I’m well acquainted with this necessary parenting technique: I had an unmotivated student. It’s not that he wasn’t capable of achieving academic success; it was just that he didn’t have the motivation or the desire to do his best. He never soared in high school, or in the first semester of college, but he did reach his academic potential, finally.
It was hard having a child who didn’t grasp his full potential, no matter how much I told him he was capable of straight A’s. It just didn’t matter to him. Passing with average grades was good enough for him. Those grades, however, contributed to some difficult life choices and some hard lessons along the way.
In the end, there were four factors that finally motivated him academically:
1. Good Old-Fashioned Competition
My son chose the Marines over attending college; partly because of his grades and partly because the regiment and rules of the military appealed to him. My daughter worked hard in high school and attended college on several scholarships. My son watched her work hard and study and attended her college graduation with us. He had always felt she was smarter than him and that’s why she excelled. But the fact that she had that degree and he didn’t, made him think long and hard about what he wanted after his 4-year stint in the Marines.
2. Economic Realities
After getting out of the Marines and immediately starting college, he crashed and burned. He wasn’t ready for the rigors of studying again and he failed miserably his first semester. After that he chose to go to work; and that meant he would be taking a minimum wage job until he found something better. That something better never came and he realized that in order to compete in the workforce, he needed that college degree.
3. The Desire to Prove Something
Often, the greatest motivating factor can be to prove to yourself it’s possible to achieve a particular goal. He had much to prove: he had to start over at a community college, make good grades so he could transfer to a 4-year college, and stay with it until he finished. This one factor is probably what kept him motivated to graduate; and not just graduate, but graduate summa cum laude with honors.
4. The Promise of a Positive Outcome
My son knew that a college degree would affect his ability to gain employment in a market when most applicants were college graduates. He also knew that his academic achievements would be a plus on his resume and during job interviews.
The basic point here is that motivating an unmotivated student isn’t an easy task. Unfortunately for my son, I realized too late what would motivate him. The self-motivators, like my daughter, are never a problem. It’s the ones who aren’t motivated no matter what you try.
Parents play a pivotal role in motivating teens toward college. Here are some other helpful tips that I have learned as a parent:
- The best motivator is other teens. If your teen is hanging out with other teens who are motivated and achieving, they are more likely to do the same.
- Hook your teen up with a local college mentor. Here’s a resource that is available that might be of some help: BetterGrads
- Get some advice on teen motivation from parenting experts on social media.
- Encourage your teen to sign up on College Week Live and talk to current college students in the chat rooms.
- Read articles that give give positive advice, like this one: Get Your Unmotivated Child on Track
- Get inside your teen’s head and find out why they aren’t motivated. Are they afraid of college? Do they feel they won’t get accepted if they apply? Do they have a dream that is so big they need your encouragement?
- Listen. Quizzing never helps. Just sit in their room and listen to them talk. Listen to them talk on the way to school, at dinner, during television shows, and when their friends are hanging out at your house.
Applying these tips and recognizing why your student is unmotivated should spur them on to achieve success. Be encouraged that eventually their eyes open; even if it’s after they realize the importance of an education in the real world.