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  • Dr. Gary Hill

Help Your Teens Stay Motivated this School Year

Updated: Sep 15

Over the last several months, there has been much discussion about the mental health effects of the pandemic, such as increased anxiety, depression, and loneliness. However, there is a more subtle, yet insidious problem being caused by the continued threat of COVID-19: lack of motivation.

Occasional low motivation is not uncommon, but the pandemic has caused a more pervasive and persistent issue with motivation. Alarmingly, we are seeing a severe lack of motivation that is similar to a clinical issue we commonly see among chronic marijuana users. But, instead being caused by marijuana, it is being brought on by the solitary and monotonous routine imposed by the pandemic. It’s like we are living in the movie, Groundhog Day. We are waking up and doing the same things each day, in the very same place. Especially now, with many of our teenagers and young adults back to mostly virtual school, the lack of stimulation and excitement that comes from simple changes of environment and live social contact is zapping their energy and their interest.

Luckily there are ways you can help your teenagers or young adults boost their motivation and get the most out of this unique semester.

1. Help them practice “reluctant acceptance” which means accepting what we cannot control. Rather than being upset about the constraints the virus is putting on them, help your kids focus on what they can control on a daily basis. Doing so will lead to less anxiety, a more positive mood, and greater motivation.

2. Encourage them to vary their daily routines as much as possible by studying in different areas of the house or outside when the weather cooperates. Brainstorm with them to find new activities – things they have never done before or have not done in a while.

3. It is okay, as a parent, to be more flexible with rules in light of all the pandemic restrictions. Allow your teens to spend more time with gaming, social media, and Netflix as a reward for getting their school work done and staying out of trouble.

4. Inject some energy into remote learning by finding ways to make homework part of a game or fun family competition.

5. For kids who are at college but are not currently having the typical college experience, find ways to stay in touch more consistently through frequent video calls (in addition to the usual phone conversations and texts) and start playing some games together virtually. Not only will you be sure your young adult is doing okay, but you will be developing family closeness and attachment.

6. Have your teens reach out to friends and extended family more. Even if they need to do it remotely, it will promote attachment and boost their moods.

7. Make sure they get some physical activity and get enough sleep. Exercise releases endorphins, which activates positive feelings and moods. Lack of sleep feeds negative moods and causes a lack of energy.

8. Remind them to keep their thinking focused in the current moment and not to worry about the future since it doesn’t exist yet.

9. Find ways to increase family time to encourage closeness and collaboration. You can do this by talking more, playing games, or having dinner together. In general, create a positive emotional environment.

10. Make sure your teens know that performing well with remote learning is not an option this semester. It is is something they must learn to do. In the end, they will gain an important life lesson about being resilient and capable in the face of adversity.

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