How to Motivate a High School Student

It’s the same conundrum that a lot of parents face. You know your child is intelligent. Every now and then, you see glimpses of brilliance: a high test score, a great idea, a strong grade, etc. Yet, you just can’t seem to get them to put in the extra time to improve.

Your child isn’t reaching their full potential and it might appear that they just don’t want to buckle down and make it happen. Never fear – you’re not the only parent who has this problem and there are plenty of ways to motivate high school students.

Make them want it

Do you ever feel like you want your child to get a 30 on the ACT more than they do? If that’s the case, you should know that they’re not just going to all of the sudden snap out of it. You need them to want it. If you can achieve this, your student will be well on their way to high achievement.

Let them make the decisions

Don’t push the big state school or the older sibling’s alma mater on them. Don’t push a certain high school curriculum or dictate exactly what their GPA should be. Instead, discuss their specific goals with them. Ask them where they’d like to go to college, what classes they enjoy, or what they’re considering for a major. Then, you can ask them what they need in order to achieve all of this. Students need to feel like they’re controlling the entire process and must set their own goals to do so. Keep in mind that they might not always tell you what those goals are, especially if they think you’re just going to micromanage the entire process with that information.

Offer help – when asked for it

You can frequently ask your child if they want help, but don’t offer it unsolicited. Doing the latter could kill their motivation. For example, if you sneak onto the computer to proofread their college application essay, you’re essentially telling them that they aren’t mature enough to handle it themselves. Instead, you should just ask if there’s any way you can help, and only do so if they ask for it.

Don’t use scare tactics

One of the worst things you can do is tell a student that they definitely won’t get into their choice school if they don’t do X, Y, or Z. At that point, they will only study to appease you, rather than studying to genuinely improve. They will end up doing the absolute minimum instead of putting that extra effort needed throughout all areas of their application to holistically impress the admissions committee.

Let them work with a tutor

College admissions is becoming increasingly more competitive and many students are turning to SAT tutors or ACT tutors to improve their scores on the respective tests. Sometimes, unmotivated students can respond very well to these scenarios. However, it’s incredibly important that you explore these options with your child. Let them select their own tutor – don’t simply sign them up with a stranger who they know nothing about.

Recognize hard work

If your student spends a Saturday afternoon studying for the ACT, acknowledge and praise it. Buy them a pizza and show them how proud you are of the fact that they’re moving in the right direction.

Stay calm

Throughout the college application process, you need to be a rock for your child. There are going to be moments when they bomb an SAT practice test or get overwhelmed with the various application essay topics and start to worry. You need to be supportive and help diagnose the problems they are having.