Motivating Your Teenager
Kathryn L. Stout, B.S.Ed., M.Ed.
Published: September/October 2004
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Frequently, students are willing to complete academic assignments without too much protest until becoming teenagers. As the work becomes more demanding, it’s likely that earning good grades or pleasing parents isn’t a good enough reason to wade through all that’s required. Frustrated, parents may urge students on with the “good jobs require a good education” mantra. But unless your teen has a job in mind, that’s too abstract. So, let’s make it personal.
First, determine an area of interest. What does your teenager do during spare time? Does he or she have a desire beyond high school? I worked with a thirteen-year-old who aspired to as little as possible, claiming no ambition nor even an area of interest. I did know, however, that he spent most of his free time outdoors and especially enjoyed roaming in any available woods. Based on that, I signed him up for a hands-on nature study class. Soon it became the highlight of his week.
Whether they voice it or not, teenagers want to find a niche—a way to contribute to society, to make a difference. When that desire becomes a defined goal, completing high school can be viewed as part of the necessary preparation. With this in mind, look for opportunities for your teen to serve as a volunteer or apprentice. Summer programs such as mission trips, camps looking for leaders or counselors, park and recreation services, and child care centers, among others, are often looking for teens. Such experiences can serve to whet a teenager’s appetite in a field of study, or provide some hands-on training. In the case of the boy with “no interests,” he found summer work at a national park during high school, and now attends college in preparation for a future as a park ranger.
Further training in any area of interest should include input from someone with expertise. A parent, relative, or friend may be able to act as a mentor. If not, look for classes your teenager can attend: courses taught by an artist, participation in chorus, orchestra, or band, a class in woodworking, and so on. These opportunities not only serve to sustain interest and focus, but also provide the specific training necessary for anyone striving toward excellence.
Studies to be completed at home will require resources appropriate for the student’s ability and learning style. After all, just as too much of a challenge can lead to frustration and a desire to quit, too little can lead to boredom—and a desire to quit. Balance studies requiring one-on-one help with opportunities that allow more independence and control. I tutored a student in weak areas of math, and looked for a way to balance it with something he could complete successfully, and fairly independently. I let him choose a country to study, giving him the question guide portion of Guides to History Plus as a framework so he wouldn’t be frustrated by his weak organizational skills. As he studied, he choose facts he found interesting to illustrate, eventually typing a report and, on his own, making a display. He was quite pleased with the project and proud of his efforts.
All course work should include the practical application of what is learned. For example, follow reading about principles of nutrition with your teen’s planning and cooking a nutritious meal. Discuss whether or not the theme or the actions of the central characters in an assigned story support a Christian worldview. Assign a paper or speech supporting a particular position in regard to a current or historical debate.
Add life skills to the curriculum. It may be a matter of adding that practical application—changing oil in the car as part of Driver’s Education—or assigning an additional course. Child development and training in parenting skills should be on the list. Study can be followed by planning and teaching younger siblings, children your teen baby-sits, or those in the church nursery.
Throughout junior and senior high school years, assign one fifty-minute period daily for the student to spend alone with the Bible, concordance, and commentaries. The purpose here is to establish a lifetime habit—the discipline of turning to God and His Word to understand one’s self, the world, and how to handle situations. Family devotions don’t usually give teenagers enough time to seek out answers to their own questions or to learn to listen to the Holy Spirit. They need to personally recognize who they are in Christ, and find out the very specific destiny that a loving God has just for them.
Read aloud Christian nonfiction you believe will be helpful, sharing your own experiences and insights. Avid readers may want additional books to use during their study time, as well. There are a number of good choices, and I’ve read many to my own kids over the years. Currently, I’m reading two books by Charles Stanley which I highly recommend for family reading—Winning the War Within, and Success God’s Way, available at www.intouch.org. The website also includes a page called “Teen Connection” with interviews, devotionals, and Bible studies.
Since study is most effective when we combine it with practical application as we go, let your teenagers contribute to discussions, pray over you and their siblings, and participate in family prayers where real needs are raised. As they see prayers answered, they have personal testimonies of God’s provision.
Teenagers are not too young to make a difference. As they grow in understanding, apply biblical principles to their own behavior and choices, and tell others how God has made a difference in their own lives, they become strong, positive influences on not only peers, but on children and adults as well. Instead of viewing the teen years as a race toward a high school diploma, let’s look at it as the perfect time to equip out children to begin fulfilling their destinies.