Unmotivated 16 Year Old

Updated on July 22, 2016
J.Y. asks from Bethel Park, PA
24 answers

My 16 year old daughter is very smart, but is very unmotivated to complete her school work, therefor seems to be running a C average in almost everything. I speak to her teachers who say she 'drifts off' in class. She often gets zeros for homework she 'does not feel like doing'. I realize a C average is not the end of the world, but I know she is capable of more and would like her to be able to go to college. I have taken away privliges, offered incentives, etc, and she says she will do better, and may for a very short time, then its back to the same old story. She is treated for depression. I don't know what else to do. I have considered cyber school, but she and my husband object. Any ideas?

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So What Happened?

Thanks to everyone who replied. Its been a while and we have taken many of your suggestions and things are much different. I have accepted C as an okay grade while continuing to make the grade "0" an unacceptable occurrence. I have made a point of focusing on her many artistic talents and accepted that not everyone is a scholar, even if they have the ability to be. I prayed with her nightly, and for her daily, to gain focus and opportunities to excel and was blessed with 3 ways (what I always pray for) for her to compete academically using her talents. My husband and I had a huge blow out about this, but seem to be on the same page now. And most recently, she got a weekend job. Thanks for your help!

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answers from Allentown on

I wonder if you take her to a food pantry or homeless shelter for the both of you to volunteer she would see how hard it is for some people and she'll appreciate her own life a little more. It may also motivate her to improve her grades so she can get into college and get a good job to support herself someday.

Maybe another thing you can do is talk with her about what she ultimately wants to do with her life, even if it's not going to college. Maybe it's culinary school or something else that's creative and uses her hands? If she has a goal and sees how finishing school with a better grade point average will affect that goal, maybe it would help her get motivated.

Good luck! I hope you find something that works!

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I suffered from depression since age 14...at that age I had counseling, but no meds (at that time my parents believed I just "needed Jesus"...that's why I commend you for being proactive and getting your dd on meds!) "They" (the scientific community) have found that meds/talk therapy combo is really helpful.

Also, check out "The Feel Good" book/handbook by David Burns (cognitive/behavioral). Excellent, and VERY helpful.

I would not recommend putting your daughter into cyberschool if she adamantly opposes it. It could take her away from her support network (suprisingly enough, teen's friends, if they are positive and not into anything undesirable, can be a help to a depressed girl). If it would be a home-type school it could be too isolating for her.
Finally, I'd suggest grabbing the book, "How to talk so teens will listen, and listen so teens will talk" by Adele Faber. It will really help you get her to open up. :)
Good luck, sweetie!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Having a 'C' average does not necessarily mean that she is unmotivated, nor does it mean she won't get into college. There are many things that colleges take into consideration including character, overcoming personal hardships and life challenges and community service. Perhaps she just doesn't learn in a traditional schooling environment. Cyberschool would completely remove her from a social life which might not be good if she is being treated for depression.

In reading through many of these posts, sadly, it seems that 'unmotivated 16 year olds' who are smart and not performing well in school are not uncommon.

Taking away privileges, offering incentives can get in a negative cycle. And if it is the same thing for her, then that means it is the same thing for you. Learning, trust, self-discipline are all cumulative. They are built and reinforced on mini experiences that continually affirm that thing you are trying to achieve.

Have you thought about pairing her up with a mentor? Maybe she just needs a change of scenery and an outside opinion. Mentors are not just for inner city or economically challenged youth or even people of a certain age. I think she just needs to get out there, be active and see FOR HERSELF how she can impact the world and make a difference.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

Hi J. - I am afraid you have the female version of my son!!!! so sorry. We have seen a huge turn around with our son lately. First marking period (interim grades) were awful. He was not doing homework or if he did do it, was not turning it in. He would often spend time away from the family (in his room or basement). We all sat down and said we need to spend more time, none of us were happy with the way the family was going.

We went back to family dinners, involved him in all conversation. He now does homework at the kitchen table with us asking him questions about it in "conversation mode" not drilling "parent mode" We have encouraged him to keep track of homework in his planner and my husband checks it each night - his grades have greatly improved

We are also spending alot more time together - there is much less yelling in our house. He even asks me to help him study now - because we have changed our style and approach.

OH, another motivating factor is he is 16 and wants to drive, our answer is, if he is not responsible enough to do his duties at school (homework & study) and home (chores) how can I be confident he will be responsible on the road.

Hope this helps!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

Hi, I don't know your daughter, so I don't know if this is the case, but, I think this is something you should consider, if you haven't already. You don't want to be pressuring her to do something she can't. I am a HS teacher. Every parent I've met has always said their child is "so smart" or "smarter than they are currently achieving". Everyone now a days thinks their kid should be getting A's. The truth is if your child is going to a good HS, then most kids should be getting C's, not A's. C means average. I often hear, but my kid got A's in middle school, they should still get A's in HS. That's not true. Unfortunately many middle schools treat education like elementary school. Showing up is more important than actual achievement. When kids get to HS they suddenly discover they actually have to do homework in order to get a grade for it. I've often heard in middle school that HW didn't really count/ the kids didn't really have to do it. It may be that she has slacked off on HW for years & always gotten away with it & now suddenly can't. Again, I don't know your daughter or her school, so I don't know if this is the case, but its something to think about.
Also, getting C's doesn't exclude you from going to college. Yes, it will exclude you from Harvard or Yale, but most 4 colleges accept students with C's.
As for motivating her to try harder: I think there were a lot of good ideas from other posters. One more I would consider adding. Her teachers say she "drifts", you may want to have her checked for ADD. She may be having legitimate trouble focusing. (Which could also be caused by poor diet & exercise as another poster suggested).
Good luck. I hope you figure it out.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Does she have some subject she absolutely loves? Or some interest she pursues with independent passion? Our son loves science and animals and would like to pursue a profession involving science and animals. He'll read anything and everything about either topic. He knows that to pursue his professional goal, he also has to study those subjects which don't interest him...and so he does study them.



answers from Lancaster on

It sounds like maybe her treatment she is receiving for depression isn't working. I would recommend talking to your doctor about other choices. Also, does she go to therapy of any sort?



answers from Reading on

There are two approaches: First:reward with what DOES motivate her. She is almost an adult and that's what adults do-- go with what motivates them, be it $$ or other reward. Sixteen is time to grow up.
What concerns me more is the drifting off and depression. Have you had her thyroid hormones checked? I would get her a complete total blood workup before anything else. Thyroid problems can cause depression and spacey-ness and more and more people of all ages are being diagnosed. If she hasn't had a full workup... get one.
good luck



answers from Erie on

Talk with the doctor treating her for depression, or if she's getting counseling, talk with the counselor. the medication may need to be changed, or there may be some isues she's dealing with on the side that you don't know about -- that she needs to work through. There's no doubt that the teen years are tough ones, and lots of kids "drift off" from time to time, but not so much it impacts their grades.

The other thing to look at is exercise and diet. Be sure she's getting enough protein in her morning to keep her blood sugar up. Teenage girls worry about what they look like and they often don't eat, just to keep their weight down. It's hard to concentrate and feel good about yourself when you are doing that. and the exercise thing? If she isn't into sports, try getting a famiy wii or DDR and do it with her. Draw her out a little, and show her that she has skills and CAN achieve, and she'll probably beat you, Mom, anyway ! Capitalize on things she likes to do, and maybe on individual sports -- swimming, for one. Running is also an individual sport, even though it's done on a team, as is dance which is done in a class of 20 ! Our teens take ballet, but this year the younger of the two decided to do hip hop and it's amazing how much she loves it, and finding one thing you excel at impacts everything you do, because it gives you a reason to like yourself, a reason to hold your head up, and a reason to try other things, too.

Good luck. I know this is tough. (Our younger daughter is like this because she is creative, not due to depression, and I understand how hard it is to motivate them. She has adult sisters, tho', whom I clued in, and their discussions with her over Xmas break have helped her to think through what she's doing with her life. What she does with those thoughts is yet to be seen.)

AS a parent the best we can do is to do our best. Make your decisions as you go, and don't sedond-guess them with information you didn't have at the time. You can only evaluate your decisions using the info you had AT THE TIME. Don't berate yourself and blame yourself. Just hang in with her and keep going. Love her, encourage her, praise her, and push just a little, then praise the effort, more than the result, because it's the effort you're looking for at this point.



answers from Pittsburgh on

I agree with your daughter and your husband... cyber school would keep her penned up in the house, probably cause her to withdrawal from any human contact, and she would probably become even more depressed....

Just a thought. Good luck!!



answers from Scranton on

Have her checked for medical problems. My sister was "drifting off" in school and it turned out to be petite mal seizures.Once she was diagnosed, her grades went up and she had motivation once again.



answers from Philadelphia on

I know that this is difficult, yet there are a couple of options. Does your daughter have any interests or ideas about what she may want to pursue in the future? Have you taken some field trips to Colleges? I remember doing that with my daughter when she was young and it helped motivate her. We actually went to New York City for the day and went to NYU. She eventually went to Temple and did very well. I own a tutoring service and the tutors that work with me work around study skills, organizational skills and build a relationship with the student around interests. I hope this helps.

B. Harvis
Harvis Educational Learning Program



answers from Harrisburg on

Welcome to the world of teenagers! Set an expectation of grades. If any one grade drops below that then she should be grounded until that grade comes back up. We do this with my 13 year (second teen I'm dealing with). He can't go below a C.

Now, when grounding you need to ground the child on what will motivate them to get off grounding. My 21 year old didn't care about being grounded. He'd just sit there and play with a lint ball and be happy, lol. So we adjusted his grounding to include extra chores that he did not like. After all, grounding should make the child happy, but unhappy to motivate them to do better. With my 13 year old he hates being grounded cuz he's an outside kid, but he'll go in the basement where his room is and play on the video games, so having no video games is part of being grounded for him.

We can track his grades online and see when his grades go up and down and individual homework as well can be tracked. Homework is the killer for teens! My son has a planner that must be signed every night and we check off everything as we see it's done. We must SEE that it's done. We cannot go by his word that it's done but in his locker or whatever. We will notate that in his planner so the teacher and us can see if he's lying or not. If he lies he gets a day of grounding because lying will never be tolerated in this house. For every piece of homework that is not turned in on time gets a day of grounding. And they give 50% off if it's one day late so many kids figure "why bother". But we don't care if the work if turned in a week late. The work WILL be done and WILL be turned in, even if we already know he'll get a zero on it to teach him to follow through on his responsibilities. Also, collect all email addresses of each and every teacher of your teen at the school's web site and have constant contact with every little thing that goes on. Some response fast, some slow, some not at all. Just keep after them. After all, this is your child's education we're talking about.

So, I would sit down and have a meeting with your daughter. Write down a list that she will go by from now on and the consequences that will follow, good and bad. (good grades and good responsibility means freedom and trust, bad grades and poor responsibility means grounding and lack of freedom and trust)

1. She will write down all homework from each class on a daily basis. (if a planner isn't provided by school, buy her a notebook just for homework)
2. Her planner will be checked every night to be sure work is complete and Mom must SEE the completed work, notating anything missing to the teachers who should read this. (or email teachers on missing work so they're aware so the child knows everyone is communicating and nothing slips through the cracks)
3. Grades dropping below your chosen level requires grounding until that grade is visible online as raised.
4. Missing homework will be an added day of grounding per item.
5. All work will be turned in complete whether late or not.
6. Contact will be kept will all teachers on a daily basis so everyone is in the triangle loop. (triangle = parents, student & teachers) Break one link and the students slips.
7. "Grounding" will be explained and can be modified as needed.

Always keep a calm tone and keep it "matter of fact". Don't get sucked into arguments or excuses. She'll know the rules. She didn't follow them. She knows the punishment. That's it. Meanwhile, keep everything else pleasant. Once the child has the punishment handed out, that's it, it's over. No reason to keep bringing it up or nagging. That's like punishing her over and over again. Hand out the punishment and move on. When she comes off grounding and you see grades going up, make as big a deal about the good stuff as the poor stuff. When you see some good things happening, maybe take her out for a treat, something extra, but never take her off grounding early. She must learn to follow through on responsibilities, all the way.

This is allot of work on the parents part but it can help keep her on track. There's nothing wrong to have her checked at school for any learning problems either that may not be easily seen. Getting the school counselor involved or putting her on an IEP temporarily for extra support is an option as well. If she's been diagnosed with depression then she should be seeing a counselor on a regular basis and keep them informed through email or phone as to what is going on and what new things you have implemented at home so they are part of the solution.

Good luck!

K. B
mom to 5 including triplets

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Sometimes people are conditioned to be what they hear people calling them. So if she hears that she is lazy, unmotivated, depressed. Then she feels that is who she is. Even if you say these things only looking for help but she hears you, then that is not good.

My advise is build up her self esteem by reinforcing positive behaviors. Whatever she is good at, have her work on that more and then compliment her. Ideas: volunteer at a shelter, volunteer at a pregnancy care center, or get a job.

Call her beautiful, give lots of hugs and be approachable.

Have her take an assessment test to find out what her strengths are. Like what field of work she would be good in. For example she scores high on social work, have her research what she needs to do to become one and what kind of grades she needs, how much money she will make etc. The school counselor may have one of these tests.

Just remember back when you were a teenager. I don't know about you but for me at times it was lonely and boring. So invite some of her friends over for a movie. I am not saying to reward negative behaviors. But continue to work on your relationship. Like all of have to do.

Encourage her to set goals. She needs to set the goals with your help. Then set action steps to get there.



answers from Philadelphia on

Hi J.,
Have you ever considered ADD? I just began a Behavior Modification Class for parents and children at A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children. It is common for kids with ADD to present with depression, as well. If she's "drifting off" in class, it could be an inability to focus on the task at hand. I would speak to your pediatrician. When I filled out an ADHD evaluation for my child, I was very surprised at how much he "fit the mold" for ADD and other problems, specifically anxiety. If it is ADD, it is something that she cannot help, and therapy would benefit.
Best of luck,



answers from Allentown on

You got a lot of great ideas. Motivation is a very tough thing to figure out. There is motivation that comes from others (wanting to do good for you or the grade or a reward), but the best one will be when the motivation comes from within herself, but she might need help finding what that is. It is possible she could be bored, not all teachers take the time to motivate their students which is an important part of being a teacher. It's wonderful that you are involved, just continue giving the unconditional love and support, positive praise and research what you can do to help her. There are lists of ideas out there, if you google teenage motivation. Good luck.



answers from Pittsburgh on

Hi J.,

You mentioned that your daughter is very smart. Could it be that the work is so boring and mundane to her that it's a struggle for her concentrate? It's hard to work on something that is totally uninspiring.

Another thing to consider is that maybe it's not as easy for her as you think. Maybe she's pretending she doesn't care because it's actually a struggle. Either way, I'm sure she's not happy with the situation.

Kids are all so different. I was very motivated by grades and would not dream of going to school with without doing my homework. My husband, on the other hand, couldn't care less about grades and rarely did homework. He actually ended up quitting school, taking his GED, and going on to get his Bachelors in Computer Science. I'm not recommeding that, but just pointing out that some children need to be motivated by individual interests or interesting material rather than outside praise (in the form of grades or whatever). This is actually a much healthier form of motivation, IMO.

So, maybe you can help her find out what inspires her and go from there. Grades are not the end-all-be-all of everything. I know that's not a popular way of seeing it, but there are more important things in life. (As you said, it's not the end of the world).

I know it's hard when you have a smart child that is not motivated. It's hard seeing your child suffer through depression. Being a parent is not always easy. Don't be too h*** o* yourself. You're loving her and doing the best you can for her.

If the depression continues or worsens, I would certainly seek counseling for her, if you haven't already. In the meantime, ask her what she wants in life, what she's interested in more than anything else, what makes her feel alive. I'm interested in what she has to say.




answers from Scranton on

Also check into her hormones and thyroid. I had a lot of depression during highschool as well. What ended up happening is that I had an abnormal periods. They did an ultrasound and found out that I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and this was the main source of my depression. There are also lots of herbal supplements that can be taken as well.



answers from York on

Ask the teacher to send home a list of homework, in a homework book. Each teacher should fill it in, and then check it immediately. If it isn't filled in, no privledges. If it is do homework together for an hour and then give her some reward, computer time, tv, a family game.

Good luck.



answers from Pittsburgh on

I know this is an old request, but read your "what happened" just this morning, and thought I'd throw in my two cents.

I have a almost 15 year who is very bright, but very unmotivated and unorganized. She is in cyber school. It allows me closer supervisor of what she is learning, and it is more challenging than her old school, but she still has a very hard time getting her work done. Her dad and I have tried many things to get her on track, most of which have not worked very well. The cyber school is having a study skills seminar, which I have enrolled her in hoping it will help.

Maybe you could find a similar workshop in your area that you could send your daughter to. Sometimes it's not so much motivation, but the lack of ability to get organized, plan and stay on track.

You mentioned cyber school as an alternative you were thinking about. It is not the answer to all school problems. If your child is unmotivated and lacks good study skills, you will have your work cut out for you. I had two kids in cyber school. The oldest is very self motivated, and I never had any problem with her doing the work. The second, who I described above is the exact opposite. I enrolled her in cyber school, because she is very smart and was extremely bored in her regular school. I thought that was the only thing keeping her from doing as well as she could in school, but she also lacks self motivation and is very haphazard in her ways.

Hope things work out for you and your daughter.



answers from Scranton on

Have you had her depression med reviewed lately? I would have her psycololgist/psychiatrist review her medication and suggest a therapist to teach her some coping skills for depression.
Good luck, Christina



answers from Pittsburgh on

You say that she is treated for depression. Is that medication only or counseling? If just meds, maybe she could do better with some weekly therapy.
O. of my best friends has a 15 yo son and she fights much the same battle. Bright kid, but does not apply himself as much as he could. She takes away privileges if he does not complete assignments, do assigned chores as agreed, etc. It works but then she lightens up and he slides right back to the same old thing. I know that with him, what motivates him is loosing the time he's allowed to spend with his friends--it's such a social age! But consistency is a must. Also, she has been allowing him to "fail" a little bit. She feels at his age she shouldn't have to oversee all homework assignments, etc so she lets him have the lion's share over that and if he misses something then he has to pay the price. Good luck to you and your daughter!



answers from Philadelphia on

Aside from something 'mental' going on, it's possible that she may need one-on-one help because she may not be 'getting it'. You could look into a tutoring school... I've seen a commercial for it (I think it's Goddard or something like that). It's kinda hard to pay attention to your teacher if what they are saying is going over your head.


answers from Allentown on

Hi J.,

First of all, let me suggest that you get a appointment book with 5 columns at your local beauty supply store.

Put everyone's name at the head of each column.

Put in the times that everyone is doing their thing.

Look and see what times need adjusting for you to spend time with your 16 year old.

Next, find out if your daughter is doing drugs or alcohol.

Find time to sit down with your daughter and let her do her home work. You are there to talk about what she's working on.

Use this format when you are talking to not only your 16 year old but with everyone you communicate with.

Example of format:

When you ______________________ (describe the behavior or verbal remarks that upset you.)

I feel_____________________ (describe the feeling that you are experiencing from the above action)

In the future ___________________(describe what you expect to happen and if it doesn't, the consequences)

Hope this helps. Good luck. If this doesn't work, you can always call a family group conference.


Good luck. D.

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