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Motivating Our Teens
Kathryn L. Stout, B.S.Ed., M.Ed.
Published: September/October 2006
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We all have to do things we don't really want to do. So why do we do them? Our answers can help us find ideas for motivating our teens. Like most adults, teens need to know that something is worth their time and effort. Telling them they must get good grades is only motivating to students who have already decided they want to continue education beyond high school. For instance, I knew I wanted to be a teacher, which would require college and, so, was willing to work hard for good grades. But many teen-agers don't know what they want to do. If grades can't be used to urge them on, what can?
Many kids will work diligently if they are allowed to work at their own pace until they understand something. I've had parents tell me that this was a major factor in their teen's desire to be homeschooled. In that case, it's just a matter of parents resisting the temptation to push them along instead of giving them the extra time and practice they may need.
On the other hand, plenty of kids prefer to "just get it done"-read, take the test, and promptly forget what they've studied. In one case, the mom knew that a hands-on approach was essential for her son to understand and retain the material. In order to motivate him, she targeted his area of interest-robotics. She explained that to become a scientist he would need to know how to build models. He would also have to remember information in order to add to it later. With this new insight, her fourteen-year-old agreed to continue a project-approach.
I've found kids of all ages usually need time every day to do something in an area of interest-even if it's an extra-curricular activity or a hobby-in order to prevent discouragement. We can motivate our teens by following the example of one east coast high school which caters to students interested in the arts. They incorporate regular trips to historical sites, museums, and theatrical productions into the curriculum. All we have to do is choose the sorts of field trips our teens find appealing.
Another motivator is to give our teens a chance to make a difference. This means giving them a chance to do-to act. When we help others, we are enriched. These opportunities can be part of their courses or added to their transcripts as volunteer work or extra-curricular activities. They can join a teen mission, lead a campaign to raise money for a cause, write letters to Christians in jail for their faith, or work as part of team assisting families who have been through a disaster, to name just a few possibilities. These experiences may also motivate them to study a particular subject or even lead them toward a particular career.
Of course, the best motivation comes from a sense of purpose and a desire to serve God. So it's also important that we schedule time for our teenagers to have their own private devotions in order to seek God's direction for their lives. I was sad to learn from a young man who has all but abandoned his faith that as a teen he had strongly desired more time for personal prayer and study. He said that he participated in family devotions and attended church, but whenever he tried to have his own quiet time his parents became angry. Apparently they always needed him to help with the other kids, run errands, or do household chores when he wasn't away at his part-time job or working on school work. Maybe the busy-ness of his parents' lives made his desire for time look like a luxury. So, after all, perhaps the best way to motivate our teens is to listen to them and then look for ways to meet their needs.