Parents have tried every trick in the book to motivate their children to give school their full attention. Some reward students for good grades by paying them for each A or B, buying them a bicycle, or holding a celebratory dinner. Desperate parents have gone so far as to promise to take their child to Disneyland for passing the year in school.
Other parents rely on punishments, forbidding their child to go outside to play during the week until she brings home a better report card, revoking TV-watching privileges, or even disallowing participation in sports or extracurricular activities.
A better solution is to set limits to ensure your child does homework and studies every day. If no homework has been assigned, students can always benefit from reviewing their lessons for the day, previewing the next chapter in their textbooks, reading, or pursuing another educational activity.
Rewards and Punishments
Promising rewards for getting good grades and threatening to ground tweens and take away privileges for making poor ones aren't wonderful techniques for motivating students. A small minority do respond positively, but most are completely unaffected. A common parental complaint is that everything they try works for a while but nothing makes a difference for long.
Similarly, most tweens find parents' lectures about the importance of doing well in school tantamount to nagging and soon learn to tune them out. Teachers' warnings that students must learn fractions now to be able to handle decimals in the next chapter or grade don't help much, either.
The Past and the Future
Tell your tween about the importance of working hard in school for future benefits, such as getting into honors classes, college, getting a good job, earning a living, and making a contribution to the world. Children need to know this, and some do respond positively. However, don't be surprised if your youngster does not. Understanding how her actions today affect her future may not provide the impetus your tween needs to pay attention in school and do her homework over the long haul.
Unlike adults who spend a lot of time ruminating about yesterday and obsessing about tomorrow, tweens spend most of their time thinking about what's happening now. In fact, it's ironic that even as adults meditate, practice yoga, read self-help books, and attend assorted self-improvement groups to learn to leave the past behind them, let the future take care of itself, and open themselves up to the here-and-now, they are desperate to get tweens to “remember what happened last report card” and “think ahead.”
How can I encourage my social butterfly to study and get good grades?
Explain that good students can talk about more subjects and hold up their side of a conversation, so peers find them more interesting and enjoyable. Even if the most popular boys and girls don't make good grades now, that is likely to change in high school. In college and in adult life, intelligence is highly valued.
That is not to say that tweens aren't ever overtaken by memories and never worry about their futures, because they are and they do. When trying to fall asleep at night or stay awake during a boring class, they may worry about the test they took earlier in the day or about the book report due tomorrow. Instead of worrying, tweens need to work! That is why parents need to set limits.
A Popularity Boost
Ask your tween what kind of grades the most popular boys and girls in his class are making. If the most popular students get good grades, you can be confident that some peers he looks up to will support his school success.
If your youngster is not doing well in a school where most students embrace success, the possibility of making more friends by improving his grades can serve as a potent incentive to buckle down. There's a good chance he needs tutoring, special education, or help to develop better study skills, and he might be willing to cooperate if he understands that improving his grades could improve his social life.
Even if tweens can't quite grasp how very important an education is for their future, it is hard for them to miss what success and failure mean in the here-and-now. The smiles and frowns from teachers, the lectures and praise from parents, the admiration and jeers of peers let them know if they are succeeding or failing. Just as adults' self-esteem deteriorates and they become depressed if they spend their days in jobs where they continually feel like failures, children can't feel good about themselves if they are constantly struggling with an overly taxing educational environment.
In the past, students who couldn't or wouldn't keep up academically were usually stigmatized on all fronts, but peer culture has begun to reverse the traditional values in increasing numbers of schools. In many schools, misbehavior and failure are actively supported by the prevailing peer culture. Students who cooperate with teachers and apply themselves are shamed and ostracized. In such settings, the most popular students make below-average grades, and those who get good grades take great pains to hide their efforts and achievements.
To combat peer values that support doing poorly in school, you must have a strong, solid relationship with your child. Even then, your tween may not want to risk the peer censure that can come with academic success. If you can't homeschool her, search out extracurricular involvements so she can interact with pro-social peers.
If the most popular students in your child's class are doing below-average schoolwork, trying to motivate your tween by criticizing her may strengthen her identification with antisocial peers. For your child to do well when the group norm dictates that she not do well, she needs to be an exceptionally independent type, a strong leader, or very much of a loner. The other antidotes to negative peer pressure are extra doses of parental support.
If your child is gravitating toward peers who aren't applying themselves in school, see if the teacher will help her form relationships with students who are motivated to succeed. Perhaps she can be seated next to a dedicated student or be tutored by a student who is applying herself. In addition, help your tween form relationships with other children who share your values by enrolling her in structured activities. Nurture budding relationships by welcoming your child's new acquaintances into your home. Having friends who value education will boost your tween's motivation to achieve academically.