Trying to motivate teens to do schoolwork is often challenging during normal times. Now, more than six months into a global pandemic, most students are participating in online learning, which requires additional motivation to keep up with their work—let alone get interested in learning more. That’s compounded by an increase in teen depression and anxiety.
How can parents keep their teens motivated in this new online learning environment?
Keep Up with School Communications
There is a fine line between parenting teens and overparenting teens. However, keeping up with communications from school is more important than ever when students are learning online. This is not about checking grades every hour, but rather watching for weekly communications from teachers, noting when there are tests or big assignments due, and keeping in touch with anything else going on in schools that helps your teen stay on track.
Parents may also need to go a step further by reaching out to teachers for help in understanding the curriculum, expectations, or class structure, or asking for ideas to help keep teens motivated. Responses may vary based on the teacher, but being proactive and reaching out for information or help in advance is always a better approach than trying to help teens make up work or improve test scores after the fact.
Keep to a Schedule for Online Learning
Productivity typically increases with a regular routine. However, it is more empowering for teens to generate their own schedules, and they are more likely to keep to their routine if they have ownership of it. To establish a realistic schedule, they may need a little guidance. Here are a few tips to help them make a daily or weekly plan:
- Include time for sleep—which is particularly important for teen mental health—and for self-care, like taking a walk or journaling.
- Plan times for meals, snacks, and breaks.
- Add a few minutes of extra time before each online learning class begins, so teens can arrive feeling prepared rather than rolling out of bed just in time to log in.
- Carefully estimate homework time for each class, then add some extra time for good measure.
- Block out time for play and fun—with either family or friends.
- Help them understand that a schedule is only a guide to help, and that flexibility is sometimes necessary.
—Ryan Fedoroff, M.Ed, National Director of Education at Newport Academy
Parents can get busy and caught up with their own concerns, while teens can be distant and emotionally unavailable. However, when parents take the time to show genuine interest in what is going on in their children’s lives, it can make a powerful positive impact. It also demonstrates that education for teens is a priority, even when the circumstances are not ideal. Furthermore, acknowledging those difficulties and asking them what’s working and what’s not can help teens feel valued and validated.
As teens are maturing and preparing to become more independent, they may be reluctant to share everything that is going on in their lives. But consistent, respectful, and genuine interest from parents and caregivers can build trust and encourage conversation with teens. When parents understand and support their teen’s interests and find effective ways to manage homeschooling, it becomes easier to help them find and keep motivation in their schoolwork. A 2020 study found that “high-quality parent-child communication benefits adolescents’ academic performance by influencing their positive self-concept.”
Listen to Your Teens
Knowing how to motivate a teen is based on knowing what inspires them—and figuring that out requires practicing active listening. Listening to what makes them happy is just as important as listening to their heartaches and sorrows. However, don’t expect them to give you a list of what motivates them. It will require patience and effort for parents and caregivers to get the inside scoop, but it is possible.
To support authentic connection during conversations with a teen, try these tips:
- Turn off your phone and give them your full attention
- Listen rather than automatically talking
- Show empathy with facial expressions and body language
- Ask clarifying questions and repeat back what they say to let them know you got it.
Listening carefully can reveal the things that motivate them, as well as the challenges that keep them from studying. For example, if video games are important to them, they might be motivated by having more opportunities to play when their work is completed on time or early. Find ways to support them in following their interests.
Find Alternate Learning Opportunities
Online learning doesn’t have to be a teen’s only access to learning opportunities—particularly for teens with different learning styles. Parents and caregivers can help them find other activities that correlate with the curriculum. There are many ways to extend the curriculum into real-life learning activities to keep teens engaged and motivated—from making a mural on their wall to learning a new language or instrument.
For example, if a student is taking a health or nutrition class, families can support their learning by having hands-on nutrition lessons in the kitchen. This could include reading the labels on foods the family is already eating, nutritious meal planning and preparation, or a challenge to remove one unhealthy item from their diet for two weeks and see what happens. Despite limited access outside the home during the pandemic, there’s lots that can be done at home to further the learning process.
Ultimately, keeping teens engaged in online learning can be challenging, but it can also be a source of increased harmony in the home as parents and caregivers get more involved and tuned in. The work of keeping teens motivated and engaged can be a labor of love—one that can pay great dividends with good grades and even better family relationships.
Front Psychol. 2020; 11: 1203.