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How Can I Motivate My Teen to Get Interested in School?

By Dr. Stacie Bunning, clinical psychologist

Question:

My daughter has been mentioning lately to me that she does not feel motivated to go to school this semester. This sounds strange to me. She does not do some of her assignments or participate as expected in the classroom either. She also said that school is boring. I have asked her if there is anything going on in school that's new, or things she will like us to talk about that may be bothering her about school. She has not said anything. She says it's just me.

How can I better motivate her? We assist her with most of her assignments, but sometimes she does not even tell us she has any assignments until we contact her teachers who complain she has a lot of missing assignments and her grades are low due to this. It's not that she is not a brilliant kid either. She is.

Answer:

You raise several concerns in your question, and I will address two. First, your daughter, whom you described as brilliant, told you that she felt unmotivated and that she found school boring. She also stopped participating in school and completing her assignments. It is possible that your daughter is not finding her schoolwork to be challenging enough. Sometimes very bright adolescents get to the point where routine school assignments seem stupid to them, and they feel the work is not worth their time, so they simply stop. Obviously, this cannot continue and must be addressed.

Second, I wonder if your daughter might be depressed. Changes in behavior (not doing schoolwork or participating in class) and emotions (complaining of being bored, unmotivated) can signal that something is going on. Have there been other dramatic changes in areas such as her sleep and eating habits, or appearance? Has she been isolating herself or unusually irritable? If so, these are all symptoms of depression. This, too, must be addressed.

I think a face-to-face meeting with you, your daughter, and her school counselor is necessary. From your comments it seems that communication between you and school staff could be better. You should consider setting up a regular schedule of communication with them so you can keep on top of missing assignments before it becomes too late. At the meeting, you can share your specific concerns, hear theirs, and come up with a plan of action. Follow that up with a visit to your daughter's pediatrician or general practitioner to rule out any physical issues, and if needed, get a referral to a mental health practitioner.


Dr. Stacie Bunning is a licensed clinical psychologist in the St. Louis area. She has worked with children, adolescents, and their families in a variety of clinical settings for 20 years. Bunning also teaches courses in child psychology, adolescent psychology, and human development at Maryville University in St. Louis.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

02/9/2012:
"I have the same problem as this daughter, it's not because of the teachers are bad. It's all about me. I want to study but I want to learn it fast, really fast! Because the more you study, the more it gets boring! "
05/26/2011:
"my son is 13 and i cant get him motivated to do school work. What can i do. He prefers games, watching tv going out etc... he has a excuse for everything at school however as soon as there is an activity he remembers and is on top of it. Why cant he share the same drive or even half for school. At a loss. I have gotten extra classes and still. He just lacks the zeal. What can i do. "
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