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You’re finding that your teen seems to be more motivated to accumulate likes and followers on social media than A’s on their report card. This is so common among teens because this period of their life is full of change and learning. How do you motivate your teen to do what you want them to do? How do you get your teen to be self-motivated and take their future seriously? You need to understand why your teen is lacking motivation and how you can play a more active role to prevent it. 

Common Causes 

Changes in the social scene around middle school and especially high school are where adolescents start worrying about their social status. They strive to find their place in an environment of cliques and hierarchies. It is typical for kids who do well in school to become isolated and labeled “nerd.” Kids take great pains to not stand out and not be different from their peers. Therefore, students, especially bright students, may withdraw from their academics in an effort to be like everyone else and not draw attention to themselves. 

Also, if the curriculum and course load are not difficult enough to keep the teen engaged, the student will fall into a pattern of decreased motivation. This is especially common among gifted teens who would rather spend their time doing their own learning of favorite subjects instead of focusing on their school work. A teen could also be gifted in one certain subject and thus choose to spend their time on that one topic rather than the other subjects in their course load. 

Difficulty of the curriculum is another cause for a teen’s academic underperformance. When the academic workload increases, as well as the difficulty, your teen could be so overwhelmed that he or she simply gives up. The teen can feel that they can’t be successful, so they stop trying. This is especially prevalent among teens who have learning or language challenges. 

How to Motivate Your Teen 

Teens are motivated by both external factors and internal factors. External motivation occurs when a parent uses incentives to make their child do what they want. This includes rewards such as eating out when your kid receives good grades or increasing their allowance when your teen is more helpful around the house. These can be good methods of persuading your kid to increase productivity, but it can also backfire when the rewards are withdrawn; the proactive behavior can then diminish. 

Another external incentive is to punish your teen for engaging in behaviors that you don’t endorse, such as taking away electronic devices or grounding the student when their grades don’t meet expectations or they are caught skipping class. This strategy can improve the performance of your teen, but it also ignores the catalyst for the poor grades and truancy. Keep in mind that external incentives are more effective with younger adolescents than older teens. 

The most powerful form of motivation is internal motivation. This occurs when the teen is motivated to complete tasks due to their own drive and ambition. It is very ineffective when parents tell their teen to do something, the teen then resists and asks why they have to complete the task, and the parent responds with “because I told you so.” This does very little to motivate the teen because they don’t understand the “why” behind what they’re being asked to do. Instead, when you ask the student to complete their homework and they resist, explain the importance of homework. 

For example, if the student is interested in marine biology, explain that a college degree in the subject cannot be achieved without good or decent grades. You can take it a step further by taking your student to a college campus where a degree in marine biology is offered, tour the campus, and explain to the student that to reach their goal of becoming a marine biologist, they have to work hard, and that includes completing their high school homework. Then it may register with the student why they should put effort into their academics. A teen needs to see the value in what they’re doing. They need to know that it has a purpose and it will affect their lives whether they do or do not carry out the task. 

Take Action!

As a parent, it is your responsibility to ensure your student is reaching their maximum potential. This means that you need to take an active role in your child’s education, understand their homework assignments and the teachers’ expectations, and ensure that these goals are met. It is reasonable to let your teen take more responsibility for their education as they grow into their older teen years, but if there seems to be an issue in academic focus you will need to start taking a more active role in their education. If the workload seems to be overwhelming to your student, help them find a place to start the assignment and break up the work into smaller, more manageable sections. This will make the assignments seem more achievable. Meet with your student’s teacher and ask what the student’s issues are and relative solutions for the problems. Taking an active role in your child’s education ensures that your child is receiving the education that you desire.

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