Parents in my office are really concerned. This time of year, grades are dropping. Where’s the internal drive, many parents ask. It takes him hours – with so much push – to get through his homework. He doesn’t care. All we do is fight.
Internal motivation is key to long term success, and yet, you can’t stand above your child forever and nag them into taking charge of their work. In fact, internal motivation will come on it’s own – the question is when. It’s tied to maturity. It’s a developmental process. Good news is that, maybe, it might be accelerated.
Stop pushing and micromanaging. As many parents have discovered, it backfires. Parent reminders and long lectures on taking responsibility actually make kids dig their heals. There’s also a secret weapon many parents don’t use.
Match them up with a self-motivated peer.
Slightly older boys (or girls) your son looks up to are key… this will spark his competitive nature in a good way. We see this particularly in boys who love sports. The trick is getting a similar competitive drive in academics. Small homework groups with other boys (who are self-motivated) can also help. Find a math genius (a high schooler that the math department in your public school identifies as gifted) and have them peer tutor your son an hour here and there a week. That can vastly improve the situation. All too often we think of hiring professional tutors in expensive study-centers to organize and motivate boys. They can be valuable – but also think of hiring the older high school or college-aged guy just a few doors down. They are positive study role models.
Now the bad news… There is a saboteur working against you and your son. It’s called screens. Schools are co-conspirators. They like the convenience of assignments on computers. It gives the illusion that technology facilitates learning. Maybe it does sometimes, but many boys are getting pulled into distractions. iPads are really becoming the latest problem. Is there a way to completely block everything online, other than what he really needs for study? If so, do it.
For most boys, it’s a sobering fact that they won’t increase their internal motivation for schoolwork if they are doing a lot of their work on a screen. They cheat. They simply move a few fingers and call up hundreds of more exciting, fun, entertaining things to watch. The current situation isn’t going to improve until we adults control the stimuli. Most boys won’t control the stimuli on their own. The novelty factor is too high.
And if your son carries a diagnosis of ADHD, it’s even harder for him to turn off the screens… ADHD people don’t have a deficit of attention, new research shows. They can focus like everyone else, but they seek things with high novelty. If YouTube, games, social media are a click away from math and science, expect homework to be dragged out for hours.
Truth be told, we adults aren’t immune to the distractions of screens. It’s getting harder and harder for us to be self-motivated. Perhaps, we should lead by example. Shut off the iPhone at home, no screens during dinner, don’t check for work emails… Show your kids how you are controlling stimuli.