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STUDENTS STRUGGLING WITH MOTIVATION

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In our work with students for the past few years, half of them are motivated and high-achieving but lost in direction and clarity. Our program helps that kind of student find the clarity he or she needs to pursue a path in life and honestly- off they go. For the other half, though, it’s trickier. There are many, many teens who struggle getting unstuck and finding an internal energy that propels them forward in life.

A parent called me recently and said, “My son is a good kid; really smart, but we just don’t know what to do with him. It seems like he has no motivation for anything- except playing video games and playing with his friends. We’re really worried and don’t know what to do.” Can you relate?

We’ve learned that ‘lack of motivation’ is used as a catchall term parents use to describe an observation they make about their kids who haven’t yet found the switch to take responsibility for their lives. It’s a frustrating experience for parents of little kids, but it gets increasingly worrisome the older they get. If your student is well into the teenage years and has yet to find motivation, frustration usually turns into fear. What if they never figure it out? 

What does apparent lack of motivation tell us? A few thoughts to consider:

Peer Culture: lack of motivation might be a sign that your kids are hanging out with a crowd that finds it cool to care very little about life. Their friends’ values rub off on them quickly, and in order to fit in and belong, your student follows suit.

Passive Aggression: a teen’s life is largely ruled by others. Most students nowadays are over-booked and maxed-out, their schedule is run by other people. If your student doesn’t feel free or doesn’t have the vocabulary to express his/her feelings about that, they might instinctively put on the brakes and get some control over what they can. Passive aggression is often a sign of unprocessed anger with authority figures.

Internal Freeze: under stress and pressure that comes in any season of transition, but in a uniquely extraordinary way through adolescence, your student might be having a system shut down because they are overwhelmed by the external and internal burdens.

Depression: with some students, lack of motivation is an expression of a deeper issue, perhaps chemical or situational, that indicates depression. If you notice this suddenly, and especially if accompanied by trouble sleeping, eating, or heightened irritability, you might be observing something more complex than just a period of lack of motivation.

Purpose: have you ever noticed that much of the life of a teenager is monotonous and boring? Busy-work at school, practices in the afternoon, hours of homework every night…how would you respond? When life gets monotonous, and you haven’t found a sense of clarity for WHY you’re doing what you’re currently doing, it’s natural to become lethargic or aimless.

Academic Overload: six classes per day, honors this, AP that, SAT and ACT prep classes, midterms, finals, group projects, oh my! At some point, it gets to be too much, and if your student is prone to hopelessness or pessimism, then a perceived lack of motivation could be the first sign of academic overload.

Normal decompressing: when I was a young teenager, my parents were concerned that I was too lazy because I’d come home from school, plop on the couch, and watch tv for a couple hours or more. Lazy? Perhaps a bit. But, I learned to take full responsibility for my life in due time, and in hindsight, I think I just needed to relax a lot to offset the pressures of life as a teenager.

What would you add to this list? Add in the comments below.

So, what do you do?

  • First, EXPLORE: if you can take a step back to identify your own fears with your kids and take a deep breath, you’ll find that you might be able to interact with your student in a non-anxious way without judgment or shame. Try to recollect moments or seasons when you felt disengaged with life, and tell a few stories to your kid when you have some interrupted time together. Don’t rush it; allow them to listen to your vulnerable stories and see what connects.
  • Second, DIAGNOSE: You know your kid pretty well, so as you look at the list above, what’s your hunch?
  • Third, ENGAGE: if there’s a problem to solve, help your student solve it. Too much academic pressure? Perhaps they need to drop a class or find a better tutor. Depression? Call a few friends to find a trustworthy and licensed therapist who specializes in working with teens. Passive aggression? Do your best to be a non-critical and non-advice-giving sounding board. Continue to share your own vulnerable stories, ask open-ended questions, and pay attention to the little cues.

Becoming an adult is all about matching the increasing freedom you have to direct your own life with stepping up to the responsibility to steward opportunities to grow and serve others. You, the parent, can be a primary guide to help your student grow into an adult. But, your kids need more than just your help, encouragement and support.

YOUSCHOOL has a program that works to partner with you to help your kid grow up. Our interactive method, open-ended questions and facilitated conversations give adolescents the space and guidance they need to find clarity and confidence for their lives.

If you notice lack of motivation in your student, we encourage you to be proactive. Give us a call anytime and we can help you explore your options.


Scott Schimmel is a master at helping people grow. As President & Chief Guide of YOUSCHOOL, he is responsible for leading the charge, ensuring that everything we do delivers on our mission and vision. After spending over ten years in a non-profit helping college students become world changers, Scott is deeply aware of the challenges students face when stepping into the professional world. This is why he’s invested his time guiding young people.”

This post was previously published by theyouschool.com.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS. 

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