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The Parent Rap: Lack of motivation common in mid-teens

Last week, a parent wrote about a 15-year-old who won’t do his schoolwork. “The problem began when he entered his teens, and has become progressively worse. He is very bright, but totally uninterested in getting his work done.

Last week, a parent wrote about a 15-year-old who won’t do his schoolwork. “The problem began when he entered his teens, and has become progressively worse. He is very bright, but totally uninterested in getting his work done. He should be getting A’s, but he barely scrapes through because he doesn’t hand in his assignments. We’ve tried making him sit down to do it, restricting his computer time and grounding him, but nothing works.”

Here’s what our parenting consultants had to say:


Many 15-year-olds struggle with a lack of motivation regarding school. Things like socializing, playing video games and listening to music can be much more interesting than studying a subject they think they will never use. Often in Grade 11 and 12, kids start taking their grades a little more seriously as the talk among peers begins to focus on requirements to get into college.

Remember that social development is just as important as academics, not to mention mental and emotional health. Teens need support from their parents, not pressure. Sometimes, scraping by is what this looks like until the teen feels inspired to put more energy into school. This can happen after high school, when a young adult gains some life experience and develops a true desire for higher education to get a better job.

Is it true that your son should be getting As? Many parents say this and my concern is that the parent’s agenda gets in the way of the child’s responsibility. Punishing him, grounding him and making him sit down to do the work are all forms of too much control.

This is your son’s responsibility and you must step aside and let him figure this out.

The more invested you are in what he should be doing, the more he will resist. Arguing for change only creates resistance and interferes with your son’s need for autonomy — and right now, this is more important to him than getting As.

Your son will learn from life’s lessons and any frustration he experiences may very well be the fuel he needs for change.

Allison Rees Parenting courses


You have discovered what many parents know but keep trying: punishments do not work. At best, they work for a bit, but if you are interested in the long term, this is not the way to go. You will likely want to figure out why your son is not doing his schoolwork. Is it because it isn’t interesting?

Is there any chance he has a learning difference, which prevents him from doing written assignments the way others might?

Some students have the material in their heads, but can’t get it down on paper. Are there attention issues that make focusing a challenge?

I suggest you set up a meeting for your son, his teachers and you to try and make sense of how school is going for him. He may need a referral to an educational psychologist, occupational therapist or medical doctor to rule out challenges that prevent him from getting his work done.

All too often, we assume that because a student does not get the work done on paper, he is not trying. What would happen if he were asked about the material orally, rather than writing about it? This could indicate issues with written output. At any rate, you will want to rule out these differences before you try other strategies.

For all students, parents can support schoolwork by providing good routine and structures at home:

• Limit screens of all sorts on school nights to about 30 minutes. Despite what most kids will say, very little computer time is needed for homework.

• Keep all TVs, computers, tablets, video games and smartphones in a public place in the home (never in bedrooms).

• Have a designated time each night for homework. For a 15-year-old, you might want to set aside 90 minutes right after dinner. If homework is complete, the students can read quietly until the time is up.

• Makes sure after-school activities are limited so that there is plenty of downtime for homework and family time.

• Eat dinner together as a family every night. Connecting over meals is a perfect way to feel close and share the events of your day.

• Your student should not go out on school nights.

• Resist the urge to nag about homework. It’s your son’s job and up to him only. The school will take action if needed. Some schools have a homework club after school where students can come and do their homework before going home for the day. Often, extra help is provided if needed.

• Model reading for pleasure every evening while your children is doing homework.

The last thing you will want to do is make schoolwork a big issue between you and your son. Your job is to provide the opportunity and a quiet, distraction-free environment for homework completion. After that, it’s up to him.

Jean Bigelow

School principal


Next question:

My 17-year-old has been smoking pot for several years. Since she didn’t get enough allowance to support this habit, she had been stealing money at home, including from her siblings’ savings. When we noticed, we sat her down to talk about it; she also had to return the money she took (I cut her allowance short to pay it back). She now has an after-school job and can buy whatever she likes. I let her do what she wants on weekends without asking questions, but I insist that she doesn’t smoke or meet certain friends during the week. She ignores these requests and either lies to me or refuses to comply.

I have lost all trust in her and everything she tells me. I expected her to try pot at some point, and I feel I have been liberal in allowing her to do so (when she first confided in me that she had smoked, we talked about it, and I told her I didn’t approve, but would accept it as long as it was only on occasion), but now I am afraid that she is turning into a “pot head”, and am even more disappointed about not being able to trust her at all.

I feel like I am being a nag, and I also feel that she will do whatever she pleases, and that she really doesn’t care much as to whether I approve or not.

When she gets caught, she tries to charm her way out of it, or waits for the storm to blow over. Either way, she seems to get back to her old habits as soon as I am out of sight.

I know that one of her close friends has been using crack, and I am really worried that she will do the same. She says no, but I cannot trust her words.

I am sad, worried, disappointed and at a loss about what to do.



Do you have any advice for this parent? Are you struggling with a parenting dilemma? Send your input to Please put “the parent rap” in the subject line. Questions about kids from infants to teens welcome.