn and we know that getting good grades in high school is critical to college admissions.
But how can we get our kids to see the importance of high school learning for their futures as opposed to what we want for them? Below are some thoughts from my own personal experience as a single-parent to a teenage girl.
The first thing we need to do is realize that while we found high school to be a challenging social and academic experience filled with pressure and awkward moments, it is an even more stressful and competitive environment for our teenagers today. Teens feel a significant amount of pressure to get good grades brought on by their peers (in person and through social media) and their parents.
The American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey found that, on average, teens reported their stress levels were 5.8 on a 10-point scale. Adults reported their stress at 5.1. Approximately a third of teens (31 percent) felt overwhelmed by school and other pressures with 36 percent saying that stress increased their fatigue and caused them to miss meals.
The second step is to realize that our teenagers do not always lack for motivation. Adults and most parents readily associate teenagers with laziness. As someone born into the tail end of Generation X, I remember the term “slacker generation” was often used to describe us as teenagers. However, the truth of the matter is that teens are very motivated. They are just not necessarily motivated in the ways/areas we want them to be. Therefore, the challenge is not how to get our kids motivated, but rather how do we help them channel or direct their energy to important tasks? How do we help them make the right connections? And, finally, how do we help them reduce stress levels along the way?
Connect College To High School Learning
One approach is to connect the positive excitement of going to college to high school learning. As parents, we can go about this in clever ways that help to boost enthusiasm and independence within our kids, and encourage them to set the right goals.
For example, starting in your son’s or daughter’s freshman and sophomore years in high school, ask them what kinds of subjects they find interesting and what they like to do. Keep in mind, their interests are likely to change over time – so do not panic if your child does not want to become a prize winning nuclear physicist or a Supreme Court Justice.
Once you have some clear insight into their interests, find some colleges and universities that have academic programs that meet their interests. Then request information from those schools in your child’s name.
Why? Teenagers want to be more independent. By registering them with some colleges, it will not be long before they start to receive direct correspondence from these schools with information about student life, activities and standards necessary for admission. That a college or university has reached out to them will be a positive motivator to start thinking about what they need to do academically and what extracurricular activities they may want to focus on.
My own daughter was very excited to start receiving information from colleges. After a tough freshman year, she received her first letters and packets over the summer. She decided then to attack her sophomore year, and has made completing homework and studying a top priority. What’s more, she is not satisfied with everything she is learning and has sought-out additional academic resources to improve her mastery of subjects and help build a stronger academic portfolio.
Find Ways To Reduce Stress
The other key to better channeling the energy of our teens to high school learning is to reduce stress. As mentioned above, our teens are often more stressed out than we are as adults. Think about your most stressful day and realize that your son or daughter is probably more stressed than you are. It may be hard to imagine, but it is very likely.
Talk with your teen about their day and listen to what they have to tell you. If their day sounds intense and their schedules are slammed, look to reduce the amount of tasks or activities they have. Though we often parrot our parents who lectured us about walking miles to school in snow or having a long list of household chores, we have to accept that times are different. We may need to put less pressure on our kids outside of school to help them focus on their more immediate responsibilities.
Motivating our teens to concentrate on their high school learning is not an easy task. But when we listen to our kids, we have a better chance of finding creative ways to help them apply their energy and reduce their stress to give them every opportunity for success.