I’m getting on my soapbox…
I was the student that went from award winning and seemingly having it all together with straight A’s, to F’S and almost failing out. I stopped doing homework, I stopped showing up to class, I just plain quit. Although it appeared to be defiance, there was so much more below the surface.
If your teenager is struggling in school with daily anxiety attacks, avoidance like being late and skipping class, they’re not handing in work and even lying about it, please read all the way to the bottom.
This is one of the biggest challenges that parents reach out to me about and it’s understandable. You’re feeling annoyed, frustrated, exhausted and fed-up with the daily nagging and monitoring about getting schoolwork done (which isn’t that hard to just pass, I mean come ON!) and show up to class yet your teen continues to slide further into anxiety, depression, or just plain apathy.
What if we’ve been looking at this the wrong way?
What you see and believe is your teen lacking motivation. Like, ZERO! And not just for school, sometimes it’s in other areas of life too. I believe you and what you’re telling me, along with your desperation that’s trying everything not to let your teen’s once promising future be drastically limited.
We need to get a grip on what motivation means and stop spending our every living moment trying to get our kids to work hard (AKA perform) instead of helping kids want to work hard. We need stop thinking we can change behaviour with more behaviour (consequences, discipline, punishments, etc.) and start believing the decades of research showing ALL behaviour is driven by emotions. Our current culture sucks at safe and meaningful emotional connection and expression so our teens are drowning with nothing to lift their lips above the surface for air.
Performative environments breed pass/fail thinking.
School is performative, full stop. Either your teen performs via good grades to deemed ‘good’ in a centuries old institution that requires compliance to somewhat outdated standards that teens believe are totally irrelevant, or they’re a failure and they’re called out. Even if you offer support via tutoring or therapy, teachers send mails to create extra support or discipline, it all sounds the same to your teen.
You’re not enough, you’re too stupid, you’re a failure, you suck, you’re not smart enough, you’re broken, you’re embarrassing, you’re falling short, you’re not lovable, etc.
Shame kills creativity and innovation.
All this because your teen, for whatever reason, not seeing value in the institution or worse yet, feels the institution is slowly breaking them. The who they’re trying to become and who they’re meant to be. They can’t fake it anymore because their brain is changing and desperate for individuality and autonomy yet scared stiff to stand out from the crowd and be seen. The latter is exactly the price of non-compliance by institutional standards-get called out, be seen as ‘the bad/stupid kid’, slowly burn up from the inside until they dim and conform.
I don’t think teachers are bad and education isn’t important. It’s the underlying thinking that’s not working for anyone anymore. Teachers report stress levels equal to ER nurses and your teen’s stress level has now surpassed that of average adults. The institution is broken, and no one is winning.
The answer is HOPE.
You might be thinking, “Oh my teen needs a LOT more than just hope, Aly! And they looked that in a review mirror a long time ago”. Please, hear me out.
Hope isn’t a feeling. Hope is a way of thinking and behaving that can be taught and measured. Hopelessness was studied by C.R. Snyder and he discovered the one key factor separating people who experienced hopelessness and hopefulness, and why it matters.
Perhaps your teen was trying and things weren’t working, either through one event or many small events over time, and they heard negative reinforcement like, ‘you’re not trying hard enough’, or ‘you should know better’. Your teen didn’t feel safe or have the language to express their pain or frustration, so they internalized those shame stories and believed they ARE a failure. They’ve attached that struggle or failure to who they are as a person, their value, their character, and their worth.
Hopelessness is built when self - worth is tied to external performance.
And this takes us back to the performance-based education institution based on meeting grade standards and compliance to blend in and being like all the others. Not to mention the pressure to ‘measure up’ to your hopes and dream for your teen and gain more love, approval, and praise.
But guess what?
The ONLY way to learn hopeful thinking required to build confidence and resilience is by experiencing struggle and failure firsthand as the main character in the movie of their life, knowing they were made for it! And your teen learns that at home, from you.
Just in case you were thinking the answer is to rescue your teen and keeping them safe from experiencing the sting of failure by doing their homework for them, that disables their executive function development and creates learned helplessness, leading to more hopelessness.
Your teen is fed up, so they gave up.
Your teen needs the emotional safety coping skills to know that struggle and failure are anormal part of living the amazing life they want (and you want for them). Look at every movie ever made – it would be nothing without the hard, messy internal or external battle that creates a necessary growth for the main character to become the best version of themselves.
They never wanted to be a clone in the academic arms race for assimilation or perfection.
This is part of larger and more in-depth discussion so I’m inviting you to my Masterclass, Transform Your Moody Teen Into a Respectful Human. I’ll be sharing research and insight to help you gain a new perspective on what your teen is going through.
Click below to register.
Let’s do this.