I’m working on a series of posts in conjunction with ICS Learn the online learning centre, for parents of teens, discussing issues around education, exams and revision, from the perspective of a parent actually on the frontline…
It is TOUGH right now to get teens to study. Anyone else feeling that it’s just hard Maintaining Your Teen’s Motivation? The exam-year students are fully on it, of course; the pressure of the exams themselves are all the motivational tool they need, and they’re up to their necks in revision timetables and exam dates.
But what about the off-years? The Yr 10s and 12s? Lower down? It’s hard, isn’t it? They’re at least a year off their own exams, they’ve had a pretty disastrous year of study so far with the lockdows, remote teaching, new distanced learning and bubbles in schools, their teachers are constantly fretting over how much they need to catch up, it’s been relentless pressure and most teens I know are feeling very switched off.
So what can you do to help them get back on track, get them motivated to study again?
Because teenagers have to study – for long hours, when there’s other stuff they’d far rather be doing, to perform to exacting standards that they didn’t set. Plus they’re trying hard to simply stay connected to their friends, whilst dealing with all the joys of teen hormones. It’s tough.
I’m no educational expert, but I have been home educatiing teenagers through exams for the last six years, and have learnt a thing or two along the way. So here’s one parents thoughts on maintaining your teen’s motivation.
Firstly – cut them some slack. Re-read that paragraph above about their current pressures – and release them a bit. Let them take time off. Give them your permission to just… not.
We all need it, and sometimes a duvet day (or an Xbox day, or a Youtube/TikTok day…) is all that’s needed.
Maybe join them for an hour, enjoy their stupid TikTok feed, wacth a Youtube or two.
But it must be guilt free, and unremarked upon – don’t then say for the next week “you had your day off and you chose to spend it under your duvet, so now you need to…”
Don’t ruin it. Just be nice.
In general, teenagers spend far too long sititng still – at a time when their bodies, strength and stamina are goring exponentially. Pent-up energy makes everyone restless and frustrated and destroys concentration. Motivation dies when you relaise your brain just cannot concentrate – leading to dejection.
If they’re not into sports, that’s fine. Go out for a walk. They’ll resist, obviously, and sigh and eyeroll a lot, but it never fails to lift a mood. Be Strong.
It’s always tempting to cling tighter, to control more – but don’t. Your teen will simply shut you out. They’re trying to grow their independence and freedom – so let them. Of course you’re still the grown up, of course you still have ultimate authority – but don’t bludgeon them with it. Help them decide, facilitate their decisions, listen to their opinions.
Don’t always presume you know what’s best – your job is to help them achieve what they want, not what you want for them.
Back Off Some More
When teens are struggling in school, they know it. They’re not stupid – they know when they’re lagging behind, missing deadlines, not understanding. And they feel guilty and stressed.
And so they’ll start letting other things slip too – their rooms will be a mess, they won’t do the laundry, their perosnal hygiene will be neglected.
And the last thing they need is you pointing all this out to them – they know. You might think you’re maintaining your teen’s motivation but all you’ll do is add extra layers if guilt that they’re disappointing you too now. It’s a downward spiral.
Instead – help them out. Don’t be judgey, offer a hand. Todying a room that’s a pigsty can be overwhelming – maybe offer to do it together, or do one part of it with them, shjow them how to break it into manageable chunks
“okay, first just grab a black bin bag and throw in all the rubbish. Just chuck the rubbish, nothing else”.
“next, just tidy your clothes. Three piles – Laundry, fold or donate. that’s it”
Nobody does well under constant criticism. Your gran told you “if you don;’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all”
Be positive and praise the effort (never the result). Help them – when you’re supportive and understanding they tend to lean in, not lean away.
They’d rather stab their eyeballs with teaspoosn than tell you, but the biggets thing I’ve learned about parenting teenagers is that if anytihng they need you more than their toddler self did. They’re constantly looking for your approval of them – and if you make it all about their grades, they’ll lose sight of the other (better) stuff, and simply become demotivated if their grades (and therefore your approval) have slipped.
Trust them – and tell them you trust them. Let them see and feel your confidence in them, and they’ll feel reassured and motivated to work at it. When they see you panic about their decisions or that you’re anxious about them, their support structure starts to crumple, and they feel their world spinning out of control. It’s scary – and in no way conducive to knuckling down and working.
You can’t foresee every issue – but you can see a lot coming if you just pay attention. Don’t be too busy for that random kitchen chat because somewhere in the general burbling about Katy’s new boyfriend may be a nugget of truth about how worried they are about their Biology. Watch to see when they shut down – what were you just saying? Is it that you were lecturing (no one wants your lecture, Karen), or is that that you simply approached a subject they are stressed about? Look for the clues, because a teenager is rarely going to make it easy for you until it’s such a huge issue they actually can’t deal with it any more.
Maintaining your teen’s motivation isn’t easy – but give them space, permission to relax, show them you’re listening, and they’ll probably astonish you.