Parenting an Unmotivated Child
By Dwight Bain
Nationally Certified Counselor
Have you ever wondered why so many students get close to the ‘finish line’ of a semester or even graduation and then fail to finish? Parents, teachers, guidance counselors, and tutors can be cheering for a student to push forward to finish strong and sometimes they just sit down and give up. You’ve probably seen it. A bright young person starts out with promise and potential and then halfway through a semester they literally run out of gas and "check out" (as it’s called) because they completely lose the motivation to finish school.
When a student "checks out", it isn’t because they don’t know what to do. You can tell them continually that they should be doing their homework, turning in classwork, completing reports, and playing by the rules to get good grades and move forward with their academic career. Yet, they won’t do it. You can beg; you can plead, but basically they stop doing the right thing to oftentimes doing nothing. Since schools reward behavior that is measurable, it’s like creating an academic atomic bomb that destroys their grades, which can wreck a future transcript.
You may be thinking that this is an overreaction, yet many colleges and even prep schools look first at the transcript before they look at the person. If your student has ignored, neglected, or abused their grades it will hurt their academic future. Yes, I know, schools and universities should look at the person, they should look at character traits or consider someone who is nice or likable, but the fact of the matter is they look at academic performance by looking at grades. If someone "checks out" and gives up on trying to finish strong it will cost them, and if you are the parent or guardian paying for their future education, it will cost you too.
Four Reasons Students Give Up
So, why do so many teenagers give up within weeks of the end of a semester? Here are four main reasons:
They are afraid about the future: about what life in the ‘adult world’ will be like or afraid to grow up in general. It’s normal to feel afraid, yet someone who is overwhelmed with fears can often become indecisive and "zone out". Since running away from reality feels easier than facing it, they completely deny what’s happening to their grades and future. Some do this in a passive way and just slowly sink, while others try to avoid reality by using substances or media to escape. Yet there is no avoiding the end of a semester and the end of academic dreams if teens let fear overtake their future success.
It’s true. Birds of a feather do flock together, and students who are unmotivated about finishing can find each other across a crowded room. Highly disciplined and super-motivated students challenge each other toward greater success, and the opposite is true about the undisciplined. Your son or daughter may begin to hang out with the wrong crowd to hide from facing their academic future. Sometimes it’s to irritate their parents, but more often than not it’s because they don’t fit in with the "winners" at the front of the race, so they just sit down and hang out with those who appear to not care about the educational race they are in. If you look closely, you will see the insecurity and doubt in their eyes.
This group could include parents and teachers, but I’m mostly thinking about students who are trying, but it’s just not coming together for them. They want to finish strong, but lack the horsepower to really pull out in front of the crowd. These students are at great risk, because they will face a tough choice: a.) finish with mediocre results and try again next semester or b.) just check out to avoid feeling the pain of not performing to their potential. I’ve especially seen this with highly creative or bright students who partied or procrastinated until the last minute and then couldn’t pull out their grades. Their frustration often comes out as anger directed toward the closest person to them, usually a mom. It’s not fair, but it happens because they let the frustration take over, which blocks their ability to finish strong.
Sadly, this group is the easiest to spot because they checked out a long time ago. When a student has reached this level, they are so unmotivated that they give up on even trying at the most basic of tasks causing their grades to ‘free fall’ down to zero. To totally and completely fail crushes confidence and for many the desire to try again, which leads many students to give up on school completely and just drop out.
Not finishing education makes sense to them at the time, but it costs them dollars and cents for a lifetime. Consider the numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau to see how expensive it is to give up on education.
Average Annual Salary based on Education Level
- Masters degree: $74,602
- Bachelors degree: $51,206
- High School degree: $27,915
Finding the Energy to Finish
How do you motivate an unmotivated student? Well you start by dealing with your own frustration, so you can think clearly about a strategic plan to guide your son or daughter toward the better life that education can bring. Here are the key areas I use to find a way to inspire a young person to get back in the race and find the energy to finish strong:
This often begins with the parent closest to the student because they already know so much about their personality, their character, and their drives. The Bible has a verse that I pray every day, “If any many lacks wisdom, let him ask God and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5). Insight is to ask God to reveal the special gifts and abilities that your student has; and no matter how far behind they may be they have some talents. It takes insight to see it and then courage to stick with it to light the fire of desire in the heart of one who may have given up.
Once you know which gifts, talents, abilities, or skills that you are looking for in a student, the next part is to help them see how those unique gifts could be transferred into something so interesting that they really want to show up and learn more. There is an old saying that the curious are never bored, which is true. When a student is inspired about pursuing something interesting to them, they can lose all track of time because they are fascinated with the topic they are studying.
Once a student gets inspired to pursue the subjects that are interesting to them, the next element to add to stir up motivation is to discover what is important to them. What is valuable? What activities/causes do they believe in? Everyone believes in something yet often haven’t taken time to explore to discover what causes or activities they are motivated to join.
When a student has figured out who they are and what they enjoy doing, they are actually living out their purpose and having fun doing it! Perhaps the huge success of the Disney High School Musical movies is in that they show what most students would like their school experience to be. At this level, a young person is totally excited about going to school because when they know why they are going it’s not hard to stay in the race. In fact, it makes it easy to move from a failure to moving forward with a new dedication to finish strong!
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*Reprinted with permission from the LifeWorks Group weekly eNews, (Copyright, 2004-2010), To receive this valuable weekly resource, subscribe at www.lifeworksgroup.org.
Dwight Bain is dedicated to helping people achieve greater results. He is a Nationally Certified Counselor, Certified Life Coach, and Certified Family Law Mediator in practice since 1984, focusing on solving crisis events and managing major change.
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