Lack of Motivation in Teenagers
by Lee Binz
Now What? It can happen overnight. One day your child is pleasant, cooperative, and enthusiastic about learning. The next day…. Not so much. It happens to boys and girls, but not to everyone. It’s common, but that doesn’t make it easier for parents to deal with. What do you do with a child who will only do the bare minimum, and really isn’t interested in learning?
Some teenagers will remain pleasant and generally cooperative, but will do everything in a uniquely slow-as-molasses way, with a seemingly complete lack of motivation. That’s when parents look heavenward, asking the age-old question, “Now what?”
Sometimes this may be “just a phase" - as if the kids are checking just to see who is REALLY the boss, and what REALLY matters to Mom and Dad. If that is the case, then the solution is to wait until the phase it over...... Bummer, I know, because as a parent it feels like having nails on the chalkboard all day, every day. Sometimes it will last just a couple of weeks, while child (or parent) figures out what adjustments have to be made. Other times the lack of motivation lasts for months - or even a year - until the child finds something that really sparks an interest.Misery Loves Company
One client, Cindy, was devastated when her daughter became that way at age 14. Her daughter had always been a driven and perfectionist person. But suddenly her daughter wasn't interested in piano or flute any further, and just didn't have any activity that she enjoyed. Cindy was very worried about her sitting around, uncharacteristically on the couch all day. Finally her daughter picked up a guitar for the first time.... A few months later she was helping the worship leader at church. When I spoke to Cindy recently, she hardly remembered those difficult times.
Another client had a very similar concern. I was consulting with her in her home, and I met her son. It was certainly the exact way she said it was; no interests but the couch and video games - she was beside herself. I saw this client a few months ago, and her son had completely turned the corner. She “forced” him to take a class for school, and he suddenly discovered politics and debate. Now he is going 100% full speed.
I know that I had issues, particularly with my oldest. At that time, his love of chess really SEEMED like he was wasting his life and doing nothing. He was just sitting on the couch reading books about chess, and playing that crazy board game for hours on end. At the time I thought I would go nuts. Now, of course, I realized that he was working on his area of specialization, but at the time it was just horrible.
Other moms who have gone through this same thing and survived. It doesn't make it easier, but perhaps it can make it more tolerable. Beyond knowing that misery loves company, I can offer some possible solutions. Take what will work for your family.
Assess Your Expectations Assess the expectations you have in your homeschool. Sometimes when I consult with moms about this issue and talk to them at length, I find out that the child is actually overworked. If you are doing a classical education, particularly at a classical homeschool coop, you may be at greater risk of having expectations that are too high. Regardless of your curriculum choice, look at the schoolwork you are expecting.
Is the level of work too high? Is the number of hours too great? How many hours would it take a normal child to work at normal speed to get that amount of work done? How long would it take you to complete all the assignments, if you were doing them at a normal speed? Is your child expected to work longer at school than your spouse spends at work?
The opposite may also be true, when the expectations are too low. When kids are bored, it's hard to get motivated to do anything. If you are having him work with younger siblings, if your child is gifted, or if you are using curriculum meant for younger grades, then you may be at greater risk for this. Homeschool coops and multi-age curricula are wonderful things that are great for homeschoolers much of the time, but parents still need to assess even wonderful things. If something isn’t working, you have to find out what is wrong before you can fix it.
Raising Boys vs. Raising Men Second, if you have a son this stage may be a unique attempt at becoming a man. It's difficult to grow from "boy" to "man" when you don't have meaningful work and you aren’t the alpha-male and top-dog of the home. My husband made a short YouTube about Raising Boys vs. Raising Men. This resource may help you think about possible causes and solutions.
My sons each obtained a meaningful job at about 14 years old. That’s one of the benefits of homeschooling, because you do have more flexibility to incorporate employment into your school day. We did school 4 days a week, allowing the 5th day for them to spend working. Is there something that your son has been saying he wants to do? Can you find a situation, or a mentor, that can help him do that?
Some parents have confessed that, while their child wanted to do something, they couldn’t allow it because they didn’t have time. The opposite may actually be true. If you do NOT do the things that give them meaning, they may work on school even slower because they are bored and frustrated. Avoiding unique opportunities can just add to the problem. Therefore, one possible solution might be searching for some meaningful, "real adult" kind of work. Some parents work from home, and will start to include their son in the work activities. Others will allow work-related activities or mentors.
The Specialization Solution Third, it may have something to do with a lack of specialization. Young people need to have a "thing" they are good at. They want to be known as "the kid who..." Adults will say to each other "where do you work?" Or “what do you do?” Children want their own “thing” so they can grow up. The problem is that young adults don't have very much exposure to the world, and sometimes they haven't stumbled upon a special interest yet.
The solution to a lack of specialization is exposing children to a wide variety of experiences and subjects through a liberal arts education and plenty of time to do new things. I must confess that it can take a long time before something "clicks." Many people suggest speech and debate, or political organizations, as your first attempt at something new. For young people, these activities give them an opportunity to speak their mind and argue - without arguing with their parents – and it can improve their sense of self.
Look carefully at a lack of specialization as a possible cause. When I see parents with this problem they often miss important clues about their child’s interests. One way to identify specialization is to pay attention to what annoys you. You can use your annoy-o-meter to recognize specialization that may be hidden just below the surface. I have written an article about that topic that may help.
Give your child more input with their activities and involvements. Perhaps they should quit boy scouts – or not! Instead they may want to quit the sport club. Would your child prefer acting or computer programming instead of the activities you have provided?
Cause and Effect When I had toddlers, I spent a lot of time thinking about natural consequences. I wanted to provide real world, cause and effect reasons for my children to behave. Using that same strategy, try to brainstorm ideas that will have a direct cause and effect result in your teenage children. The key is a simple if-then statement presented in a matter-of-fact way.Effective suggestions:
IF you text while driving THEN you are not mature enough to use my car.
IF you are too tired to do school THEN you are too tired to have friends over.
IF you don’t do your work THEN Mom will throw a fit.
High Quality Problems Motivation problems can occur even in wonderful children with great attitudes. My son Kevin was like that - always pleasant and cooperative. I remember when Kevin was a "terrible two" and didn't want to be in the mall shopping. He simply sat down and said, "No thank you, Mommy." He was so obedient and sweet! He was the same way at 14 years old. "No thank you, Mommy" to a math lesson doesn't work as well, though. At that age they are too big to pick them up and remove them to an obedient situation.
The problems that we have faced (along with many others) may be better problems, on a completely different plane, then the problems that many other parents face. Knowing that our problems are “good problems” rather than “bad problems” will only help a little. At the core, it is still a problem that causes stress and anxiety. Knowing you have a “good problem” isn’t a solution, but perhaps it’s an encouragement.
Sometimes it Gets Really Bad I’ve been around the block a few times, though, and I know not everything is perfect in homeschool families. Sometimes our problems are HUGE and HORRIBLE. Teenagers can make their own decisions. Sometimes they make the biggest, most horrendous decisions. Worse still, sometime the consequences of their actions are life-altering.
If you have a teen making ridiculously bizarre or unsafe decisions, place the blame squarely where is resides; with the teen. God designed us to have free will. Sometimes children will act on their free will earlier than others.
Read my article called “What If? Homeschool High School Without Fear” for encouragement. Although the article was written for families facing trauma, some of the words may bring encouragement and hope for families suffering through the trauma of truly horrendous teenage consequences.
Bottom Line... Right now your teen may seem to a horrendous waste of God-given potential destined to live the loveless life of a vagabond. In truth though, they aren't.
It's a phase.
It will pass.
It's not terminal.
Lee Binz, The HomeScholar, specializes in helping parents homeschool high school. Get Lee's 5 part mini-course, "The 5 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make Homeschooling High School." You can find her at www.TheHomeScholar.com.
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