Homeschooling Unmotivated Teens
If you’ve ever known a teenager, then you likely already know that they are more than capable of becoming, at some point or another, completely unmotivated. Many of us forget that we were that teen at one point in our own lives. Sometimes looking back on it can give us perspective – or not.
The truth is these days teens are more unmotivated than ever before. The rise of “screen time”, social media, playing video games, Google, and so much more, has made it possible for teens to access the entire world from a very tiny space. They don’t really have to do much to find out everything they want to know, and all their socializing is generally done through screen time as well.
So, what do you do when your teen doesn’t seem to have the will to finish their lessons or whatever the case may be? I’ve got some tips here that might just help, depending on the task at hand.
Take a Break When Necessary for Unmotivated Teens
I say, “when necessary” because some children might need one break a day, while others might need ten. A good rule of thumb, especially for teens who simply can’t hold their focus for very long, is to offer a five-minute break for every thirty minutes of school work. This small break can be a motivator and takes work from being overwhelming to more manageable since working for hours and hours at a time can strip every ounce of concentration from some children. Once your unmotivated teenager gets a break, even one this small, they often find it easier to come back to the task at hand and actually see some accomplishment before the next break is necessary.
Change up the scenery and Homeschool Somewhere Else
Let’s face it, as parents of teens, we can get tired of the same old thing, day in and day out. Why not take education into the highways and byways and see how it changes the motivation level of our teens?
You might hang out at a library for a couple of hours, where you’ll study history only from books that are only available there. A museum could be an excellent way to get some in-depth knowledge for art class. Or a day at the park might bring a breath of fresh air to science class. You might even decide to sit in on a play, musical concert, or a speech to get some insight on the topic or the delivery. The list could potentially be endless, especially if you ask your teen if there’s anything interesting going on around town that they'd like to do.
Put Your Expectations in Check to Keep Teens Motivated
It’s tempting to ramp up the workload as your young people move into high school, but sometimes, this can do more harm than good. If you’re just getting started homeschooling during the teen years, this can be a tough one to gauge and can take some time to figure out so please, give yourself – and your teen – some much-needed grace, and space.
Even as teens, our children can sometimes feel so overwhelmed with the tasks ahead of them, that they shut down in response. This is especially true when it comes to teen boys. If they’ve been a part of the public-school herd, it can take a while to clear away the clouds that overshadowed them in that setting to allow them to see much brighter skies in your new plan. However, don’t be quick to expect as much from them as the public school did.
Give them an opportunity to build up to the level you believe to be necessary. After all, isn’t freedom in the learning environment part of the reason you started homeschooling? Each child learns at their own pace and their own speed, and if we expect much more from them all at once, we may be a contributing factor to their lack of drive.
Does that mean we should just let them sail through their subjects on autopilot? Certainly not. But we can start with “little” and move towards “much” and it will quickly become apparent where we could and should draw the line. Once they become so overwhelmed that they start to shut down, it’s time to back off, change the curriculum, or change the teaching style. You might love the Classical Homeschooling approach, whereas Charlotte Mason Method might be best.
Empowering Them by Giving Them Some “Say-So”
Have you ever noticed how most teenagers just hate being told what to do? They are coming into an age where they feel adulthood looming and they really want to grab it by the horns and take control of their future. They aren’t necessarily trying to be disobedient, or lazy, but aren’t making it very easy on us as parents either.
Giving them some 'say-so' could come down to something as simple as allowing them the opportunity to plan a day or two of their week. Of course, this doesn’t mean that they can plan a day off, or a day to do nothing but play video games or see what their friends are up to on Instagram. Give them some guidance to plan their couple of days; a list of subjects, activities, volunteer opportunities, etc., to choose from so that they can feel as if they have some control over their day. This can not only provide them with motivation, but could also boost their self-esteem and mental health.
“Catch Them” Doing Good in Short Term Time Frames
It’s just too easy for us to sometimes catch our kids in some activities they’re not supposed to be in for one reason or another. It might be a cell phone during learning time, or that they are surfing the net when they’re supposed to be reading or studying. It’s easy for us to reprimand and call them out because we want them on the right path. Our motives are pure, but the result can be catastrophic if we’re not careful. Even the Bible talks about this: “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.” (Colossians 3:21)
If we start making a concerted effort to “catch” our children doing good, we might be surprised to find that they will be encouraged instead of discouraged!
As a teen myself, just prior to starting college, I worked in a restaurant chain that put this into practice for some time. The managers and assistant managers were given cards that they could pass out to employees whom they found to be doing an exemplary job. It might be cleaning, manning their station well, or giving excellent customer service. The card was good for a treat or a value meal, and I have honestly never seen an employee as overjoyed as they were when they received these cards. Especially the teens!
It wasn’t that they were thrilled with the treat. No, it was quite obvious that it was the acknowledgment of a job well done that pushed them to continue on, in hopes of being “caught” again. Imagine the implications if this thought process caught on! Catch your child writing well, exercising excellent judgment in specific situations, helping a younger sibling, or doing a chore without being asked first. This list, as well, could go on and on, but from here, I’ll leave that to you - you know your child best.
Patience is a Virtue - Especially with Unmotivated Teenagers
Your saving grace as a parent of an unmotivated teen is patience. You may want to yell, threaten, jump up and down and have a complete fit, but I assure you (as the parent of an unmotivated teen myself!) none of these things will invoke the response you want. There are a variety of reasons for the lack of motivation to pop up in a child. Some are normal, some are the result of trauma, some could be due to ADHD, and some are simply part of being a teenager. And the more patient we are as parents, the easier it will be for us to maintain the control we must have.
Here is a summary of what we’ve discussed, and I wish you all the best in finding a motivating factor for your teen!
- Take frequent breaks
- Get out of the house
- Consider your expectations
- Give them some control over their days
- Catch them doing good
- Be patient
And here are some words from The Word regarding “patience”:
- Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. (Ecclesiastes 7:8)
- Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. (1 Thessalonians 5:14)
- And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, (2 Timothy 2:24)
- In our patience possess ye your souls. (Luke 21:19)
Having an unmotivated teen is hard. It can make us mad, sad, confused, and leave us feeling like we have no control. It can cause good grades to turn into bad grades in an instant. But take heart! This stage doesn’t last forever, and the more you look for the positives and create ways to deal with issues in a way that doesn’t bring more chaos, the easier it will be to make it through. One day, you’ll look back on this time and laugh together. For now, bite your tongue and hold on. You’re going to make it!