A colleague wrote me asking for my ideas about how to work in therapy with adolescents who have turned off to school:



“… Homework is one issue that continues to be a dilemma. As you know, there is the parental expectation that their kids do well in school … get good grades, etc., which will lead to college. I have many teen clients who hate homework and even some of their classes, which are “boring” or “a waste of time…” Do you have any suggestions about how to approach this challenge?”


Since this is something so many therapists, school counselors, parents, and kids wrestle with, I thought I’d include my response here in my blog:

The homework/school issue … it’s a big one, I believe, because our nation’s parents have gotten themselves into this frenzy about grades, selecting majors, “good” colleges (I don’t know of a lot of bad ones, myself), and “practical” career choices. And the result? A lot of very anxious kids, premature decisions about colleges and areas of study, and a loss of interest in learning among many high school students because it’s seen only as a means to an (often, unattractive) end. So, in that sense, it’s bigger than the one kid in your office saying he’s bored and doesn’t care about school – we have to address this problem on a larger platform, with parents and educators.

That said, we still end up with these kids, in our offices, saying they are bored with school. What to do? I think it’s real easy to get caught up in trying to make school more appealing or trying to get the kid to like a class or two or to help him find a way out of feeling bored – but I think that’s going to bring you down a rabbit hole. The bottom line is, this kid has to find some meaning in those six hours spent at school, and you can’t do that for him (her), and when we take on that mission (or the parents do), he backs off the responsibility for his education, not only for doing well, but for finding a way for it to be relevant and interesting to him.

My position is something along the lines of, It’s what you have on your plate right now, there’s no way around it. You do it or you don’t.

No lectures, no cheerleading. It’s part of growing up: doing something even though you don’t really feel like doing it. Or, sometimes, learning to “take” or “accept” from someone (an authority figure) who you don’t necessarily like, or respect, but who has content or experience or a perspective of potential value to you.

No one is going to answer these kids’ calls of being bored. We can help them overcome their expectation that it should be different, and help them understand that it in fact could be different. But it truly is on them; we can support and facilitate that process, but we should not, and really cannot, orchestrate it.



What do you (my readers) think about this dilemma? What have you found useful when trying to motivate teenagers in academic settings?

— Janet Sasson Edgette