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#AskAlyson: Unmotivated Teen

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Hi Alyson,


My 16 year old son is back to in person learning, but he has not got his mojo back.  Before the pandemic he was a B+ A- student.  I never really worried about his schoolwork.   Now he does nothing.  The teacher emails me to say he has not handed in any assignments. When I ask him about his homework, he says he doesn’t have any, or he is on top of it.  He doesn’t want me in his business but he is going to fail courses if he stays on this path.

What can I do?


Concerned Dad


Dear Concerned Dad,


So many of our students lost motivation in learning during the pandemic.   Motivation is something that has to be intrinsically stoked.  We know from research that extrinsic motivators like offering to pay for good grades (rewards) or instilling fear with threats like “I am taking away your gaming console until your marks come up” (punishment) don’t work in the long run.


So what does?  Failing and having to repeat a class is motivating.  Being held behind while your friends move on is motivating.  Not getting into the university you want is motivating.  These are pretty drastic outcomes we hope to avoid, but sometimes teens need to fail as a means of learning from the outcomes of their choices.  We have lots of time to gain an education.


Where to begin? I would suggest you have a heart to heart chat with our son and share your concern.  It might be something like “I have always known you to be an independent learner who gets the grades they want,  but it seems since the pandemic, school has become a challenge. Help me understand the hurdles that are holding you back. Maybe together we can hatch a plan to get you back to where you want to be?”


This is an example of keeping the ownership of the problem with the student.   It’s their goals, their grades to achieve.  It shows loving concern of the parent without taking over the students responsibility.  Its non-judgmental.


Part of the curiosity conversation is to see if you can get down to the nitty gritty of the problem.  Could it be they are feeling overwhelmed by the volume of work? Could it be that they have lost confidence that they will ever get caught up from how behind they are? Could it be that they are not interested in the subject matter or they hate their teacher?


Identifying the problem is the first step in hatching a plan to overcome it.   Brain storm ideas together of what they might do as a first step to knocking back this challenge.  Ask them which of the ideas they think they’d like to try first and ask them if they need any support from you.


Hopefully if you have set the tone properly, they will ask you for some form of support.  Asking your parent to help keep you accountable is hugely different than when you don’t have an invitation to do so.


Try the plan for a short period of time and check in to see how things are going.  Determine together if it needs any tweaks or perhaps it was a colossal fail in which case they can always go back to the drawing board to get another idea from the brainstorm session.


Stay positive that they will figure their way back to academic success in time, even if there are some failed tests, papers or assignments along the way.  Being an encouraging parents is still the best tool we have.



About Alyson

Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

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