As a children’s author, I am used to inspiring and motivating hundreds of children at once as I give talks and run workshops at primary schools. In this comfort zone, I am confident, articulate, and enthusiastic. Tell me to home school my four sons however, and it is an entirely different story. Let’s just say chocolate has been my saving grace… a lot of chocolate!
Having a degree in Psychology helps me to understand a child’s mind. More than that though, I am a mum of four boys, and that is what my main drive to write this article is. I have decided that it is time to motivate my sons in my own way and bring a positive perspective back to their world which has so much negativity right now. I don’t profess to be an expert by any means and I think we all have to find what works for us, but if any of my methods work for you too then that’s great. I am also not advising anyone to turn their backs on school work. I am still trying to encourage my boys to do their core subjects as know they will be back a school at some point and don’t want them falling behind. But, I won’t push the matter to the point of it damaging our relationship now. If they do half an hour of maths and then an hour of my more motivational methods then that’s a win in my eyes. I don’t claim for it to be a miracle fix and it may not be for you, but if, like me, you have felt like you are struggling lately, then I hope it may help you in some way.
My change in tact came about after yet another argument with my older sons last week about why they needed to do their school work. I had a lightbulb moment. Rather than arguing about it, maybe I should be questioning how worthwhile a lot of what they are being given right now is. My sons lost all motivation long ago. After initially agreeing that they must just do core subjects and not worry about things like German and Music that they have no interest in, they have now been further alienated by work they see as pointless – the likes of geometry and analysing the same dated books for weeks on end that I studied in school nearly thirty years ago. Instead of convincing my sons of the purpose behind it, I took a deep breath and tried to see it from their point of view.
We are heading into a recession that they will probably still be affected by in their working life. They have been told that they can’t see their friends for weeks, and now they can, they have to make sure they don’t get too close to each other. The future looks pretty uncertain right now and they are wondering what the point is of the work they are being told to do. And I have to say, right now, I am finding it harder and harder to convince them otherwise as I am starting to wonder myself. I am worried that constantly nagging them about school work is having such a negative, toxic impact on our relationship that I have decided it is time to change my approach.
Firstly, it is important to understand the mind of a teenager or pre-teen. It is important for teenagers to feel connected and accepted within their peer groups. They want the autonomy to make their own decisions. They want freedom and they want to have fun. Lockdown stopped pretty much all of this for our teens. They weren’t allowed to go out and along with the usual house rules from their parents, we were suddenly also playing the authoritative role of their teacher. Presented like this, we can see how it is literally a formula doomed for failure.
Whilst we try to take positives out of the unusual situation we have been thrown into, the pressures on our relationships with our older children can’t be denied. There are a lot of websites which will help you to understand the mind set of your child. Google things like ‘how to understand my teenager’, and ‘how to motivate my teenager’ and you will have an abundance of material open to you. Also, don’t be afraid to distinguish between boys and girls. Whether you like it or not, parenting a teenage boy is very different to parenting a teenage girl, and whilst there will be similarities, there are also some unique elements. Once you have reminded yourself what it is like to be a teenager, the following suggestions I have made will make a lot more sense.
SHOW INTEREST IN THEIR GAMING! If you are anything like me, your interaction with their time on the Xbox, PlayStation, or such like, will mainly be warning them of online predators, moaning they are spending too much time on it, and threatening to give them a ban if they don’t do what you have asked them to. If you take a step back to think about it though, there are actually a lot of benefits to their time spent on electronics like this. Here is an example of an article demonstrating this and there are plenty more if you google it. You may not agree with all the points in this article but for me personally, I think the social interaction it has given my sons whilst not being at school has been fantastic. Like it or not, gaming is a big part of our children’s lives now and rather than just moaning about it and using it as a punishment tool, we should take more of an interest in it. Asking them questions about what they are doing will show you that there is more to it than simply clicking buttons and staring at a screen and will open up a valuable dialogue between you and your teen if you are struggling to find common ground to talk about. If you show an interest in their passion, they are more likely to speak to you about other things too.
DO A FREE ON-LINE PSYCHOMETRIC TEST! – Being a teenager is a difficult time. They are going through many changes and their lives have just been turned upside down. They might be feeling a little lost and need a reminder of their strength of character. There are a lot of free online psychometric tests that are fun to do. The most widely recommended one is the Myers- Briggs personality test and there are various adaptations of this available on line. Here is the one I used. This test can be quite repetitive and you may lose the interest of pre-teens and young teens, so if they don’t have the patience for it, don’t push the issue. Another fast paced, fun psychometric test is the colour test. At a first glance it looks rather gimmicky but it is now widely used by employers and universities and when I did it myself I was stunned as to the accuracy of it. Here is a link to the one I used.
WATCH MOTIVATIONAL VIDOES ON YOUTUBE – Teenagers love YouTube, so use this to your advantage! There are so many videos on there, designed to inspire them. Be it inspirational stories of how sportsmen achieved success, or motivational speakers that they can relate to, there is something for everyone there. Here is a link to an example of such a video that I found. One of the reasons this one stood out to me so much is the positivity in the comments section, which in itself is a great inspiration to our teens. They may look at you sceptically when you suggest it and tell you it’s cheesy but even if just a little bit of the message goes in subliminally then it is worth it. Have a little search to see which ones will resonate best with your child. In one quick search, I found videos of motivation and inspiration linked to Messi, JK Rowlings, Dwayne Johnson, Ed Sheeran, and Leonardo DiCaprio.
EXPLORE DIFFERENT CAREERS – With a recession looming, our teens have probably overheard a lot of worry concerning jobs. It is important that we reassure them that things will right themselves in the end and there is a whole host of careers out there that they could strive towards. Be careful not to push your dream job on to them. Show them what is out there but let them decide whether it is of interest. Right now their school work can seem very meaningless to them but researching a job that might appeal in the future may help them see the benefits of certain subjects. Here is a great website showing the mass array of careers out there.
EXPLORE UNIVERSITIES AND OPEN THEIR EYES TO THE WORLD OF TRAVELLING – This may seem out of reach right now, but show them some online campus brochures. The realisation that they can learn without the strict boundaries set by schools and parents could ignite an interest in them that they didn’t know existed. The vast range of subjects that are available can open their eyes to the fact that there is hope beyond the ‘boredom factor’ of school work that they are experiencing right now. The constraints of being stuck in their homes recently may have made them feel like caged animals. Look up some websites and blogs on travelling for young people. Again, it may seem like way in the future but it shows them that there is a future. There is something worth waiting for.
WATCH A BOXSET TOGETHER – Letting your teen watch something a bit more grown up with you in the evening is fantastic bonding time for you both, especially if you also have younger children that often take your attention. Depending on what you watch, it can also raise topics of conversation that you otherwise wouldn’t have had which in itself is a learning experience for them. Knowledge doesn’t just come from school work.
Right now our children’s mental state is more important than anything. There is no right or wrong way for us all to cope with the change we have experienced. The suggestions I have made here may not work for you and your child and that is absolutely fine. I have shared them in case there is a parent out there who has been feeling the struggle recently and may benefit from trying a few of these things with their teen. Don’t expect them to thank you, give you a big hug and tell you these things have solved all their doubts and lack of motivation – they are still teenagers after all! However, if you plant just a little seed of hope in them then what have you got to lose? If you have any other suggestions or links to useful resources, please add them in the comments.