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I’m not a parent. I don’t know what it’s like to have a teen who hates school. I can’t imagine how frustrating that must be.

But, I’ve tutored enough students to see how stressful and frustrating it is for parents.

I get how badly you want your teen to do their best at school. I understand how crucial it is for your teen to get the best start possible to their young adult life.

It’s excruciating to see a teen with truckloads of potential who doesn’t give toss about school.

If this sounds like a fairly accurate description of your teen, then today I’m here to try and offer you some help with getting them on the right track.

Where do you start?

The very first thing to do is to put yourself under the microscope.

Are you helping or inadvertently hindering your teen’s progress?

If you’re in the habit of nagging your teen to study and to do their homework, you’ve got to stop. Long term, nagging isn’t going to get you — or your teen — anywhere. Your job is to be encouraging and supportive. You want your teen to know you’re their friend, not their enemy.

Is your focus on the right thing?

The next thing is to make sure that the focus of your encouragement is on your teen’s effort, and NOT their grades.

Of course grades are important, but if your teen is completely unmotivated about school, then we’ve got to get a few things sorted first before getting straight A’s becomes the goal.

If your teen hates school, encouraging them to get good grades is pointless. They may not even believe it’s even possible at this stage.

What IS important, is the effort they put in.

Making an effort is something your teen CAN do today, getting straight A’s probably isn’t.

Getting your teen to do just half an hour of homework/study each day after school is realistic. It’s something that they can complete successfully, and it’s something that you can reward your teen for doing.

What is your teen good at?

Thinking about this may help your teen find something about school they can really enjoy.

If your teen hates reading and would rather do household chores than write an English essay, please don’t force them to like it. Of course it’s important that they try their best in every subject, but sometimes you’ve got to let bygones be bygones, and accept that your teen is never going to like every subject.

What’s far more likely to see your teen succeed down the track, is if you encourage them to pursue the subjects that they do enjoy. There are ‘successful’ people in every industry. Your teen doesn’t need to be a doctor or a lawyer to have a good career. If they have a subject that they like and enjoy, that’s the thing they should really go for.

Projection thinking is the key

One of the biggest issues with getting teens to care about school, is that they often don’t give a toss about the future. The part of their brain that deals with things like consequences and repercussions is not fully developed. Literally.

So the cruel irony is that the time your teen is at high school is one of the most important times for them to be thinking about the future, but many aren’t able to.

This means it’s up to YOU to help your teen think about their future. Not many teens do this without encouragement.

A huge motivator for me at school was my parents pointing out what it would be like if the only option I had was to keep working in my high school job forever, because that’s what could be waiting for me if I didn’t do well at school. Whether that’s what would have happened or not is up for debate, but the point is — it was a great motivator. Maybe something like this would motivate your teen too?

If I had to some up this post with one word, it would be positivity. That’s what has the best chance of getting your teen to see the importance of putting in the effort at high school.

And finally, your teen isn’t going to transform their grades overnight, but it can happen through a series of baby steps.

Don’t despair, don’t give up, and you’ll see.

Image Credit: Brian Gosline on Flickr



  1. My daughter hates school. She has friends, she has no problem with learning and has no issue with her teachers. She says she hates the atmosphere in the school and everyone is false. She is doing well in her lessons and has a passion for many things. However she is miserable and says that becuase of school she is trapped in a big black hole with no ladder to get out.

    • Really sorry to hear that, Joesephine. But it sounds like your daughter is doing really well and finding her way. High school is a really tough gig for so many, but if your daughter has passions I have no doubt she’ll get through it and thrive once she’s out the other side.

  2. This article seems spot on until the last paragraph. I doesn’t seem likely that the prototypical, you’ll-never-amount-to-anything type threats are a very positive way of helping them think about the future. Everyone in their life is already telling them they’ll be a failure unless they get into a good school, I doubt they don’t understand what school is for.

    • Thanks for your comment Timothy. I agree that the you-won’t-amount-to-anything threats are far from a constructive way of helping teens find motivation at high school. But, my experience is that I strongly recall understanding that studying now would help me later. Perhaps I weighted the paragraph too strongly on the tough love, but what I still believe now (5 years since we first wrote this article!), is that teens who are motivated at high school can see the benefits studying will bestow upon them down the track. Hopefully we can try to convey this message to our teens in a non-threatening way.

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