7 Strategies to Motivate Your Teenager

Each year teachers and students watch the motivation slump hit once the novelty of the new year has worn off. Motivation is without a doubt the “X factor” when it comes to success in school.

Of course it is difficult to maintain motivation in the face of a seemingly endless onslaught of homework, tests, quizzes, and essays. So what is the answer? How can we help our students stay motivated? The answer, if you’re a follower of our SMARTS blog, will not surprise you. Strategies!

Motivational strategies ask students to reframe their work, to understand how their schoolwork fits into their larger goals, and to plan concrete steps for completing their work. Check out some great tips cooked up by our colleagues at the Institute for Learning and Development.

  1. PROMISE IT— Students need to set clear goals and understand how their schoolwork fits into their goals. They owe it to themselves to work towards their goals, and that means getting their school work done, too.
  2. CHANGE YOUR MIND — Help students replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Change “I can’t stand this” to “I’ll feel great when it’s done.”
  3. SWEETEN THE TASK— Students should reward themselves when they accomplish challenging or “boring” tasks. This reward might be something tangible like a snack or a ten-minute Youtube break, or it could be an acknowledgment that they are independently accomplishing their goals.
  4. VENT ABOUT IT — It’s best to acknowledge negative feelings towards schoolwork, but we have to help our students understand how harmful these attitudes are to their productivity. Help your students get past a negative attitude by taking it to the extreme. For example, “There’s no way I can put in the time to study for this biology exam. It is the worst thing I can possibly think of doing right now. It will be a complete disaster and my life will be ruined for a million years.” This sort of hyperbole can help students put things into perspective.
  5. ASK FOR HELP — Encourage students to use  resources, like teachers, tutors, and yes – even parents. Getting help on a difficult or “boring” assignment will help the work get done more efficiently. Plus, when students reach out and ask for the help instead of being required to do so, they are in a greater position of power and autonomy. Encourage students to think of these supports as sources of guidance and coaching and not commandments and rules.
  6. COMPARE THE PAYOFFS TO THE COSTS — Have students stop and reflect on the payoff of getting their work done. For example, if they choose not to do their reading for English class, they may have extra time to hang out with friends. BUT, they will not be prepared for class and will have to read twice as much the next week.
  7. PLAY THE GAME — Often students complain that school is unfair. However, it is more accurate to think of school as a game that has rules. In order to win, they have to follow the rules, and sometimes this requires doing things that seem unpleasant. Staying motivated in school will help your students to win the game and accomplish their long-term goals. Learning how to play the game and get through difficult or boring work will allow them to truly demonstrate their strengths and interests once they reach the “real world.”


  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director