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How to Motivate an Unmotivated Teenager to Achieve Good Grades

The teenage years, often marked by a rollercoaster of emotions and physical changes, can sometimes lead to a noticeable lack of motivation in school work. External factors, including the allure of video games and the challenges of maintaining a social life, can often overshadow academic responsibilities and teenagers can find it very difficult to motivate themselves. So how can you tap into the intrinsic motivation of teenagers to prioritize good grades? Let’s delve into strategies that can help:

1. Understand the Teenage Mindset

The power struggle between adults and teenagers is real. Many teens are in a phase of asserting their independence and defining their identities. When addressing the lack of motivation in schoolwork, the best way to support your child is to approach them with empathy, recognizing that their world view may be vastly different from yours. In order to instil a love of learning, a cycle of structure, effort, reward and reflection needs to take place. This involves demonstrating how study time should take place, and getting younger children particularly into good habits.

2. Establish a Connection

Forge a bond of trust, encouraging open dialogue. Make it evident that you’re on their side, ready to guide rather than merely enforce rules. Listen genuinely to their feelings about school and the distractions they face, such as video games.

3. Set Realistic Expectations

While aiming for good grades is the objective, understanding the balance between leisure, like video games, and academics is crucial. Recognize their strengths and weaknesses and encourage a growth mindset that values effort over perfection.

Teenager revising hard
Teenager revising

4. Connect Schoolwork to Future Aspirations

Harness their intrinsic motivation by linking academic success to their future, long-term goals. Whether they’re dreaming of a specific career or college, illustrate how good grades can be their ticket to success. Within this process, it's really crucial to allow your teenager to feel a sense of control and a feeling of accountability over their own lives. The first step to giving them a sense of control, is to make the result you want to see, easy. So if you would like them to look at the big picture and get better grades, then you need to talk to them about the consequences of getting weaker grades over stronger grades and the difference in the opportunities they will have as a result of their hard work. Watching videos about certain careers that they are considering, or talking to someone who already has that career can be a really good thing for motivation. As adults, we have know there are natural consequences, but as a teenager, you are not necessarily going to think through the consequences of your efforts and behaviours. So try to enable your teenager to set achievable goals that are broken down into smaller chunks. Show them that a good revision strategy for an upcoming test may (that you may have to model and support them with in the first instance) is likely to get them a better grade in a particular subject.

5. Provide Tools and Environment

Neat desk
A well organised work space

Ensure your teenager has the resources for success, from textbooks to a conducive study space. Counter the pull of distractions like video games by creating a focused study environment. Help your teenager to set up a study area that is motivating in itself. For example, if they work in a corner of your living room or they lie on their bedroom floor as they don't have a dedicated work space, this can have a negative impact on their motivation. If they are not feeling organised and ready to learn, then it's much harder to help them to get into the right mindset for learning. But by helping your teenager make their desk look pretty or inviting by getting them a stash of sweet treats, music they enjoy, and all the tools they need - such as sticky notes, highlighters and folders - can go a long way to getting them started!

Here are our top five recommendations of key items to purchase for your teenager, to get them set up for studying success:

A set of colour coded revision notebooks (for each subject)

A Study Planner

A pack of highlighter pens

A Pomodoro Timer

See through sticky notes

6. Establish a Consistent Routine

Routine breeds familiarity. Help them devise a study schedule that balances schoolwork and leisure, acknowledging the importance of relaxation and downtime. Try to remember that life is a balance and young people today have a whole host of tools that can help and support them. It's easy to think that your own child is the absolute image of a the lazy teenager, but learning to work hard is in itself a skill, and without the right skills and tools, your teen can have a hard time even knowing how to start.

7. Celebrate Effort Over Outcome

Praise their intrinsic motivation and the drive they show, not just the results they achieve. Celebrate every milestone, showing them that setbacks are merely learning opportunities.

"Progress, not Perfection!"

8. Incorporate Breaks and Rewards

Even if video games are seen as a distraction, they can be used as a reward mechanism and as a type of positive reinforcement. For example, you can provide extra help by targeting your child to complete 30 minutes of revision (or even just 15 minutes if they find it hard to concentrate). Then, after a productive study session, of say, 90 minutes with breaks sotted into the 15 minute working slots, you can help them to feel extrinsic motivation by allowing them to have tangible rewards. Therefore, it's completely reasonable to allow a sweet treat or perhaps time on video games following a study session and this can be a great way to relax. It's important to note that your teen is more likely to become overstressed and potentially even experience mental health issues, if you push too hard as a parents and try to control their every move when it comes to their school work. By getting them into routines and habits that point them in the right direction with their academic work, they will develop good study habits and will therefore experience more effective study sessions. Small treats and little things to look forward to can go a long way!

A sweet cake treat after revision
Sweet Treats

9. Encourage Extracurricular Activities

Balancing video games with other activities can rekindle interest in schoolwork. Activities like sports or arts can be a refreshing change and can also improve academic performance. The job of the parent is to enable not dictate. Young people are their own people, they are not us! They have different learning styles, and different ways of approaching their challenges. In order to enable our children to become the best version of themselves, we have to set up the template as such by giving them multiple options to achieve the outcomes we (and they) want. But ultimately, they need to feel a sense of control and pride in their own level of effort and their own results.

10. Seek External Support

If the lack of motivation persists, it may be time to enlist external help like tutors, school counselors, or study groups. They can provide alternative perspectives and strategies. Online tutors can be an excellent resource in this instance.

11. Be a Role Model

Your actions can influence an unmotivated teenager. Showcase your dedication to tasks and the joy of achieving goals, inspiring them to adopt a similar attitude towards their schoolwork.

A parent helping a child to learn to revise
Supportive parent

12. Avoid Negative Reinforcements

Engaging in a power struggle or using threats can further demotivate. Instead, focus on understanding their world and positively reinforcing their efforts.

13. Link Schoolwork to Real-life

Make lessons tangible. If they’re learning economics, relate it to household budgeting. Demonstrating real-world applications can reignite their intrinsic motivation.

14. Encourage Independence

Empower them with choices, from study methods to breaks. Entrusting them can boost their commitment and counteract the lack of motivation.

15. Introduce New Experiences

Expose them to new horizons beyond video games, like workshops or college tours. Such experiences can spark passions and provide clarity on their goals.

In essence, rekindling the intrinsic motivation of an unmotivated teenager requires a blend of empathy, understanding, and strategy. Recognizing the challenges they face, from video games to peer pressure, and offering them tools, support, and a balance can set them on the path to academic success. Tailor your approach to their unique needs and remember that each teen is an individual with their aspirations and challenges.

A successful happy student
A happy student

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