Parents today feel that they should be encouraging and helpful in their teenagers to try hard and do well in their exams, or any academic work. The problem is that in trying to achieve this goal, many parents end up causing stress and frustrations either for themselves, for their teenagers or for both.
So what’s the main cause of this stressful feeling? Basically, it boils down to one key factors; a belief held by many parents and even being reinforced by most schools.
To do well means you must work hard
As a result parents spend most of their time trying to get their teens to work hard. But the gloomy fact is that there are some students who could work hard for the rest of their life and still attain only average results. And then there are other students who appear to put in very little effort and still do very well.
This perception leads parents to consider one of two things, either their teen is working hard enough or they’re not. Either way, unhelpful stress can still be a problem.
If your teen is working hard enough
Typically the person who gets over-stressed in this condition is the teen. The parent’s role here is to help their teen handle the stress. Beware of ‘going over the top’ in encouraging your teenager; let them know that even if they don’t achieve exactly what they want it’s not the end of the world.
Remind them that there is usually more than one way to get to where they desire to go and that you’ll be there to encourage them on whichever path they take. Of course you can only do that if you believe it yourself.
If you are very set in your own beliefs about what’s viable and what’s not, then you’re going to experience the stress as well. The danger here is that your stress will add to that of your teen’s. To keep away from getting in this condition, explore what other choices that are available in the eventuality that things do not turn out in the way you would like.
If your teen is not working hard enough
In this condition the person feeling the stress is you, the parent. A good number of parents will attempt one or more of the following methods.
- Giving advice
Many parents will try motivating their teen by telling them how crucial it is to do well in the exam, how having excellent results will give them more choice and they will have a better opportunity of getting a job/going to college. On the other hand, if internal exams are involved, the message is about doing well so they can get into the ‘right’ groups or sets next year.
This form of inspiration is not likely to work, as it is often too broad. Teens have heard all of these messages before so why should they act differently this time?
Use motivation by tying it in to something precise, something specific that they can recognize and feels real. Find something that they are attracted in and see if you can link it to what they want to do. Sometimes you can then use the concept of needing to do something you don’t want now so that you can achieve this precise thing that you do want later.
Certain parents will choice to a form of bribery or reward as a motivator; I will give you a certain amount of money for each exam in which you achieve a specific grade or something similar.
Sadly using a reward system in this way is often doomed to failure. The outcome is just too far away in time to be an effective motivator; teens need a more immediate way in which to receive a reward.
Consequently it’s much better to reward them for the working hard part, rather than just the outcome. Set up a system that rewards them for the amount of time they spend studying. Make sure you agree on how the system works or your teenager will just say no to take part of the idea.
Ensure also that you have a way of inspecting that they are in fact studying and not just pretending. Let them know that this is part of the deal and then spend time asking them about what they’ve studied. You don’t need to do this all the time, just enough for them to realise that you will inspect.
Many parents make an effort to force their teenager to work by using a form of control; e.g. “you will only go out from this house once you’ve studied for 3 hours.”
Unfortunately this practice rarely achieves anything positive, as the old saying goes ‘you can force a horse to water but you can’t make it drink’. In the same way you can force your teen to sit with their books but you can’t force them to take in the knowledge and wisdom.
The main result of this process is a deterioration in the parent teen relationship and negative feelings in all concerned.
A form of control can be used effectively, one whereby you and your teen form an agreement about how they are going to study. This can be develop similar to the reward system mentioned above, but in this case you would also set up consequences if your teen fails to keep to the deal.
Great care needs taking in using any of these methods. Understanding what’s really stopping your teenager from working is key to the success or failure or your efforts.
If at the heart of the problem your teenager rejects the whole academic system then there is not much that you can do to get your teen studying. And that means using a whole new approach entirely.
AUTHOR: Carol Shepley