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Unmotivated 15-Year-Old

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My 15-year-old daughter is a bright child but apparently has little or no motivation to do well in school. She is currently failing geometry and making C's in her other classes. She's a good girl but her lack of motivation is very frustrating. Any suggestions?

A: Your daughter may feel defeated by her current academic load and may be so discouraged that she just doesn't know what she can do to make things better. Everyone, no matter how naturally bright they may be, hits roadblocks sometimes. We parents shouldn't necessarily interpret our child's doing poorly in school to mean they aren't motivated, even though they may talk and act like they don't care how well they do in school.

Geometry is a subject she's obviously having great difficulty with; perhaps a creative private tutor could find ways to help her "get it". I'm not blaming her current geometry teacher for her present grade but I am saying that oftentimes a different approach to learning a particular subject can give a child the new tools she needs to be a confident learner. You can also find out what her teachers think her strengths and her areas that could be improved are. Don't just wait for grades to come back to get involved.

Have a few non-pressured talks with her about what she thinks needs to happen for her to do her best in school. Don't judge her or blame her for her grades. Really make an effort to let her know you understand how tough it is to be a 15-year-old and that you know there are lots of other important things going on in her life besides school. Let her know you believe in her and that you want her to do the best she can, whatever that may be. Offer her the option of tutored help. Also praise her for any efforts she is making, not just for actually getting a better grade. We all like to be appreciated and acknowledged for our sincere efforts, not just the results of those efforts. You also may look to find non-academic accomplishments to praise her for. Sometimes even noticing something so trivial as the fact that she has cleaned up after herself better in the kitchen, can have a ripple effect in making her feel you notice when she's trying.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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