My Son is Lacking Motivation

3:03 pmin Articles Rosemary Strembicki

Video gameOur 13-year-old son is struggling in school and isn’t motivated to do anything but play video games.  We’ve tried limiting screen time, bribery and sitting with him to help with homework but nothing is working.  We’re very concerned about his entering high school next year and wonder what is best for him.  Should we get him tested and talk to a professional to see if there is something wrong with him?

Adolescence is so often a difficult time for both children and parents.  There are not only physical changes but also emotional changes that may arise as coping mechanisms.  It’s an ideal time to take stock of who your child is and to help him make decisions that will lead to his success.  Easier said than done.

The first step is to reflect on your son’s history.  Are these unusual behaviors that have come on suddenly or are they typical of what you’ve seen in the past?  If he’s always been the child that was difficult to motivate, that would rather sit in front of a screen than play with friends then this behavior isn’t really anything new.   But the longer it goes on the more worrisome it becomes. 

Start by talking to his teachers to get a good idea of how he’s handling class time and if any special interests or abilities have emerged.  Watch and listen to how he interacts with his friends to determine if he’s socially involved. Consider his overall mood; is he generally happy and involved with family and friends?

If so, work with his teachers, pediatrician and any other adult friends with whom he has a relationship to determine what might be most helpful.  Keeping focused on the present and immediate goals will be more helpful than discussing your concerns for his future.  Take it one step at a time, let him know that you are there to help him succeed and keep your attitude positive. 

If these behaviors are new and/or extreme then professional intervention may be necessary.  Have eating and sleeping habits changed?  Is he isolating himself from everyone?  Is he quick to anger and threatening?  All of these are signs that he may be feeling out of control and in the need of immediate help.  Again, consult with his pediatrician and those that know him, and you, well for some guidance and referrals.

Being aware and involved is most helpful in getting our children through adolescence.   Some children need more coaching and involvement than others but it’s important to keep your expectations realistic, to understand the tasks of adolescent development and to get support when you need it.

Questions to consider:

  • Is the behavior new or did was I hoping he would grow out of it?
  • If it is new and/or extreme, are there any other behavioral changes that I am seeing?
  • Have I helped him see a future for himself beyond high school?  Does he have any dreams?  Does he have a vision of what he is working towards? 

Conversation starters:

  • I’m feeling frustrated and quite honestly a little concerned that you don’t seem more interested in school.  What do you think stops you from being more motivated to ________?
  • If you could snap your fingers and be an adult, what would you want your life to look like?  Where would you live?  What kind of car would you drive?  What kind of work would you enjoy doing? 
  • Let’s talk about grades.  I want to understand what they mean to you.  Then I’d like to tell you why I put so much value on them. 
  • Sometimes there’s a difference between excited about learning and excited about getting good grades.   Learning is for you.  Grades are sometimes for someone else.  But sometimes the lack of good grades can prevent us from having great opportunities available down the road . . .

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