Back To School Blues: How To Motivate An Unmotivated Teenager

Image: Getty / Dan Kenyon

Image: Getty / Dan Kenyon

With the school bell about to step out from its long summer break, I am starting to panic. Mainly because I have been so used to lovely long mornings of not rushing around, trying to herd children to the car, racing back into the house because I have lost

my keys….

You know the drill.

Being disorganised is not great for my stress levels, so this year is going to be different. It HAS to be different. Because this year, I will have two boys in high school. How and when did that happen? I will never know. But here we are.

Now the thing about my two sons is that they are very different. One is a self-motivating little go-getter and the other one is a bit more like his mum, who requires more motivation at certain times. And in my experience boys need very clear instructions to

get through the day.

I am not talking about nagging, which is quite often the default mode that parents go to when asking about homework and assignments. It is about being aware of what is going on in his school world.

Quite often your school will have information nights and although it could be tempting to stay at home and watch Netflix, it is worthwhile going along to meet the key teachers. Also be aware of the subjects that your kid is studying, as these change frequently in the first few years.

In the past decade, there has been a decline in academic achievement in our boys. One reason for this decline? Well, you are looking at it right now.

"Boys have really succumbed to the digital era," says Dr Ian Lillico, author and expert on boys' education issues. "There are now so many distractions like mobile phones and the internet, the Xbox and PlayStation and, of course, TV. And even though girls spend as much time on these devices, they tend to use them more as a tool where the boys use them much more as a toy." 

So you have the digital distraction and then you have the lovely issue with hormones as they walk the rocky path of not being a boy anymore, but not quite being a man. Testosterone surges, hours of sleep, eating everything in the fridge and questionable hygiene habits means that there is not a lot of time to study or do homework. This is where some boys need a little gentle persuasion to get things done.

Now before I go on, I want to preface this with the message that my boys’ happiness is the most important thing to me, more important than any test score. But the truth is that the world is a competitive place and if they have a dream that they would like to chase, I want them to have the very best resources to help them reach it.

So, just how does one motivate an unmotivated teenager?

Get organised. Together with my son, we set up an area in his room with two big magazine holders that hold all of his books. On the wall is his timetable. Every afternoon when he comes home, after emptying the fridge of food, it is his responsibility to get

ready by looking up what he has on the next day and then change his books accordingly.

I also encourage him to make sure his school uniform is clean and ready for the next day. Every night after dinner, get your teens to make their own lunch and pop it in the fridge. This will save drama in the morning, as they don’t really fire on all cylinders first thing. (I find anyway).

And the most important thing is, of course, to communicate, communicate, and communicate. Depending on the kid, this is sometimes harder than it seems. In my own experience, my son is very reactive to positive praise and is more likely to share his

academic wins (and losses) if he knows that there will not be any strong repercussions.

And when the failures do occur, we talk about the fact that there is room for growth, and this tact has seen him improve greatly over the past few years. We are now on the cusp of him realising that one day, he is going to be responsible for himself and he is learning that his actions, good or bad, have consequences.

It is exciting to watch my boys grow into themselves, and I cannot wait to find out the people they’ll end up being.

Head here for more information on the learning process and challenges for teenage boys.