Teenagers need to study a lot.
They need to study for long hours.
They need to study instead of doing the things that they really want to do.
And they need to perform to satisfy – not just themselves, but also their parents and teachers.
And they need to study while staying connected with their friends and peers and dealing with the challenges that their changing brains and bodies bring along during puberty.
Boredom, disinterest and distractions are the hallmarks of the teen years. And keeping your teen motivated to study through this time is challenging to say the least.
So here follows a plan to motivate your teen to study and to keep your teen motivated through the longs hours, days and years of studying.
Why are teens not motivated?
When we say a teen is not motivated – she/he is probably just not doing what we want her/him to do.
If we allow the teen to do what she/he wants to do – then she/he is sure to be motivated from inside. This is called intrinsic motivation.
How can you motivate your teenager to study?
Motivation is a survival tool.
Motivation pushes us to do things that will help us survive and thrive.
In a situation of scarcity – a hungry man will be motivated to work hard and do manual labour and do work that he may dislike completely – even if he is tired because that will earn him the money to buy the food necessary for survival. On the other hand if there is enough food – he may not want to do the work even when he is feeling energetic and able.
The three things that teenagers really want during adolescence are
Most teenagers are not motivated to study because studying seems like an unending drudgery to them because –
Even if they study they will not have freedom
“If I finish this exam there will be one more exam.”
“When I go home from school – I will have to go for tuition”
It is important to show children how studying will result in freedom
“If you study well for this exam – you will already know half the portion for the next exam and you will have to study less next time.”
“If you listen during class – you will understand better and then it will take less time to finish the homework in the evening”
Even if they study they will not have independence
“Even if I get full marks – I will finally have to do exactly what my parents say”
Show your child how studying builds our capability to make better decisions as we learn more and more about the world. And how that helps us to become independent.
“If you learn maths well – you can get better deals when you buy electronics”
“If you study Africa well you can plan the next trip”
Even if they study they will be scolded and not respected
“Even if I study – if my marks are low – my mom will call me useless and worthless”
As children grow older they want to be respected. Be respectful of and courteous to your child whatever her his marks may be.
If you respect your teen – your teen is likely to be motivated to study more to ensure that you continue to respect her/him.
How to motivate your teen to study
The purpose of education is often misunderstood.
The purpose of education is not to teach facts – but to teach mindfulness and thinking.
The purpose is not to teach children each and every fact about the world – but to give show them how the world functions – so that they can think and do what is best for them and the rest of the world – rather than what comes naturally to them.
Motivate your child to learn rather than perform
It is always easier to motivate a child to learn rather than perform or get marks.
How much you learn – depends on the effort and the hard work you put in.
Performance on the other hand depends on how others are doing. It is only when others do not do as well as you do – that your performance stands out.
Since your child cannot control how others perform she/he may lose the motivation to study if you keep stressing on performing and coming first or getting marks.
Do not bribe or punish
Bribing and punishing are quick fixes. But they kill internal motivation.
When a child begins to do something to get a reward or to avoid a punishment the motivation becomes fear or greed. Both fear and greed block mind space and hamper learning.
Be patient sensitive and understanding
Teenage is time of tremendous physical and mental changes.
These physical and mental changes make the people around your child respond to her/him differently. And your teen is forced to rethink her/his identity and fit into a new role. This causes tremendous turmoil in the mind of your teen.
The anxiety to fit in and be accepted is your teen’s most important need. Be sensitive to your child’s need and patient and understanding of the challenges.
A child who feels loved and understood will be motivated to study much more than a child who feels unloved and is always anxious about displeasing her/his parents.
Allow and encourage lots of physical activity
In the teen years your child’s energy stamina and strength are increasing. But as they become more and more energetic their studies increase as well. And more and more desk work compels them to sit in one place for long hours.
This pent-up energy makes children restless and frustrated and destroys concentration. When your teen realizes that she/he is unable to concentrate her/his motivation levels decrease because of dejection. Encourage your teen to play and expend physical energy every day.
Explain the “why” behind what teenagers are studying
In the teen years the brain grows rapidly.
With the sudden appearance of rational thought teens want to question everything that they are expected to do. Most school learning is abstract and teens question why they should learn what they are being taught.
They want to think and argue – making them mug and memorize does not work. Don’t be afraid to discuss why something should be learnt. Don’t say – “because I say so”. Take the time to analyse and explain how what is being learnt will be relevant in real life.
During the teen years children are already terribly self-conscious. They are always wondering what others are doing, what others are saying and what others are thinking.
Most of their mind is already full of thoughts about others. Your comparing with others only makes this worse.
Distraction because of wondering what others are doing decreases concentration. In addition the belief that others are already way ahead of them – impairs their learning ability.
Encourage the company of adults other than the parents
During the teen years – children are trying to separate from their parents. They are seeking autonomy from their parents. But they are also craving adult company because they want to know what the adult world is like and what adults are thinking.
It is important to plan for teens to spend time in the company of adults other than their parents to help them let go of the stress of peer pressure that may otherwise be distracting and demotivating. An aunt, an uncle or a cousin who is close to the family is a great connection to nurture. Teachers or counselors are great to have around too for a teen.
Give your teen mental challenges
The teenage mind is constantly looking for challenges. Challenges convince your teen that she/he is capable.
It is important to assess the level of knowledge of the teen and start teaching from the right level. When something is too easy – it is boring and the teen gets distracted and demotivated. On the other hand when something is too difficult – repeated failures demotivate the child.
Don’t insist that your child score marks – insist that your child learns what she/he learns perfectly even if it is a small part of the syllabus. Small successes will keep your child motivated and increase confidence.
Do not try to control
If you try to control your teenager – you will surely end up with rebellion.
Do not threaten your teenager with consequences. Do not misuse your power as a parent.
As the logical thinking part of the brain grows in your teen – reason with your teen. Show your child what may happen if she/he does not study and what can happen if she/he does study.
Allow your teen to decide. Be a facilitator and help your teen achieve what she/he wants to achieve. Do not impose your will upon your teenager – otherwise your teenager will get frustrated and will get demotivated.
In the teen years – children naturally move away from their parents and gravitate towards their friends.
They need friends to feel accepted and wanted and keep their self-esteem intact.
Unfortunately as parents we focus so much on the problems caused by teen friendships that we overlook the benefits. An isolated teen however, is likely to feel demotivated and distracted because her/his basic need of being accepted by the peers is not fulfilled – and this may hamper academic performance.
Do not criticize
Teenagers are extremely sensitive to negative feedback and take your words at face value.
Many times as parents we say things without thinking. We point out our child’s bad qualities to urge them to change – we say things in anger without thinking too much. The intention is to motivate the teen – but teenagers just internalize the negativity and this leads to negative self image and low self-esteem.
When we say things like “You are useless – you can’t even get a simple sum right.” The teen thinks “When my parents are saying I can’t do it – then I am sure I can’t. Why even try?” The motivation to try is lost.
Always be very specific when you are giving negative feedback. And make sure your criticism is constructive.
Say “Look – this small step in this sum has made the whole answer wrong. Let me explain the step to you again and then do 10 sums like this. That will ensure that you will never make this mistake again.”
Do not be grumpy and complaining
When teenagers don’t do well in academics – they typically start slipping in other areas of their lives as well. They start keeping their rooms untidy, they neglect their personal hygiene like taking bath and brushing etc. They dress untidily in crushed clothes and so on. This can make you more and more irritated and you may look at your child in disgust whenever she/he is around you and start pointing out everything that is wrong with your child at all times of the day.
Do not do this. It can be extremely demotivating.
This is the time to support your child and find out why your child is behaving like this with expert help – instead of constantly criticizing her/him. First help your teen improve in academics. That will motivate her/him to do everything else well as well.
Show your passion not your worry
Worry kills motivation. And teenagers are already very worried about what will happen if they don’t do well in academics and exams.
Telling them that you are worried – showing them that you are worried, only adds to their stress and stress then kills their motivation.
Always be calm and in control around your teen. Do not panic and scream and shout. Show your teen – your passion for the subjects – your interest in the subjects. Inspire your teen to study with your passion. Excite your teen with your enthusiasm. Motivation will come automatically.
Help your teen learn with examples
It is very difficult to learn something that has no immediate application in real life.
On the other hand it is extremely easy to learn something that has some immediate use in our lives. Help your teen see the application or use of what she/he is learning in school.
When your teen can see the use of what she/he is learning – motivation levels are sure to be high.
If you teach your teen about velocity and radius – it makes absolutely no sense until you connect it to the speed your teen will have to ride her/his bike at in order to come down a mountain road without having an accident or flying off the road.
Do not let work accumulate
When there is too much to do – we feel overwhelmed and this leads to a feeling resistance.
If you want to motivate your teenager make sure you are connected with your teen, aware of how much has to be studied.
Push your teen to finish small chunks of work every day.
Help your teen set goals. Decide on daily goals weekly goals and monthly goals and help your teen manage time such that she/he reaches those goals. Do an audit of the work done and the work pending every week.
If your teen is behind schedule, help her/him to catch up. When the quantum of work is small – your teen will be motivated – otherwise he will lose motivation because there is too much to do.
Remember everyone can do everything with handwork
When your teen starts studying – a certain subject or a certain chapter – it may be difficult at first. If it is too difficult – your teen may lose motivation and give up.
Be around to identify this loss of motivation and step in before your teen gives up. Give your teen examples of how seemingly impossible tasks soon become very easy and even lots of fun when we practice and become good at them.
Reassure and motivate your teen by guaranteeing that when someone does something enough times – he is sure to become good at it.
Do not pressurize your teen with praise
Everyone needs praise.
Praise and appreciation are important because they motivate us to do our best.
But very often if we deliver praise without thinking we may end up pressurizing our children too much.
If you praise your teen constantly for good marks or intelligence she/he may get obsessed with maintaining her/his image. So much so, that the preoccupation with looking good keeps her/him from studying and performing in exams.
Make sure you are not praising your teen with the ulterior motive of pressurizing her/him to perform in the exam. That can be demotivating and dangerous. Praise the process – be descriptive and be honest.
Arrange for small successes by focusing on small goals
Setting a realistic goal is the main challenge for most teenagers.
They are prone to setting massive goals and then losing motivation because the goal is impossible to reach.
If your teen is not doing very well – do not pressurize her/him to finish everything. Look at the old question papers and figure out what chapters can get your teen pass marks. Finish those chapters thoroughly with your teen so that she/he can answer all questions from those chapters without any hesitation.
Once the work load decreases your child will lose her/his fear and be motivated to begin. And as she/he finishes small chapters and is assured of a certain number of marks in the exam – her/his motivation to study will increase.
Give your teen healthy food and lots of sleep
Eating foods with large amounts sugar and trans fats – increases anxiety and brings down motivation. So does consuming large quantities of caffeine.
To increase your teen’s motivation to study avoid – packaged processed food, avoid foods made of maida (refined flour) like cakes, biscuits and other deep-fried snacks. Avoid too much tea coffee and fizzy drinks.
Focus on healthy homemade food made with a variety of complex carbohydrates and a variety of proteins and fats from different sources.
Also read Coffee is not good for your child while studying and Indian Meal Plan Tips For Busy Moms For Balanced Healthy Meals
Stop panicking and looking disappointed
Whether teens admit it or not – whether teens show it or not – what they most desperately want and seek – is their parent’s approval.
When they see your quiet confidence in them – they feel reassured and motivated to do better.
When they see disappointment, panic and anxiety in the parent’s eyes – they worry because they see their world spinning out of control and that frightens them and does not allow them to study. Their mind space is occupied with wanting to attract their parent’s love and attention, and that does not allow them to study.
Intrinsic motivation or motivation that comes from inside us is the best motivation. It comes when we do things that we want to do and so is seen in play, in exploration and in challenge seeking. The trick to motivate teenagers to study is to make them want to study by helping them to see how easy it is and what rewards it can bring them.