Keeping Your Teen Motivated In School

“What is this?” Vicki asks Stacy, as she glances at the report card and back at her daughter.

Stacy did nothing in school. She had failed to attend most of her classes and her grades were E and D in all her courses. The teachers all wrote ‘Stacy could do better if she made an effort.’ What was Vicki to do? She had tried everything to get Stacy more motivated about school and everything had failed.

Vicki is in a similar position as a lot of parents. Teenagers are on the threshold of adulthood. Oftentimes they are already burdened by adult problems that they take onto themselves or which is thrust upon them and at that stage of their development keeping focused on school activities while tackling life issues is very difficult. Teens need to see the value of education to factor it into their future plans but this age group generally lives in the now and plans for their future often become relevant to them after they leave school.

According to Kaylene Williams from California State University and Caroline Williams from the University of Wisconsin, ‘the five key ingredients impacting student motivation are: student, teacher, content, method/process, and environment.’[i] They state that ‘the student must have access, ability, interest, and value education. The teacher must be well trained, must focus and monitor the educational process, be dedicated and responsive to his or her students, and be inspirational. The content must be accurate, timely, stimulating, and pertinent to the student’s current and future needs. The method or process must be inventive, encouraging, interesting, beneficial, and provide tools that can be applied to the student’s real life. The environment needs to be accessible, safe, positive, personalized as much as possible, and empowering.’[ii] All this is true. But outside the school environment there are also home factors that affect student learning and motivation to stay in school.

Teenagers are big children, who have a greater interest in socializing with peers. They are always in a hurry to grow up and gain autonomy over their own lives but lack understanding what autonomy requires; so the nagging parent and jailing school to them are their impediments to freedom. They are inexperienced with the responsibility of adulthood and idealize freedoms without understanding that sometimes an adult sacrifices freedoms for his or her pursuits.

Teenagers need to be comfortable at home in order for their minds to be relaxed enough to absorb knowledge. Their interests must be encouraged and not discarded for the pursuit of the interests of the parents. If the teen wants to be an artists, a musician, a dancer or a writer but the parent wants their young lady and young man to become a doctor, a teacher, an engineer or an investment banker, a conflict occurs between the guardian and the child. It is best to encourage the teenager in their own interest while encouraging them to pursue other interest like the sciences, the arts or gaining a technical skill like auto mechanics or aerodynamics; so that they understand they can pursue several interests.

What generally happens is that the teen that is seeking autonomy clashes with the parent who wants to maintain control over their blossoming young adult., especially when the young adult is more interested in sex and partying rather than cleaning their room and studying. From the minute a young adult begins to feel trapped at home they will seek avenues of escape. Escape usually comes in rebellion where they seek to be the very opposite of their guardian having now seen the guardian as the enemy.

Happiness is key to all success. Adults have a hard time becoming less protective of their teens and becoming more supportive as a guide. They cannot stop themselves from trying to prevent their children from having negative experiences, as one of the roles of parents is to protect the child. No one can be sheltered from experience but people can be guided through the difficulties they are bound to face making their own mistakes. Offering guidance is the role of the parent.

Teenagers who are actively involved in their school ‘s sport, music, art or skill programs tend to have a drive to want to stay and succeed in school. ‘Students discover their own rewards by mastering new challenges and making unique contributions in a significant and meaningful context.’[iii]

“Your teachers said to let you become more involved in clubs at school and I did. For what purpose? Where are you coming from? You are not going to one more club meeting!” Vicki shouts.

This is the second weekend Stacy has come home late in the night. She allowed Stacy to join clubs and school and she suspected that Stacy was spending time doing everything else but club activities.

Like Vicki, it is easy to get despondent when your child is wayward but remember that students come to school to learn, as well as to socialize and build relationships with their peers. If their boyfriend or girlfriend is threatening to breakup with them, they will skip school and head across town to mend their relationships –they are mini us. Making them out to be worthless and unambitious is negative behavior fuelled by our own fears. When they become actively involved in school, they do not become derailed when those relationships unravel because they are better able to handle disappointments having other good experiences happening for them.

Exposing teenagers to the various income earning acts that school prepares them for can encourage their drive for a profession. Taking them to the hospital to see nurses and doctors at work, or a carpenter’s shop to see a chair assembled can have a lasting impression on teenagers. When they are little children we dress them up in professional costumes to stimulate their desire for a profession. A physical effort to regenerate their interest at the teenage stage is also needed. Become positively interested in who your child is and help steer them to success. Arranging visitations to university and college fairs can also make the stress of higher education just another stage in the adventure of education. Do not become despondent when he or she showed no interest and was only looking at the smart phone or tablet.

Treat teenagers as little people. It is impossible to force their wills. Trying to do so is like two bulls colliding. The parent at this stage of the young adult’s development still needs to maintain a friendship with the child. As thinking beings, teens must be spurred to challenge themselves because they are the only ones who can stop their own regression or propel themselves forward. They are ripening fruits. Parents must therefore remember they are teaching their teens to master life, not to sheepishly follow into the footsteps they wish them to take. Love and respect your teenagers, get involved in their lives and teach them that there is more to life than socializing and following what they see on TV; so set a good example.

In 2005, the Parent Institute published a parent guide called ‘Seven Proven Ways To Motivate Children To Do Better In School’. They were to set proper expectations, help your child set goals, show your child that you think school is important, support your child’s learning style, speaking encouragingly to your child, reinforcing learning at home and in the community and encouraging your child to be resilient. All of which are necessary for a non-performing student to become motivated to succeed and stay in school.

The principal thing is to be supportive of your child. This means offering your child encouragement and applaud their efforts of improvement, no matter how small the growth is. To reinforce the educational values you need to establish them by spending time with your children to understand their needs them and to ensure that they get all they need to succeed. Nothing is easy with a problematic teenager but reinforcing values and encouragement go a long way.

[i] Williams, Kaylene C & Williams, Caroline C. Five key ingredients for improving student motivation. California State University, Stanislaus & University of Wisconsin, Madison.

[ii] Williams, Kaylene C & Williams, Caroline C. Five key ingredients for improving student motivation. California State University, Stanislaus & University of Wisconsin, Madison.

[iii] Williams, Kaylene C & Williams, Caroline C. Five key ingredients for improving student motivation. California State University, Stanislaus & University of Wisconsin, Madison.


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