While in a perfect world, every teen would love high school, that isn’t always the case…but sometimes there’s a good reason behind a teen’s attitude towards school. As a parent, it’s up to you to figure out the root of the problem, as well as to offer up solutions and encouragement that may motivate your teen. The goal here isn’t to approach your teen with frustration, but rather with true interest and an attempt at understanding their perspective, and from there, you can determine the best option to help them make the most of their high school experience.
Don’t Assume That Your Teen is Being Defiant
A teen who seems to dislike high school isn’t necessarily being difficult or defiant for the sake of causing trouble. On the contrary, the teen may in reality be intimidated by their classwork, stressed out by a schedule of many subjects, projects, and tests to manage, or be feeling socially isolated or otherwise left out. Your teen’s attitude towards high school may actually be directed at one particular subject in which they’re struggling, or it could even be due to an unrelated personal problem outside of school. Your job is to talk with your teen, ask questions, and try to ferret out what the real issue is.
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Reflect On Your Own Actions
Being a parent means being a role model, whether or not you believe your child sees you as such. Teens will pick up on their parents’ actions, from what you say to what you think to your overall attitude and outlook on life. A teen who has a negative attitude or feels depressed or hopeless in high school may be picking up on negativity from the household, even if you don’t realize this may affect them. This may not be the case for every teen who dislikes high school, but it’s important to be introspective and reflect, as a parent, to consider if any of your own actions could have left an impression on your teen. However, you also have the power to convey your thoughts on the importance of high school to your teen and positively impact them with an encouraging and optimistic attitude.
Use Active Listening Skills
When you do discuss with your teen what they dislike about high school and why, it’s important to actively listen to what your teen says, without any reaction or judgement. Teens who fear a negative reaction or punishment or who feel they aren’t listened to will be less likely to have an open and honest dialogue with you. Alternatively, teens who know they can discuss their problems and feelings without any negative consequence will happily confide in you, as well as seek out your wisdom and guidance on various issues throughout their life, high school problems being just one of them.
Don’t Ever Use Threats
Along the same lines as actively and openly listening to your teen, you don’t want to incite fear or create a negative or closed-off environment, so there’s no need to threaten your teen. Positive reinforcement and empathy are going to go a lot farther with teens, especially those who may be struggling with an issue that hasn’t been addressed, than scaring them into bottling their problems up. Rather than using threats or punishments, try to encourage your teen with positive incentives to do better in and try harder in school. Whether you offer them a special privilege for good grades or simply encourage them with inspiring stories of successful people who began their success at a young age, this positive reinforcement can reframe your teen’s outlook on high school and help them see the opportunity, rather than the obligation.
And Don’t Lecture
The same way threats don’t always work so well to encourage teens to be more motivated in high school, lectures don’t always have a positive impact either. When you lecture your teen, you may be coming at them from a place of disappointment and possibly frustration, and they will pick up on this energy. Some teens will view being lectured as being scolded, and others will simply tune out what they perceive as negativity. The best approach is the one that begins with understanding and let’s your teen feel heard and important; lectures do the opposite, since they’re put in an inferior position and made to listen silently. Better than a lecture would be a two-way conversation, in which you ask your teen to help you brainstorm suggestions to improve their high school experience. This way, you both can work towards a positive solution, and your teen will know that you’re in their corner and have their experience and future as your top priority.
Don’t Only Focus on School
A teen’s attitude and performance in school isn’t necessarily indicative of their academic capabilities or even their outlook on school; it might be triggered by a completely unrelated aspect of their life. In addition to asking your teen how they feel about school, any social issues they may be dealing with in school and any subjects they’re struggling with or workloads they find overwhelming, you should also ask them about their life outside of school. How are things with their friends? What are they currently looking forward to and spending their free time on? How are they feeling mentally and emotionally? All of these questions should help get at the root of their problem and hopefully help you figure out what motivating factors may change their current attitude.
Help Them Learn Organizational Skills
Sometimes when students appear to dislike school, this is simply because they feel overwhelmed with all the classes, homework, and tests they have to prepare for and manage. Getting a better handle on their time management and organization just may be the solution to lower their stress and improve their outlook. You can help your teen reorganize their workload and priorities by going class by class, determining which subjects require extra time, and crafting the optimal schedule that will lighten their load and prevent them from dreading their schoolwork or procrastinating and dragging out their assignments to take even longer.
Acknowledge Any Progress or Effort
Students who dislike high school may be lacking in the positive reinforcement they need as motivation to put their full effort into their classes. If a student has a track record of poor grades and is used to viewing school as the “enemy” or some awful, scary place they dread, they may need to experience a new type of outcome to their participation to really turn their perspective around. Students like this can be easily motivated with some positive acknowledgements of their progress or effort, even if they aren’t getting straight A’s. Once a student realizes the positive correlation between the effort they put in and the treatment they get from their parents and teachers, as well as the opportunities and privileges they’re allowed, they’ll have good reason to continue and increase their progress and effort.
Talk to Your Teen’s Teachers
As a parent, you’re not there with your student in school all day, and you only know what they tell you. This means that you’re inherently missing any third-party account of your student’s behavior, participation, and effort in class. The best way to figure out how your teen is acting in class is to talk to their teachers, and this may be very telling. By talking with teachers in all your teen’s subjects, you’ll learn if the issue is isolated around one subject or if it’s simply a disinterest in all their classes. You’ll also learn how the different teachers are reacting to or attempting to encourage your teen’s participation, your teen’s reaction to each attempt, and what works versus what doesn’t.
Determine if There’s Something More Serious Going On
If you’ve taken all of the above steps to try to understand your teen, motivate and encourage them with incentives and positive reinforcement, and help them better manage their schedule, and your teen still has a strong dislike towards school, you may want to probe even deeper. If your teen hasn’t responded positively to any of these efforts, they may have a deeper mental or emotional problem that needs to be addressed, and this may require a professional. Perhaps your teen is dealing with some so far undetected learning disability that makes school difficult and less enjoyable. You shouldn’t rule this out until you’ve thoroughly explored each possibility that might be affecting your teen, from dyslexia to ADD to depression. Luckily, there are counselors, therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists that can help diagnose these issues and help come up with a plan to manage these issues and get your teen back on track for success.
Help Your Teen Find a Mentor
Regardless of which issue may be affecting your teen, sometimes what they really need is a good role model or mentor. While having a role model to look up to is great, a mentor who can also talk with your teen one-on-one and offer advice and guidance is key. This could be an upperclassman who’s applying or been accepted to your teen’s dream college or an adult who has the career and success your teen aspires to. Once your teen knows someone who has achieved the goals and success they aspire to, they’ll be inspired and have a credible figure to go to for advice and encouragement. You can help your teen find a mentor by making introductions to the people they look up to or putting them in a program that provides mentors to teens. For example, all teens who go through our Beta Bowl entrepreneurship programs get access to a Startup Mentor for progress calls, feedback, and guidance on their business. This gives the teens someone to go to if they ever have a question or issue, while also providing a resource in the knowledgeable mentor who has years of wisdom and experience beyond the teen, and who has already taken an idea from inception to launch.
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Your teen’s attitude towards school is very important and can have a significant impact on their performance in high school and the opportunities they’ll be afforded upon graduation. Since high school is the start of greater independence and responsibilities for teens, it’s normal for them to be apprehensive, intimidated, and have a few obstacles to overcome in the transition. However, if you find that your teen is unhappy, unmotivated, and seems to strongly dislike high school, you need to get to the root of the problem as soon as possible and game plan the best solution to get your teen on the right track. The sooner you address these issues, the sooner you can help your teen course-correct and ensure they don’t hinder their own future opportunities due to a lack of effort or poor performance early on.
Related: How to Prepare for High School