by Jacqui Smit, a blue-haired “crazy cat lady” who loathes a split infinitive and loves an Oxford comma. She works as a copywriter for Impaq Education, a curriculum provider for home, tutor and school education.

Sigh. You’ve tried everything. What more can you do to motivate your teen to study?

Many teenagers are stereotyped as lazy and unmotivated children who want nothing more than to sleep in, socialise with friends and entertain themselves with their smartphones, laptops, and gaming consoles. But this stereotype isn’t really fair at all. It’s understandable because this behaviour is what parents see, but it’s ultimately misguided. Teenagers can be, and are, motivated when:

  • they have reason to be, and
  • when this motivation is properly instilled.

Here are five tips on how to motivate your teen:

1)    Help them understand what’s “in it for them”

Often, teenagers don’t truly understand the value of the task they are being asked to do. This in turn makes them less likely to complete the task. At their core, teenagers want to feel significant and to demonstrate to the world that they are capable of great things. Nurture these desires by helping them to understand the significance of tasks and why completing them is beneficial to them. Once they understand the worth of the task, whether it be for personal development or a step in achieving greater long-term goals, they are more likely to carry it out.

2)    Keep the channels of communication open and practise empathy

Teenagers often feel misunderstood and under pressure from their parents, which is likely to demotivate them. A good way to overcome this is to put yourself in their shoes, so to speak. Talk to them openly, honestly and without judgment, so that you can establish how they feel about various things. At this stage in their life, they are quite sensitive and emotional. Give your teen a say in how to set their tasks and carry them out: they will become more invested in completing these tasks because they will feel that they have more control. They will feel more responsible and motivated when you give them a little leeway and seem less “controlling”.

3)    Assist them with setting reasonable goals

Building on the previous point, it’s also important to discuss and set expectations which both parties find reasonable and acceptable. Compromise is very important in this regard. If your expectations are too high, your child might feel anxious and pressured, and this is extremely demotivating. Sometimes your teen won’t know where to start or might feel overwhelmed about the size of a task. As a parent, you will have a wealth of life experience, so use this to help them breakdown and work through their tasks. Direct them without being a “helicopter” parent. And if your child doesn’t manage the first time around, be patient with them!

Related: What role should parents play in academic achievement?

4)    Reward your teen for a job well done

Much research has been done on the psychology of rewards. Humans are hardwired to do whatever it takes to feel good, and rewards are a sure-fire way to achieve this. Positive reinforcement is the best way to encourage desired behaviour. Motivate your teen to work even harder by rewarding good work. Remember :

  • rewards need not be reserved for achieving distinctions in subjects they are good at
  • reward teens for even just trying their best and
  • reward slow improvements in a subject they find challenging.

Obviously, it’s up to you as the parent to decide what constitutes a reward but do this in consultation with your child. There’s no point in giving them a reward they don’t like or want (but explain to your child that said reward must be reasonable). Psychology has also shown that punishment does nothing to encourage the desired behaviour, so don’t scold your child for not attaining their goals. This will undoubtedly demotivate them.

5)    Motivate your teen by making it fun

A good way to keep your teen motivated is for them to complete their tasks in a way that they will enjoy. Children learn best when they can accommodate their individual needs, so chat to your teen about the way they work best. It’s also useful to add a dash of fun into how they learn and work because it makes it more enjoyable and this will then motivate your teen to work. If they need to do research, it might be good for them to watch a movie relevant to the topic. If they need to study for an online test, turn it into a game. Talk to your teen about what they feel might make completing their tasks more enjoyable and use that to their advantage.

Motivating a teenager can be hard, but as long as you are both “on the same page” when it comes to applying these tips, you should hopefully see a significant improvement in their motivation! Do you feel you have motivated your teen to do their tasks, but feel at a loss as to how to help them complete the tasks? Read our article on tips for studying from home during lockdown.

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