Hopefully over the last week you and your teen have begun discussing some important and personal reasons why it’s important for them to put in their best effort at high school and strive for the grades you know they’re capable of getting.
Things like getting into the College course they have their sights set on, having a wide range of opportunities available to them, etc.
Hopefully the reasons you come up with will act as fantastic motivators for your teen.
However, completing homework and studying consistently – and not just when exams are approaching – can be a challenging task for a lot of teens.
Even for ‘good’ students.
The personal reasons your teen comes up with will probably be somewhat long-term. That is, your teen isn’t heading off to college next week. And teens can find it difficult to think long term all the time.
Sometimes they need to be able to sniff at a much sooner potential reward.
This is where short-term incentives can be a god-send.
You may have used incentives before to motivate your teen. Things like doing chores for a month in exchange for a video game/hair straightener, that kind of thing…
Incentives can also be incredibly effective motivators when it comes to getting teens to do the study they need to. They have even been shown to have positive long term effects on academic behavior.
There is however, a right way to use incentives, and a wrong way.
The wrong way to use incentives is when it feels a bit like a bribe…
For example, “If you get a B average Timmy, we’ll get you that bike you’ve been wanting.”
This exchange of a prize for a good grade is not going to bring your teen the long-term academic success you both desire. As far as your teen is concerned, it’s like you don’t really care how they get the B average, just as long as they do!
You need to reward the work done – not the grade.
An incentive that focuses on consistently doing good work is far more effective – certainly in the long
term – than an incentive that focuses on a particular grade.
A number of studies about the use of incentives have been analyzed by academics at Harvard University. They have shown substantial evidence that using incentives to reward students for their educational inputs is far more powerful then rewarding educational outputs.
Researchers also found that students who received these types of incentives maintained a significant academic improvement a year later!
These results boil down to two vital reasons…
Firstly, many teens don’t know what it takes to get good grades. They don’t actually understand what’s required of them to get the grades they need. They don’t know where to start or what to do.
Basing an incentive on getting a certain grade is going to set what seems like an impossible task to your teen.
The promise of an eventual reward based on something they can’t totally control (i.e. the grade they’re going to get) isn’t powerful enough to motivate most teens.
There’s no certainty in it for them!
Your teen can’t know for sure whether they’re going to get the grade you’ve asked of them, and so there’s no real motivation to study! They’re thinking, “You said I had to get a B average in my exams, not that I had to do any study today.”
But when you base the reward on the effort put in, their brain thinks, “So if I sit down and study now I’ll get x, no matter what grade I end up getting? Awesome.”
See the massive difference?!
With this type of incentive, when your teen comes home from school their brain will say, “Hey – I better go do some study so I can go to the movies this weekend!.” Their thought process is that studying now means there’s definitely a reward in it for them.
There’s no risk, they’re certain to win.
Whatever the incentive you choose is, it needs to have the possibility of a very short-term reward for your teen
Something they can almost taste…
An effective incentive could be giving your teen a study allowance – “If you do two (actual) hours of study, you get abc. And if you do this every day in a week you’ll also get xyz.”
It doesn’t have to be money based of course, just whatever suits you and your teen.
But the best part is – if your teen is studying every day for a few hours leading up to exams, they’re going to get fantastic grades anyway!
When should you use incentives?
Using incentives when exams are looming is very popular. But depending on what your teen’s motivation levels and/or grades are like, you may need to implement small, ongoing incentives throughout the year to maintain a steady level of work, and to avoid an overwhelming burst of study when exams are fast approaching.
If your teen is already quite motivated, you may only need to give them an incentive at the end of year to make sure they’re driven to go for the absolute best grades possible.
But don’t forget the aim…
Incentives aren’t supposed to detract from the ultimate goal of getting your teen to actually like school and enjoy learning.
They’re just a small tool to help achieve this goal.
Your teen might just need a bit an incentive to start off with until they get used to doing homework and studying regularly. They might even find that the unparalleled sense of reward and achievement that comes with getting the grades they deserve because they’ve put in the effort is all they need for motivation!
As far as we’re concerned, anything that helps your teen make a positive association with school, homework, learning, and studying, is a good thing.
Image Credit: Jay W on Flickr
Clare & Chris (The Study Gurus)
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