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Lack of Motivation During Middle School: Tips for Parents

Having motivation is synonymous with having a love for learning and challenge. Motivation is often more important than initial ability in determining academic success. However, the motivation-level of many young teenagers often takes a nosedive in the middle grades. The child may begin to grumble about assignments and educators, ask to drop out of a favorite activity, complain that she's bored, or show signs of being lost in the educational shuffle.

Here are some issues that may contribute to your child’s lack of motivation:

• Kids in elementary school tend to believe that the harder you try – the smarter you get! But, as kids move into the early teenage years, they may begin to believe that ability is “fixed” (e.g., “Why try hard if it won't help you to do well?”)  They also start to compare their ability with that of others. This view can dampen motivation. 

• The onset of puberty (e.g., getting her period, or being 4 feet 2 inches tall when your best friend is 5 feet 10 inches tall) distracts many young adolescents. Distractions make it hard to think about the basketball team or the science project that's due. It takes extra effort to concentrate on a social studies test when the child is preoccupied with physical insecurities or concerned about being excluded from the peer group.

• Some youngsters lack opportunities to take the classes or participate in the activities that they need to spark their enthusiasm. This is most likely with children from disadvantaged families or who are at risk, contributing to perceptions that they are unmotivated. 

• Some educators report that it's hard to get children to focus on a long history project when they're used to TV programs and media presentations that are fast, short and entertaining.
 
• A youngster may be influenced by peers who believe that academic success isn't "cool," or that females aren't good at Math. 

• A young adolescent may lose motivation after moving from elementary school to a middle school (or junior high school). The loss of motivation can be fueled by insufficient support in the new school, or by an increased workload and expectations to which the child hasn't yet adjusted.

• Some unmotivated youngsters may not have learned that school success takes time and effort. Many attractions compete for a child’s attention. Some young people expect school and activities to be consistently exciting. They aren't aware of the fact that - both in school and daily life - they can learn valuable lessons from activities that aren't always fun, and that achievement usually requires serious effort. You can encourage your youngsters, but ultimately your daughter is responsible for seeing that her homework gets done, and your son must be the one to practice his violin.

Here are ways to encourage your youngster's motivation during the middle grades:

1. Steer your youngster toward appropriate classes and suitable activities. Young adolescents need opportunities to excel and be useful. Success can be a powerful motivator, and boredom may be a sign that your youngster hasn't enough opportunities to develop his talents. He may need an advanced English class, a music class, or the chance to volunteer at a nursing home.

2. Insincere praise or praise for poor efforts is no help, but young adolescents need to be reassured that they can do something. Sometimes young people will say they are bored, but it's because they haven't done a particular activity yet. Your youngster may need hints about how to get started with a new project from you, another grown-up, a teacher, or a book.

3. Let your youngster know that sustained effort over time is the key to achievement. Teach her to set high goals and to work hard to achieve them. Help her to see the value of tackling challenges and of finding ways to meet or exceed those challenges.

4. It's important to hold kids to high standards. But when young adolescents are asked to do the impossible, they may stop trying. Don't pressure your 5-foot 3-inch boy to try out for center on his basketball team just because he played center for his elementary school team. Instead, reassure him that, in time, he'll grow taller, and help him to look for other activities in the meantime. In addition to physical attributes, holding realistic expectations requires that you consider your youngster's personality and temperament. Your 6-foot 2-inch boy may not enjoy playing basketball, even though he has the height for it. Make sure that your youngster knows, deep in his heart, that you love him for what he is – and not for what he does.

5. Find strengths and build on them. Every youngster can excel in some area. Identify what your youngster does best, no matter what it is.

6. Young adolescents benefit from seeing their moms and dads putting forth their best effort, completing work, and meeting obligations. So, be sure to demonstrate that you value learning and hard work.

7. A kid’s motivation-level generally improves when moms and dads take the steps discussed. However, patience will be required. Many young adolescents need the gift of time to develop the maturity that allows them to complete homework assignments and chores with a minimum of supervision. 

8. Communicate with your youngster's educators, counselors or principal as needed. A drop in grades is very common when children transition from elementary to middle school. But if your youngster's grade drop is extreme, or if it persists for more than one grading period, contact someone at the school. It's good to be a strong, yet respectful advocate for your youngster. Since middle-grades educators have a very full schedule, you may need to show persistence. Call or e-mail the educators if you think that some of the assignments are inappropriate, or if your youngster is unable to complete them successfully. Be assertive if your youngster is placed in classes that you think are poor in content or that fail to provide him or her with sufficient stimulation.

When "Taking Away Privileges" Doesn't Work

“No matter what consequence I choose, there are always other privileges my son enjoys, or even loopholes. For example, I was specific in that he couldn't use the computer or cell phone during the 3 day discipline; but he still has other privileges during those 3 days--like video games. Also, I didn't specifically ground him, so he visited a friend in the neighborhood (where he probably used his friend's computer), and I specifically said he lost the use of his cell phone, so he used the house phone instead (although for shorter periods). I was uncomfortable with this, but I didn't say anything because I didn't want to alter the consequence mid-stream. What do I do?”

When implementing a 3-day discipline, it is best that the child have no privileges + grounding. That is, no use of cell phone, no use of computer, no use of video games, no leaving the house – and in the case where he enjoys hibernating in his room – no access to his bedroom except to dress and sleep. Otherwise, it is not an “uncomfortable” consequence. 
 
We want the consequence to “feel uncomfortable” to the child. 

If, for example, you put on an itchy sweater made of sheep’s wool and break out with a rash, you tend to take it off because it is uncomfortable – and you may never wear it again! If the child finds a consequence to be “itchy,” he may decide not to exhibit the behavior that initiated the consequence he’s allergic to.


 

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

What To Do When Your Teen’s Grades Start To Decline

"My 16-year-old son’s grades were in rapid decline in the last school semester. Should I get more involved in his school activities this next semester? If so, what would be the best way to go about it?"

Your teenage son needs you in his life more than he may admit – although he may want you present under different terms and conditions than he did previously. Some moms and dads misread the signals that their teenagers send and back off too soon. For example, for teenagers at age 13, about 75% of moms and dads report high or moderate involvement in school related activities, but when teenagers reach age 16, the rate of parent involvement has dropped to 55%. The rate continues to drop throughout high school.

Research shows that teens do better in school when their moms and dads are involved in their lives, and that education works best when educators and both parents work closely with one another.

Here are 15 crucial parenting tips for staying involved in a teenager’s school life:

1. Attend school events. Go to sports events and concerts. Attend back-to-school night, PTA meetings, and awards events. Remember, though, that many young people are often self-conscious and want moms and dads to be present, but in the background. They want you there, but they want you at more of a distance. They want to look out of the corner of their eye and see you there. On the track, they want to peek up into the stands to make sure somebody is watching them. Also, look for school activities that you can do with your teen (e.g., cleaning up the school grounds).

2. Find out about the school's homework policy. Knowing school policies for homework is important because by high school, homework generally plays a bigger role in a teen's grades and test scores than it did in middle school. Find out from educators how often they will assign homework and about how long it may take to complete. Do not do homework for your teen. However, make sure that he tries his best to complete assignments.

3. Go over your teen's schedule together to see if he's got too much going on at once. Talk with him about setting priorities and dropping certain activities if necessary or rearranging the time of some of them.

4. Help him learn good study habits. Set a regular time for him to do homework. Talk about the assignments. Make sure he understands what he's supposed to do. Make sure he has a calendar on which to record assignments, as well as a backpack and homework folders in which to tuck assignments for safekeeping.

5. Help your teen get organized. Most teenagers are easily distracted. With so much to do and think about, it's not surprising. The amount of their school work and their extracurricular activities often increases at the same time that they are going through a growth spurt, developing new relationships, and trying to develop more autonomy. Young people respond to these changes in varying ways, but many of them daydream, forget things, lose things and seem unaware of time. It's not unusual for a high-schooler to complete a homework assignment, but then forget to turn it in. Some schools help kids develop organizational skills. Others leave the task to you.

6. Help your teen get started when he has to do research reports or other big assignments, perhaps by taking him to the library or helping him find sources of online information from appropriate Web sites.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

7. Help your teen to avoid last-minute cramming by working out a schedule of what he needs to do to prepare for the test.

8. Keep in touch with the school and your teen's educators. Keeping in touch can be tricky when a teen has many educators, but at the very least, it's good to know your teen's counselor and a favorite teacher. The more visible you are, the more educators will be able to communicate openly and regularly with you. Attend parent-teacher conferences. Read school bulletins when they are sent home.

9. Learn about your teen's school. The more you know, the easier your job as a mother or father will be. Ask for a school handbook. This will answer many questions that will arise over the year. If the school doesn't have a handbook, ask questions (e.g., What classes does the school offer? Which classes are required? What are your expectations for my child? How does the school measure student progress? What are the school's rules and regulations?).

10. Make sure your teen takes classes that are needed to attend college. It’s never too early to plan for a teen's future. A two- or four-year college degree is becoming more and more important for finding a good job. Companies want employees who have taken certain courses and acquired a solid base of skills and knowledge. Good courses for college-bound teens include English, science (e.g., biology, chemistry, earth science and physics), history or geography, as well as algebra and geometry. Many colleges also require students to study a foreign language for at least two years, and some prefer three or four years of one language. Basic computer skills are also essential, and many colleges view participation in the arts and music as valuable.

11. Monitor how well your teen is doing in school. Report cards are one indication of how well a teen is doing in school. But you also need to know how things are going between report cards. For instance, if your teenager is having trouble in math, find out when he has his next math test and when it will be returned to him. This allows you to address a problem before it grows into something bigger. Call or e-mail the teacher if your child doesn't understand an assignment or if he needs extra help to complete an assignment.

12. Provide an environment at home that encourages learning and school activities. Provide a quiet time without TV and other distractions when homework assignments can be completed. If you live in a small or noisy household, try having all family members take part in a quiet activity during homework time. You may need to take a noisy toddler outside or into another room to play. If distractions can't be avoided, you may want to let your teen complete assignments in the local library. Let your teen know that you value education. Show him that the skills he is learning are an important part of the things he will do as a grown-up. Let him see you reading books and newspapers, looking at computer screens, writing reports and letters, sending e-mails, using math to balance your checkbook, measuring for new carpeting – anything that requires thought and effort. Also, tell your teen about what you do at work.

13. Set ground rules for your teen at the beginning of the school year. From the first day of school, make certain that your teen knows what time he is expected to go to bed and get up, what he needs to do to get ready for school each morning, and what time he needs to leave the house for school. Check that he knows his curfew both on weekdays and on the weekend. Make sure, too, that your teen knows that he is expected to try hard and do his best in school.

14. Volunteer in your teen’s school. If your schedule permits, look for ways to help out at the school. Schools often send home lists of ways in which moms and dads can get involved (e.g., chaperones are needed for school trips or dances, school committees need members, the school newsletter may need an editor, the school may have councils or advisory committees that need parent representatives, etc.). If work or other commitments make it impossible for you to volunteer in the school, look for ways to help at home (e.g., make phone calls to other moms and dads to tell them about school-related activities, help translate a school newsletter from English into another language, etc.).

15. Lastly, work alongside your teen to clean out his backpack periodically so he can stay organized.


 

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

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