How to Motivate a Defiant Teenager to Study

The teenage years are troubling times for a lot of us, and we all remember them. Whether they were good times, bad times or a mix of both, we still recognize that life as a teenager is a challenge to overcome having experienced it for ourselves.

It’s stereotypical that an adolescent comes accompanied by mood swings and a generally bad attitude but this is not always true. Sometimes they can just have a little difficulty in focusing on what’s important when life has made changes to their physical appearance, and to their outlook.

While hormonal production and rebalancing kicks into full throttle, they are experiencing an increasingly more difficult education whilst at the same time are thrown into unfamiliar and unexpected social settings.

It’s understandable that they may not see that studying for school should be the first and foremost priority!  But, their performance at school will affect the rest of their lives. They could be missing out on developing key character traits for success.

Especially when considering further education and career options, which lead to other opportunities even further down the line!

So how do you motivate a teenager to study more? Well, at first it is important to understand that they may be coming from a different perspective on life than you, they may not see where you are coming from and may not see their future as their greatest cause for worry because they are fixated on concerns in the present.

How to Motivate a Defiant Teenager to Study

The Adolescent Years

Even though many of us remember what it’s like to be a teenager, sometimes it can be hard to emphasize, as having gone through it ourselves, it doesn’t seem as bad coming out as it did going in. But think back to what you were feeling back then, you know that big changes are coming and there is a certain underlying anxiety that comes with facing the unknown.

Adolescence is the period in time where a young child begins puberty and through the effects of bodily hormones, starts their journey to becoming an adult via physical and psychological changes.

Physical Changes

The age range that adolescence typically occurs is between 13 and 19 years old but this can vary slightly between individuals. Sometimes puberty can make a start as early as 9-12 years old!

The physical changes can be shocking and confusing to some, even if they have already been told what to expect. They experience teenage growth spurts, bodily hair growth, reproductive developments and so on.

They may find it difficult to get used to and this can cause anxiety with a constant worry that something is wrong about them in particular!

Psychological Changes

At this point in life, teenagers tend to take a far greater interest in their peer groups, romantic interests and their appearance as they begin a journey of self-discovery. The teenage years are important for exploring what it means to be independent and to take responsibility for your own destiny.

This also comes with rebellious and risky types of behavior. Experimentation with sexuality, drugs, and alcohol can occur as the teen tries to find meaningful relationships, a sense of agency outside of their family home and challenge the status quo.

There is also the issue of mental health which begins to surface when children grow into teenagers. Both anxiety and depression are more likely to develop in adolescence while mental health disorders such as schizophrenia begin to manifest in the teenage years.

Now studying and school performance is important but an undiagnosed and untreated mental health disorder can have a much more dramatic negative impact on their lives. If you feel that your teenager has a mental health issue it’s best to consult a physician and the school to talk about steps you can make going forward.

Teenage Psychological Changes

Attitude Changes

As a parent of a teenager you’ll find that some of the most common responses they will have when you make a request of them is “what ever”, “why?” and “what is the point?”. What they’re actually communicating to you is that they can’t see the reason why what you ask of them should be done.

Parents tend to respond in frustration, their authority has been challenged. “Because I told you to”, “because it’s your school work”, “just because you have to!” But all the teenager wants is to debate.

Instead, parents should focus on providing their teenager with reason rather than challenging their perceived insubordination. A teen might want to debate the reasonable argument you give them but then, of course, you will answer with planned rebuttals until they have no other choice but to see sense.

Motivating your teenager to study should not become a power struggle, it should be a fair discussion that leads to them taking on a more reasonable point of view. To get a teenager to consider your side of the story, you must first get into their shoes, find out why they would rather reject studying so that you can then go onto changing their mind.

With that being said, teenagers can just seem lazy and despondent sometimes, they act like they don’t even want to care.

Lazy Teenager vs Frustrated Parent

It’s difficult to communicate with a lazy teenager. The more you try to give them instruction, the more you try to make them see reason they still push their responsibilities aside in favor of pursuing non-productive activities such as listening to music, gaming and partying.

There’s no shame in enjoying non-productive activities but there needs to be a balance between them and work/education. As far as the teenager is aware, they are still a child and they have all the time in the world to think about education and career goals.

They may also be anxious about growing up and entering the real world which has seemingly been thrust upon them. They may have low self-esteem which only exasperates their anxiety.

But what they don’t realize is that by studying and working hard at school, it’s going to make it easier for them in the future.

While they have these new responsibilities looming over their shoulders, they are not yet enduring the full adult experience which is when life gets much harder to deal with. Bills, taxes, work, business, home life all can be made easier if you approach them with a sense of duty and responsibility.

And so it may be underlying anxieties, low self-esteem and fears about the impending future after leaving the freedom of childhood that’s causing them to be lazy. In all honesty, there is not much you can do except to motivate them with fair but firm ground rules.

How to Approach a Lazy Teenager

Displaying your frustration is one of the worst things you can do in a situation like this. It shows that you feel that your authority is being challenged and they will continue to push boundaries as teenagers like to do.

It’s best to approach the situation calm and collected. Talk to them and ask them what is playing on their mind, what is causing them to reject their responsibilities. Show your son or daughter that you have great respect for them and the issues they have.

Explain to them the reason why they should study, do chores, and stand on their own two feet when it comes to deciding the direction of their life. It may not be the most fun, and it may not have an instantaneous benefit that you can see right now but its to give them practice at dealing with life before it becomes harder to deal with.

They don’t have to deal with it all on their own though, and you need to be there for them all the way, giving them as much support as you can, in their studies and their personal problems. This doesn’t mean doing everything for them, but it does mean giving them advice they can use, the tools they need to study and learn effectively and also some freedoms to have fun and pursue other activities they enjoy (within reason).

Lazy Teenager vs Frustrated Parent

Ways of Motivating Your Teen to Study More

The most effective starting point in showing a teenager why they need to study is to show a clear and consistent path to meeting their goals. They may not appreciate being asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?” but find out what they enjoy, what they are passionate about and what they would like to achieve in life?

Do they have financial goals? Academic? Creative? Skilled? Do they want to have certain experiences?

Programs such as Our Family Wizard can help you create such plans with your partner or co-parent.  It enables you to create and share schedules, plans, calendars and communicate with each other in a structured and easy to understand way.

Whatever it is they want, they are not going to get there by being passive, they need to be engaged and they need to be constructive. And you need to be too, which you can by taking in of the following advice:

Be Engaged: Even though you want your teenager to reach independence, don’t just sit back and let them handle life on their own. Communicate with their school and their teachers, be interested in your child’s performance at school. How can you expect them to show interest f you don’t?

Be Honest: Be honest with your kid about how life works. This doesn’t mean to scare them with stories about how hard life is but set expectations, let them know that if they are prepared and are responsible they will have no problems handling whatever life throws at them.

Don’t Make Excuses: If your child isn’t doing so well at school or got a low test score, don’t lay the blame elsewhere. This doesn’t mean to make your teen feel guilty for their poor performance but rather to acknowledge it, take responsibility and do better next time.

Celebrate Successes: This ties in with showing your interest in their life and their achievements but make sure they know that you are proud of them for even the smallest achievements. Never ignore anything that they do right or anything improvement they make, no matter how small.

Be Firm: Teenagers will push boundaries if you let them, don’t! Even though you should be understanding and forgiving, do not let them forget that their behavior doesn’t just affect them but others around them too.

Help Them Improve: Don’t just recognize their strengths but help them to work on their weaknesses too. This helps foster a bond and a relationship of honesty between you as well as helps to improve their self-esteem.

Refuse to Quit: Your child’s future is so important, they may try and fail multiple times in their lives which causes frustration and leads them to want to give up. It’s the unconditional love and support of their parents and teachers which keeps them hanging on, reminding them why it’s so important to never give up!

Be an Example: Life is hard for us parents too, sometimes we get frustrated at certain things and our kids can see it. If we show our kids that we have a defeatist attitude they will think that it’s ok to give up, we have to set the example that we want them to be. Otherwise, they will just call us hypocrites.

To Summarize

Remember that they are going through a lot, as you once did. It may not seem like a lot to you now, but to them, the changes they are going through are a huge, frightening weight on their shoulders.

Remember to always put yourself in their shoes, see the world through their eyes as you try to motivate your teenager to study more. They may feel like studying is not worth it but you need to keep reminding them why it is, referring to the path they must take to achieve their life goals.

They may say they have no life goals, they are not passionate about anything and they have no desire for success, this is quite common. But what do they do if they are not studying? reading, comics, films, music, gaming, etc, they must admire the creators of their form of entertainment. Ask them “wouldn’t it be cool to have the skill to create your own version of that”.

Once that conversational door has been opened it may be appropriate to show that you are invested in their life. If they like music maybe invest in some guitar lessons such as those offered by Totally Guitars which make learning the guitar a piece of cake!

Finally, if you are going to take anything from this article, it’s that the key traits you should have when trying to get your teenager to study more is: patience, consistency, endurance, understanding, willpower, and self-control.

Leave a Comment