39 answers

How Can I Get My 14 Year Old to Enjoy School?

I have a 14 year old son who has dislike school since second grade. It has been a constant struggle to get him up in the morning and to motivate him to take pride in his school work. He is very bright, but puts the minimum amount of effort into his work. I have stressed the importance of education, I have tried bribes, rewards and everything else I can think of to motivate him..nothing works. I would welcome your suggestions.

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I am a teacher and have had some of the problems with my grandchildren. Somehow, he has to find a "passion". Sometimes, it is worth visiting an alternative school that teaches more "hands on" and possibly transfer him.Sometimes, it means having him tested for learning disabilities. The latter classes have low student-to-teacher ratio, and parents in my area are hoping, even trying to get their children eligible. A certain average, GPA, to play sports is also an incentive.

1 mom found this helpful

Hi there!
Maybe trying to get him interested in something like sports or some sort of club might be good for him. Is he good at music or doing something with his hands? Debating? What about marial arts? Martial arts or some sort of club is good for teaching people, especially young ones discipline. Even though you are concerned about his education, because we all know that that is very important, you shouldn't try pushing him so hard. It just makes him resist more. I think that getting him involved with something that he is interested in would be a good start to helping him open up, and maybe he could even meet someone who could understand him in a different way. Sometimes, it is hard to talk openly to one's parents about what it is that is bothering them, for reasons only they seem to know. But sometimes it is just that they don't want to dissappoint you or something.
All of the best.

You are not alone. My 13 year old has a very unconcerned attitude about his school performance. When I talk to him his eyes glaze over and I know I've lost him for the rest of the conversation. I am beginning to think he has a learning disorder and has difficulty concentrating. He does well when we push him but then he loses focus. I wish I could offer a solution. M.

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Hi S.,

I am a clinical social worker turned community organizer with an 11 year old highly gifted son on independent study. We are working with our district to create gifted services so that we can get him back in school. He found middle school a waste of time (and now that we've tested him we can see why.) Our daughter has been bored in school for years, but she is compliant and social, so she makes do and excels anyway.

I would encourage you to read on gifted issues and on boy issues. The gifted field has tons of wisdom re: motivation and underachievement. (If you wonder if your very bright son might be gifted, read Losing Our Minds, by Deborah Ruf, Phd. GIfted children do not always choose school achievement. The boy also includes smart boys, who Ruf calls Level One gifted, since they have similar issues.)

Boys have different social-emotional-educational needs than girls and non-compliance with adult priorities is what adults feel is the "symptom" or problem, but its not that simple. Sometimes, we have to turn this subject of motivation inside out and ask first, what DOES my child enjoy and how is he doing overall? Also, is the school work meaningless to your child? If so, how can that be addressed? I was relieved when my husband agreed with me and my son that the problem was in fact, the school work. We are now working, as a team on a school solution, while working on our son's character issues too.

General recommendations for boys socio-emotional-developmental needs include: nurturing parents and caregivers, a clan or tribe, a spirtual life (may not be religion), important work, mentors and role models, to know the rules, to learn how to lead and how to follow, an adventure and a best friend to have it with, lots of games, an important role in life. (Micheal Gurion - and the gifted literature. Gurian is a controversial author.)

How is your son doing in these areas? Are there males in his life as mentors? What are his friends like? Are they motivated boys? In what ways? Has he found intellectual peers in his friends or is he sad because he doesn't have truly good buddies? I have had to turn over some areas of parenting to my husband recently, because our son needed male mentoring and this is working much better! Dad is being a role model, remembering also his own boyhood, and how he felt as an adolescent and sharing those stories, and the feelings that he had at those times, and how he grew to be responsible, all the same.

Those stories are important because they help the boy feel connected to another person, and understood and validated. The stories model identifying, expressing and coping with feelings, and showing character in spite of feelings of lack of motivation. Does your son have any goals for the future? If not, perhaps it is truly hard to see the value of school. I would also wonder whether school plays to his areas of strength. Motivation is usually highest in our areas of strength. Also, boys work harder when they feel connected to their teachers. The State Superintendent here stressed that "rigor, relationships, and relevence are needed in schools."

In our community, we have New Tech High, which is school work related to skills for the global economy and this setting sometimes helps young people find meaning, when they do not find it in academic subjects. Right brained youth (that's me) also find that school doesn't play to their strengths, so the parents job is make sure you understand your child's capacities and how school taps these, or not.

Again, the key is to realize (per the gifted literature, but applies to all youth) very few youth are actually unmotivated, they are just selectively motivated and/or not motivated in the ways that adults prefer. The solution is often to help them pursue what motivates them, with rigor, and then build a bridge from that, over time, to life skills, including school, and to show that even if they do not like school, success in school may be important towards their life goals.

Also, never forget that the chemical reality of adolescence - it is hard to feel good as an adolescent. Their dopamine levels are low. Their brains are not fully mylinated and smart kids make dumb choices all the time because their brains are literally short-circuiting. Their chemical state does not draw them towards school work, but towards interests that raise their dopamine levels. They start the day happy, are sad an hour later, and then happy again two hours later. It makes no sense to anyone - including to the boy or girl themselves. They need to know that they are on a developmental emotional rollercoaster ride of adolescence, and that we understand and will cut them some slack and give them support.

I hope some of this helps. It helped me to write it, reminding me to practice what I preach!


1 mom found this helpful

I am a teacher and have had some of the problems with my grandchildren. Somehow, he has to find a "passion". Sometimes, it is worth visiting an alternative school that teaches more "hands on" and possibly transfer him.Sometimes, it means having him tested for learning disabilities. The latter classes have low student-to-teacher ratio, and parents in my area are hoping, even trying to get their children eligible. A certain average, GPA, to play sports is also an incentive.

1 mom found this helpful

Hi there,
Sounds like you got lots of good advice to consider..explorng charter school, seeking help from a psychotherapist, etc. Try asking him again, what he does not like about school, and if you does not want to share, let him know you will be there, ready to hear him when he is ready to share. Remember, children tend to push away or withdraw from situation that are uncomfortable and do not feel accepted by others, including their peers or teachers. School is not easy, with peer pressure, friends, parents expectations and school requirements. Again, try and explore with him alternative ways he can complete school requirements, such as independent study or home school, and what that decision will require from both him and you.
You said, you have tried some things and they have not produce from your son the response you and your husband are looking for. I would still try to explore with him alternative motivational reinforcers to increase his school attendence and performance...let him tell you both what he is willing to work for. If you take everything away and do not give him an opportunity to earn some of his priveleges/things back within 2-4 days, depending on the behaviors, he loses hope and stops trying. Remind him that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel no matter how lost he may feel...your light... and hope-success; but it takes lots of hard work...such as both of you have been demonstrating/modeling in completing you master's programs. Sometimes allowing children to have some power over their choices/rewards or consequences brings forth more cooperative behaviors from them, and openness to discuss their conflicts with us parents. Do not give up, don't push to hard, but be parents. Also try to recall your school experiences at his age and how you and your husband overcame those challenges, to help with relating to his resistance and lack of interest. Remember, he is also in that difficult development stage in his teenage life of needing to fit in. You may just discover the reason why that resistance and lack of interest exist, but it may take some time, so be patient, and continue being his cheerleader of life and aware of all the possibilities/reasons for his behavior. Always remind him of your unconditional love for him... even if he does meet all your expectations. OH, Have you or your husband tried having an outing with him one-on-one just because. This can help strengthen your relationship with him as he grows older. Hope this helps

1 mom found this helpful

S., Would love more advice on this topic as well. I have the 16 yr old girl with the same character! Good luck.

it's difficult to say since you say you've tried everything. Making learning fun has to start young because once a child gets it in his head that he does not like something it's a challenge to change their mind.

Hopefully there is something that your son takes a particular interest in. Could be skateboarding, video games, drawing or music. If you can find creative ways to make him use some of the things he's learhning in school to improve his "craft" or show him applicable uses for the things he's learning that relate to his interests, perhaps that will spark a new approach to learning.

The other thing is, despite our desrie to motivate our children with bribes, incentives, and rewards we must always remember we are the parent. If the positive tactics have not worked, make his life miserable until he get's it together with his schoolwork.

There's several ways to skin a cat you know!

My suggestion is to let it go.
You can't make your son like school - you can't make him like anything.
Not to mention - he's 14. How many 14 yr olds do you know that are excited to go to school in the morning?! I hated getting up in the morning to go to school (sitting in a classroom w/ a bunch of idiots pretending to listen to subjects that I knew would have no bearing on my adult life whatsoever.) Honestly, the only thing I cared about at 14 was hanging out w/ my boyfriend, impressing people, and smoking pot. So try to see it from his perspective.
That being said, I also feel that school (especially higher education) is a privilege. There are kids in 3rd world countries that have no education and thus no opportunity to make anything of themselves - I'm sure this is similar to the tiered old speech you give your son. However until he really feels appreciative of the opportunities you are providing for him, he will continue to fight you because he has no perspective... he's 14. I really didn't appreciate school until I went to The Academy Of Art. There I was doing what I loved, so pulling straight A's was effortless and exciting.
So my whole point is:
1. Don't try to force him into anything - your pushing will only repel him. As a parent, you are his guide, not his boss. Teach him how to help himself - how to unlock doors for himself. School is not the only way to do this.
2. Focus and cultivate the things that he IS good at. Is he good at sports? Art? Playing video games? There is a place for every talent. My parents knew I would be an artist so they told me I had to pull at least C's in my academic classes as long as I brought home A's in my electives. Get him into after school activities that he likes. Maybe he would like to get a job. He'll have to wait a year to get a workers permit, but he can babysit or dog sit. I cleaned my neighbors house w/ a girlfriend of mine. We got to hang out together and make some cash - it was great.
3. Spend time having fun with him. The more you two can spend fun time, the more you will appreciate the other qualities he has. Maybe then it will be easier to let go of your academic dreams for him.
4. Relax - sometimes you just need to let go and trust that you've done a good job.
Good luck :)

You have some excellent advice so far and I think you probbaly have some good ideas as to what to do. I am a high school teacher (taking a couple years off with baby) and let me tell you what I learned. Often Middle School or Junior high is the final straw that breaks the camel's back for many students. In my experience, that entire system needs to be re-evaluated and changed because we lose so many students at that time to boredom, anger, hormones, social frustration etc. By the time they hit high school they have already reached their limit and just start to shut down. What brings them back is different for everyone.
I knew a boy who's father had to send him off to a boy's home for a while. It was that experience combined with a new girlfriend who was a good student that inspired him to complete high school as an excellent student.
I've know other kids who finally do well when they feel comfortable. That could mean changing schools a few times until they find an environment they like.
Sometimes it's a particular teacher or a coach who can help.
I think that if I were in your position I would find a charter school that has a particular goal or major that goes along with your son's interests. I know SF has a charter school designed to create community leaders. There are others focussed on technology, the arts and so on. Often you can be motivated by your peers if you are in an environment that makes you feel comfortable.
Good luck!

Hi S.,

First of all, not every child will enjoy school no matter what you do. That being said, there may be other issues to check in to. It seems like you and your husband have a great love for education as you are pursuing higher education degrees and work in a college. I share this love, but my husband never liked school. He is successful as a paint contractor without the college degree and without a great high school GPA, so don't worry too much.

Could it be that your son has school burn out from you guys being at school a lot also? Higher education is a great thing and sets a great example for your son, but if all he sees is school, it could be overwhelming.

I would also check with your son to see if he has been experiencing any negative situations at school. Is he the object of teasing or bullying? Does he have friends? Is he active and happy otherwise? If there is an underlying reason that does not have to do with education that will need to be addressed, obviously. He also may just be bored or have a physical issue that causes him to be unable to concentrate.

Next, find out what he does enjoy and would like to learn about, even if it is a sport or activity and give him classes in this for fun! Help him to understand that even learning a sport takes some education. If you can somehow tie his learning in to an activity he likes, this may help. With my daughter, we worked on math at Baseball games. She LOVES baseball and likes to learn everything about it. We would go to games and have her work out doing averages and taking score and then explain about the importance of math in baseball. (sounds corny and she was young, but it helped)

I also discovered with both my kids that they liked going with me to my college classes better than there own and when I was at UC Berkeley and my son was in high school he actually learned quite a bit asking questions in my classes! I majored in Anthropology and Psychology and both my kids were able to go on a dig with us and loved it! It helped reinforce that science and history can be interesting. My son loved Psychology and would ask questions in my classes that were actually very intelligent and well thought out. My profs. loved him! I don't know if you could take your son to anything at school that he might enjoy, but mine found the college to be a lot less dry.

If your son can take electives, make sure he takes an enjoyable elective to give him something to look forward to at school or get him into an activity at school.

It is hard when a kid really does not like school. It may get better with high school if he gets involved in some things.

Hope this helps,
P. A.

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