Keep Your High School Student Motivated and Focused

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

a group of four students with two male and two female studying together

How to Keep Your High School Student Motivated and Focused on College

Effort and energy waxes and wanes like the moon, so expecting your high school student to always be on top of everything is simply unrealistic. This is especially true for busier students who have a rigorous academic and extracurricular activities schedule and participate in activities every day after school. Just like adults, students can get burned out, too. Read on to know “how to keep high school student motivated?”.

Students will naturally fluctuate in their focus and motivation throughout the school year. At some points, they may seem to be more interested in hanging out with their friends and being active on social media and less focused on their homework and studying. They may have to pull all-nighters to catch up on late and missing work or study for tests the next day. At other times, your student may complete their assignments early and work on extra projects without incentive.

Add in stereotypes about lazy, unmotivated teens or high-strung overachieving perfectionists, and you’ve got a clear picture of how hard it can be to keep high school students motivated.

Students lounging around the school grounds.

While staying up late and putting off assignments until the last minute aren’t the best habits to cultivate, sometimes, high school students need a little pep talk, a second wind to get them back on track. Here is a discussion of motivation and some tips on how to keep your high school student motivated.

What is motivation?

Motivation is another psychological term used to describe how people develop the will or desire to approach and complete activities that they want or need to do. These may be things they like and enjoy doing but especially for activities that nobody wants to do. There are two types of motivation: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation is the type of motivation that occurs when people have an internal desire or goal that is inspired by their own drive to grow and develop. Instead of focusing on pay or a promotion, intrinsic motivations are inspired by personal goals, personal growth and development, or self-reflections.

On the other hand, extrinsic motivation asks people to rely on external controls to determine how hard they work toward accomplishing goals or put effort into achieving them. If an external reward is offered, like money or social status, then someone may be more motivated to do desired actions to obtain the reward. Another person might be less motivated by the offer of these external rewards.

Students working on something while lookin at a laptop.

As a parent, helping your student become intrinsically motivated will help immensely with preparation for college and beyond. They will learn to develop their own drive and commitment to accomplishing a goal of their choosing. They’ll be able to form opinions and base their actions on their own critical thinking. Intrinsic motivation is what can help students overcome significant obstacles and develop resilience and a strong desire to learn and be challenged.

Studies of student motivation

How to keep a high school student motivated is enough of a challenge that researchers have studied it. They asked students directly how they felt about certain aspects of being a high schooler, and they were able to form conclusions about how to motivate high schoolers.

There were reportedly seven different motivation styles with certain styles being more rare than others. High schools were likely to be amotivated, externally regulated, balanced demotivated, moderately motivated, identified/externally regulated, balanced motivated, and autonomously motivated.

These different motivation styles showed up in how students thought and processed situations, how they dealt with social engagements, and how they performed academically. At the same time, the motivation style was also found to have an impact on students’ GPA. This means that helping a student get and stay motivated is essential to their high school success. The more motivated they are, the more work they will perform to score high GPAs.

With the right amount of motivation, your student can develop the skills to stay focused and on track, moving with purpose toward all their goals. Without motivation, it will be difficult for your student to find the will to get anything done. Barring larger issues like learning disabilities, there are ways you can work with your student on how to keep them motivated as a high school student.

How to keep high school student motivated

If you want to know how to motivate high schoolers, incorporate the following tips we recommend.

Give students control

Students spend their whole lives being told what to do. From the time they wake up, they have to follow directions and rules that their parents, teachers, coaches, and even their government set. Giving them a sense of control, whenever possible, is a great way to keep your high school students motivated.

Let them make decisions on whatever you’re comfortable handing over the reins. Maybe let them plan the menu for a night or a week. Give them freedom to go shopping and get clothes in styles they like. Let them pick what movie you watch for family night. In whatever ways you can, help them see their own interests, choices, and opinions are valuable, and that they are capable of making them.

Be clear on their goals

Help your student remember what they are working toward. Whether it’s acing their AP courses or realizing their dream career that they’ve wanted to work since they were five. They may need reminders of their goals and what they are trying to achieve.

If they haven’t set any goals of their own, work with them to identify something they can work toward. Make it academic and challenge them to raise their grade one full letter grade. Give them a sports goal with the task of beating their own past records. Make it clear to them that they are working toward a goal that you support.

Have discussions in a threat-free environment

Teenagers get into that awkward stage where talking about anything makes them uncomfortable and all they want to do is escape. Try to remember what it was like for you back when you were a teenager and give them plenty of opportunities to talk in ways that are not threatening.

Instead of talking to your high schooler in front of everyone, which might embarrass them, make it a one-on-one conversation with just you and them. Let them lead the conversation and take your cues from them on what to discuss and how much to discuss. You could even try having the conversation during an activity they enjoy doing, like video gaming or baking. This can ease any tension and give them something else to focus on if they want to be distracted.

Get a change of scenery

Even high school students sometimes need a change of pace in their preparation for college. Working so hard to put together college applications can be exhausting. A change of scenery can be just what your student needs to reduce their stress and increase their motivation.

It doesn’t have to be a full-blown vacation out of state, but a weekend getaway is always nice and enjoyable. Taking a visit to a new hiking trail or playing on a new tennis court could be the chance of scenery that gets your student clear-headed and focused again.

Offer new experiences

Think about what your student needs more of in their lives. Are they lacking in social skills or social connections? Helping plan a friend to hang out with in a new place can be a way to help meet that need. Do they have an interest in glassblowing or roller skating?

Sign them up for a tour or a class at a glassblowing studio or take them to a roller rink.There are endless opportunities, especially locally, that you can use to help them participate in new experiences and possibly meet new friends or learn new skills. The newness may inspire them to follow up on tasks they’ve left undone or take a stab at something they’ve been challenged by.

Inspire some positive competition

A little friendly competition can give your student the pep they need to work a little harder and push themselves to excel. Competition can be healthy when the student is competing against their own past performance or trying to learn new skills or knowledge.

This kind of competition can propel them over a slump and get them excited about staying committed to their goals. Competition can also be unhealthy when you compare your student to their peers or siblings, so try to avoid doing this as it might act as a demotivator.

Offer rewards

We’ve always told parents not to bribe their kids. No m&ms for going to the potty or hundred dollar bills for every A. Giving a reward can be risky because it changes the motivation from intrinsic, self-generated, to extrinsic, externally motivated.

This may backfire and lead to the same lack of motivation you are trying to prevent or reverse. So, giving a reward can be great if it’s a surprise, if it’s something the student truly values, and if it’s based on the student’s hard work and effort more than any other factor, like a letter grade.

For example, awarding a student who raised their C in math, a subject they have always struggled with, to a B through daily attendance at tutoring and doing extra assignments, will send a positive message to the student about their effort and performance that may outweigh the potential drawbacks.

Give them responsibilities

Asking a student to do more can remind them what they are capable of and that you believe in them. Parental belief in students has as much of a self-fulfilling prophecy as teachers beliefs about students and student behavior.

Students sitting on the stairs while talking.

Give them more responsibilities, even if it’s taking care of a younger sibling for a few hours, cleaning up after the family, or running errands. When students feel competent in one area of their lives, it can spill over and lead to them conquering other areas of their lives. Giving them more responsibilities is a counterintuitive way to help with figuring out how to keep a high school student motivated.

Encourage self-reflection

There are numerous ways for your student to self-reflect beyond having to discuss their thoughts and feelings with you. They can develop a journaling habit, even if it’s not daily, as a way to clear their mind and process their emotions. Writing down their thoughts about a prompt is a great way to reflect on their own performance and sit with any changes they need to make.

This form of self-evaluation also encourages intrinsic motivation. Other ways to journal beyond writing in a notebook have increased with digital media. Video blogging only requires a camera and some comfortability with speaking on video. The videos can be a way to keep track of goals and how close they are to accomplishing them. Art journaling can allow them to create something artistic that reflects their thoughts and feelings in a way more aligned with who they are. Self-reflection is an essential aspect of developing greater motivation.

Model enthusiasm for their future

Be your student’s cheerleader. Cheer them on and be enthusiastic about everything they are doing. Your words and actions can be a significant source of inspiration for your student. Genuine, authentic praise is an important aspect of understanding how to keep your high school student motivated.

They will need you when they lose their own sight, and they will appreciate it when you can give them props and accolades on what they are capable of or have accomplished. Don’t overpraise as they can have a negative, countereffect. The goal is to help them keep their eye on their goals and how much they’ve already done to accomplish it.

Get to know them better

Spending time with your student will benefit them and you. Find out what’s on their mind and help them give voice to anything that’s bothering them. Even reluctant students will eventually open up if you’re persistent and compassionate.

You can share stories about yourself or your interests to inspire them to share more, especially about your own college experience if you attended college. Even asking them simple questions like “which class are you enjoying the most?” or “if you could do anything right now, what would you do?” can help you get insight into who your high schoolers are as people and how best to keep them motivated.

Harness their interests

Once you know enough about your student, you can use their interests to help them keep their mind focused on their goals. If they are interested in rock formations, a trip to visit the caves in New Mexico would pique their interest.

Students walking around Harvard campus.

A student with an interest in fashion could never pass up the chance to go shopping or learn how to design their own outfit. A student who loves sports might appreciate a game on the soccer field or getting to attend a live basketball game. Make use of their interests as a way to keep them invested and interested.

Celebrate their progress

As your high school student moves through the year, remember to celebrate their achievements as often as you can. When they score well on tests or finish presentations without passing out from shyness, do something to celebrate them.

A simple gift card or even freetime to do what they want are ways to celebrate, but so are cupcakes and a brand new pair of shoes. You know your child, so do something to reward them in a way that they will appreciate and treasure. These celebrations show high schoolers that their accomplishments matter to more people than just them.

Have fun

Despite getting older, your high school is still your child for a few more years. And every teen has an inner child that needs to be nurtured, too. Let your teen have fun in whatever ways they consider a good time. For some teens, that might mean spending a whole day doing nothing but reading with occasional breaks for food.

Other teens might want to take a group of friends to an amusement park as their form of entertainment. Don’t forget to let your teen have those fun moments, so they can let loose and have a good time. This will help them when it’s time to get back to work as they’ll have a nice memory to enjoy.

Help them manage their schedules

Teenagers are busier than ever, so helping your student manage their calendar can be exactly how to keep your high school student motivated. Sitting down daily or weekly to go over your students schedule and helping them plan out how they will spend their time each day is a great way to help them see a way forward.

Unidentified man using a laptop in a desk

This sort of support also helps them build time management skills which will be essential for replicating their success in college. Modeling how to use, check, and update a calendar is an accurate way to help your high schooler build that skill. When students feel capable, they tend to aspire to achieve more.

Point out their successes

Beyond celebrating major progress, even pointing out when your student does something they didn’t think they could do or that they struggled to do can help them build their confidence. When students are confident, they feel more capable at doing other things, even tackling tasks they’ve put off or think will be difficult for them.

Pointing out when your student spends time studying instead of scrolling social media or when they earn bonus points on a project can show them where they are already successful. This is how to keep high school students motivated because helping them focus on themselves in a positive way will counteract some of the more negative side effects of being a teenager.

AdmissionSight makes motivation easy

AdmissionSight admission experts are trained on how to keep high school students motivated. We’ve helped countless parents figure out the best way to help their students. With a little bit of patience and a lot of professional technique, you can keep your high school student focused and on track. Find out how AdmissionSight’s services can help guide you and your family through the college application process.


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