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How to motivate your High School student

Many parents tell me that their biggest struggle with their teen is:

Lack of motivation

How do I help my child do better in school, if they don’t have the motivation to do well?

How do I motivate my teen to get up on time?

How do I motivate my child to go to school today?

How do I get my kid to do anything?

If you can relate, this is a struggle that most parents feel.

While most teens that seem motivated, are actually intrinsically motivated, there are a few things you can do to try to help your teen become motivated to do better in school (and in life)

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Create a vision

Help your teen create a a vision by seeing the big picture! Start by having them create a vision board with what they want to be, and what they want to accomplish once they are out of college.

What is their big picture for life look like? Maybe they want to own a business, start a charity, or become the President. Once they have a target of where they want to go, then they will realize that they have to take steps towards getting their.

Keep the vision board close to their work space so that they can see their goal and envision what they are working towards.

create a game plan

Next, create a game plan of how they will get into their chosen career field.

I always relate the Big Vision to what college degree they might want. Do they want to start a business? There’s a degree for that. Do they want to travel the world? There’s a degree for that. Do they want to be a chef and own their own restaurant? There’s a degree for that!

I encourage EVERY student to pursue their passions and interests through college. It is only with further education that you can start off on the right foot with the right skills and knowledge for the career field they want.

The next step in the game plan is to decide which college degrees might interest them, and create a path towards pursuing those degrees.

After that, let them know that in order to get the degree they chose, they first need to get accepted into a college, which requires better grades.

Help them see the correlation that better grades = my dream career field, by keeping the vision in mind.

create rewards

Not many adults will be motivated without the right rewards system, so we know teens definitely won’t work harder without the right reward system.

So next we need to create a system to reward our teens in order to see results. I would encourage a small reward for a certain amount of work, for example, completing a homework assignment before dinner; and a larger reward for achieving a result, for example, getting a B on a quarter grade.

For example:

  • when your teen completes homework before dinner = small reward

  • when your teen studies for 30 minutes after school = small reward

  • when your teen finishes an essay = small reward

A small reward could be an after school snack, getting out of 1 chore, or having 30 minutes to play on their phone.

TIP #1 - The small reward is only given for completing work BEFORE dinner. If not, your teen will be staying up at all hours of the night trying to finish.

Next, create a bigger reward for a bigger achievement. If your child brought their grades up from C’s last quarter to A’s and B’s next quarter, they should have a reward that makes them feel good about what they have accomplished!

For a bigger reward, you could try,

  • No chores for a whole weekend

  • Letting them go out with friends for a fun evening

  • Letting them drive the car for an evening

Only you can know the right rewards to motivate your child. So try to think creatively. What does your child love to do? How does your child spend their time?

  • Do they love playing on their phone for hours? (If you are paying for the phone, you have the right to take it away) #privilegenotaright #notcrueljustparenting

  • Do they love playing video games?

  • Do they like to hang out with friends?

  • Do they enjoy driving your car?

Figure out what makes your child tick, and what gets them excited to jump out of bed in the morning. Use that excitement to help motivate them and encourage them to do better in school.

TIP #2 - Don’t use money as a reward for better grades. Although it seems like a good idea (you work hard = more money), it just usually never works well with teens. Unless a teen currently has a job where they are working for their own money, and unless they pay for their own expenses, they won’t truly understand the value of a dollar. And so they may tend not to be truly motivated by cash rewards.

create penalties

Just as your teen will be rewarded for good grades, there should also be consequences for having poor grades. Your child needs to know that there are consequences to poor grades, because they may not totally understand the impact of failing a class.

What penalties could you enforce for poor grades?

Maybe you could . . .

  • Take away the phone playing privileges

  • Impose extra chores

  • Ground them from hanging out with friends for a weekend

  • Take away their video games (and make them play outside! Gasp!)

Only you know your child, and only you know what might be a good penalty to motivate them to do better in school.

TIP #3 - Try not to take away a positive impact as a penalty. I know a teen that volunteers with younger teens and loves helping this group of young girls. After she failed an assignment, her parents did not allow her to volunteer one night. If you child loves something that is a positive impact in their life, maybe try to find a different penalty.

monitor progress

Do you currently have a way to monitor your child’s progress?

Does your child have a way to track their grades to know how they are doing in each class?

You don’t want to wait another quarter before you find out that your child’s grades did not improve!

Have a simple or easy to follow way to monitor their progress in school!

You can create a simple grade tracker for your teen to write down all their grades. Then at the end of the week, review how they did. If all grades went well, then maybe they can get a small reward.

Want to use my grade tracker? I have one created and saved inside of my Resource Library. Sign up below to download and use today!


encourage optimism

Many times I see teens that some teachers might label as lazy or un-motivated. But that is SO not true!

Many teens that appear lazy are simply tired of working harder and harder without seeing any positive results. After failing when working harder, it can be discouraging for any teen.

So if your teen is discouraged, try to encourage optimism!

Let them know that they are as smart as any other high achiever in their class, and that all their hard work will eventually pay off! Encourage them to have an optimistic outlook when it comes to school, so that they won’t want to just give up.

celebrate milestones

Make sure to celebrate every little milestone along the way! If your child got a good grade on a big project, then celebrate!

Post those grades up for all to see!

In my family, we celebrate birthdays by cooking the favorite dinner, and having birthday cake. So why can’t we do the same to celebrate the big wins with our kids?

Why not have a cake to celebrate a good grade?

However you choose to celebrate your child, make sure your teen knows just how proud of them you are!



Hey there! My name is Rachael and I have been a private tutor for over 10 years. I earned my undergraduate degree in 2 and a half years and earned my graduate degree by age 22. I have tutored dozens of high school students, college students, and graduate students. I offer my resources and experience to help parents learn how to best help their teen or child that is struggling in school.