Motivating teenagers to study and avoid procrastination. Teenage student stressed and sitting at computer desk in the evening.
Motivating teenagers to study and avoid procrastination.

How to Motivate My Child To Do Well In School

As a parent, it can be difficult to identify the best way to help your child succeed in school. Different articles, books, and websites provide conflicting information that makes it even more difficult to navigate this topic. They leave you more confused and asking yourself: “Should I ask them about their day at school, or should I give them more space?” “How do I motivate my child to do better in school?” “Should I offer help, or will this prevent them from being independent for the future?” or “How can I encourage my child to study?”

To answer these questions of the best ways to motivate students in school, we must first understand why teenagers are lacking motivation to study.

High school is a difficult time for many students

Seeing children hanging out with friends, scrolling through their SnapBooks and InstaTok social media applications on their phones for hours on end, and basically willing to do anything short of their actual work, it can be easy to throw struggling high school students under the umbrella term of “lazy.” However, this is a dangerous overgeneralization. The teenage years are confusing years where high schoolers are trying to figure out who they are and what they want to do in life. These questions can leave teenagers feeling confused, lost, and alone. At SoFlo Tutors we see that as students start to wonder what they want to do with their life, they can develop a sense of anxiety over the need to define their future. All of a sudden, algebra homework does not seem to be the most pressing issue at the moment. 

Students do not see the big picture yet

This is also the time that teens start to question authority and develop a sense of rebellion. Why should valuable high school years be spent studying triangles and outdated literature? As understandable as these concerns may be, high school students may lose sense of the importance of succeeding in the classroom. As older, more experienced people who have experienced high school and beyond themselves, parents understand that a good effort results in good grades, and good grades result in a good college and career. In the midst of it all, teens see everything around them through a magnifying glass. They do not see the big picture yet. 

High schoolers might see the deadline for an essay due tomorrow, but that is only one grade in the grade book. And video games and social media are a lot more fun than writing an essay. They do not fully realize that each individual assignment will eventually make up their entire grade. They do not see that all of their grades eventually make up their GPA. They do not see that they will send their GPA in college applications to universities come senior year. And they do not see how a quality college education will set them up for success in a career later in life. Big things seem small, and the future feels incredibly distant for some students in high school. 


Another major problem that nearly all students face today is procrastination. This problem is not directly addressed nearly enough, so here is a detailed synopsis of the matter at hand:

Procrastination is not born, it is learned. And students can learn from a young age to put off their work by observing others: friends, siblings, parents, etc. This deadly grade-crusher has been incredibly normalized in society, and the majority of high school and college students have had negative experiences with procrastination in one way or another. Piers Steel, a business professor at the University of Calgary, said that “procrastination is extremely prevalent.” In this 2007 study he further explains, “Estimates indicate that 80 to 85 percent of college students engage in procrastination, approximately 75 percent consider themselves procrastinators, and almost 50 percent procrastinate consistently and problematically.” 

Students procrastinate when they are paralyzed in the face of a deadline or exam date. One major culprit of procrastination is perfectionism—especially for students who were told that they were “gifted.” It is a common phenomenon for elementary school students to feel special, seen, and talented. They are praised for their higher-than-average reading level and A’s on spelling tests. These juvenile learners beamed at their parents while the teacher raved about them at parent-teacher conferences. They get used to comments such as, “You are so smart!” and, “You have a gift for writing!” These students were comfortable being the best and could simply ride the wave of their talent when they were young. It is only when the stakes get higher and the competition gets tougher that they no longer feel as confident as they used to.

Experts say this leads them to engage in self-handicapping. Older students face a challenge that they are unsure of. They do not know if they will succeed. It would crush them if they tried their absolute hardest only to discover that their best was not enough. Self-handicapping occurs when these students decide to deliberately set themselves up for failure. The most common way for a student to set themself up for failure on an assignment: by not doing it (or at least putting it off long enough so that the work they turn in could not possibly be their best with procrastination). If they get a good grade then they are “just that good.” If they get a bad grade—well, they did not even try that hard anyways. It becomes a distorted version of a win-win situation in their head (that is actually a lose-lose situation if they thought it through completely). If this becomes a long-term habit, it can ruin the chances of a student reaching their full potential.

Other reasons why students lack motivation in school:

  • Disinterest in the subject matter
  • Lack of understanding of the material
  • Uninterested in college
  • Easily distracted
  • Difficulties with concentrating
  • Lack of self-confidence

All students need encouragement, but what is the best way to motivate them? Use punishment by taking away their electronics or grounding them if they get a poor grade in class? Bribe them with promises of rewards if they get an A on the next test? The problem with these two common methods of motivating high school students is that they are teaching the student to care only about the outcome. It paints success in a very black and white manner. Are they getting good grades or not? But success is much more nuanced.

A student might have historically received good grades in the past without needing to put in much effort. However, at what point will the material become too difficult to coast through without some serious studying? When does the competition become just as talented as that student and more hard working? A student who learns to do the bare minimum to get by will find themselves in over their head. 

Encourage them on their effort rather than outcome:

Rewarding students based on effort instead of performance is the best way to encourage students. Carol Dweck, a leading psychologist and the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, has conducted research studies showing the benefits of effort-based encouragement. She outlines the differences between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. A student with a growth mindset believes that their knowledge is constantly evolving and improving. They see a challenge as an opportunity to grow and learn something new and are not afraid to chase after their goals. They learn from their failures and accomplishments alike, and are not paralyzed by the possibility of failure. 

On the other hand, a student with a fixed mindset believes that intelligence and talent is genetically determined and set at a fixed state. If they try something new and do not find immediate success, they will quit before they have the chance to fail. They avoid challenges and shy away from any obstacles that come their way. Written out, it appears quite obvious that one mindset will set a person up for greater success than the other in the long run. However, most people are some sort of blend of the two. Like a muscle group of an athlete, a growth mindset needs to be trained and maintained. It requires effort to actively view success as more than a list of A’s on a report card. An online tutor can help promote this growth mindset.

Parents can help foster a growth mindset in their children at any age (though starting at a younger age will make it easier for the child to truly believe in their capacity for growth). Children need positive affirmation from their parents to feel the confidence and support that unwaveringly surrounds them. However, many parents do not realize that the specific type of encouragement can make a world of difference in the mindset of their child. For example, Dweck’s study on praise and mindsets showed that children who received praise based on their effort were willing to challenge themselves and test their limits. Children who received praise telling them how smart and gifted they were were more likely to turn away from a challenge in fear of not appearing as smart if they did poorly in the task. Rewarding students based on effort rather than performance sets children up for greater success in the future. 

Communicate with your child about school:

Making an effort to make time to discuss matters at school makes it more likely that students will come forward with problems and difficulties they are facing. If a student is worried about an upcoming test, they can benefit from moral support along with somebody who will hold them accountable to study leading up to the test. Even by simply asking about what they learned in school that day and genuinely listening to what they have to say, students will be able to showcase their knowledge and explain different concepts they learned in school. 

Getting outside help

Sometimes teens feel uncomfortable talking to parents for help. They may feel judged, misunderstood, or not fully heard. Although parents are usually able to understand how they are feeling because they were also once in high school, a student might feel more comfortable with somebody outside of their family/close circle. This gives some distance between the student and confidant that may reduce the familial tension of the subject matter. This could be found in the form of a counselor, therapist, or mentor. 

Combat procrastination

This can be a daunting problem to tackle because it stems from many different areas of pressure and a fear of failure. However, there is a very simple solution to this problem. Set a timer for 5 minutes. For 5 minutes, the student must sit down, drop everything, and begin to work. Anybody can work for 5 minutes. The purpose of this technique is two-fold: 1.) It gets the student out of their own head. Instead of stressing about the work they need to do, they just get right to it. 2.) Oftentimes, they realize that the work itself is not nearly as bad as stressing about the work and will continue to work after the timer ends. This timer technique does an excellent job at getting any job started. After all, starting any type of work is always the hardest part. Once they get the ball rolling, it is easier for the student to stay motivated during their work. It is much easier to keep the ball rolling than to get the ball rolling. 

Some other methods of motivating a high school student are to:

  • Study with them
  • Remind them that you are always there for them
  • Check up on them to make sure they are on task

Many mistakes started out with good intentions. For struggling students, academics can be a sensitive topic and a source of great distress. Although parents may be exasperated with their high school student and desperately searching for reasons as to why their student is struggling in school, they must be careful with their words and actions. Despite the old adage that something is better than nothing, this is not always the case. 

Here are some common mistakes parents make when trying to motivate their high school student:

1.) Speaking instead of listening: 

As a parent, when you see your child bring home a poor grade on a recent exam, different emotions of anger, worry, and sadness may flood your brain. It is easy to go into attack mode—asking aggressive questions and lecturing your child when the best thing you could be doing is listening. Although you may want to immediately admonish their child after seeing a subpar result in a certain class, paper, or assignment, throwing accusations around will only result in your child closing themself off or becoming angry and defensive. Controlling your temper and allowing your child to speak will allow yourself to accumulate all the facts before coming to any conclusions and making decisions. 

2.) Ignoring mental health issues:

In addition, being open and responsive to the student’s needs is crucial. High school students have a lot on their plate; many times, this becomes too much for them to handle. Mental health issues such as anxiety or depression may arise during the adolescent/teenage years. A student feels more comfortable and willing to open up to an adult about these issues with mutual trust between parent and child. Contacting the student’s teachers/counselor for understanding and accomodations would be the next step if this is the case for your child.

3.) Being too prying:

It is important for a student to feel supported on all fronts. Initiating conversations about school, homework, and upcoming exams and projects can help your child feel that somebody truly cares about them and how they are doing. However, there comes a point when a parent begins to pry for information that their child does not willingly provide. It is important to prevent casual conversations about school to turn into a full on interrogation. It is not always a bad thing to ask your student many questions, but allowing them to guide the conversation and voice their concerns will make them feel more empowered.

Additional Actions to Motivate Your Child in School:

  • Helping students maintain a consistent schedule can be helpful in motivating your teenager to do better in school. Having a routine of talking about school together each day during dinner, designating a specific space to work on homework, and arranging certain study hours when both you and your child are free can help the student make these good habits simply part of their daily routine.
  • Being willing to help your child complete their homework and study for tests. This can serve to show your support for your child as well as a checkpoint for you to see your child’s understanding of the material. For students who get distracted easily, studying together can help motivate your child to study in a productive and engaging manner. Note that this is most helpful for younger students. As they start to prepare for college, you can lessen the amount of hands-on help you offer and instead help them discover ways to be more self-motivated.
  • There are many different resources for students who are struggling, but sometimes students need outside help from someone who has both experience and training in teaching high school students. If you are looking for a tutor or mentor who excels in academics and is relatable to your child, look no further. SoFlo Tutors have an impressive round-up of students and alumni from the most prestigious universities around the country. These one-on-one tutoring sessions allow students to have personal attention with their tutor and be able to directly tackle the concepts they struggle to understand. They can work on goal setting, studying skills, and much more. Learn more about Zoom school tutoring

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