How To Instill A Love Of Learning In Your Teen

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An article from Portland Family Counseling

Is your child succeeding in school? For some of you, this may seem like an easy answer, if they're getting good grades then yes, if not then no. In general, we believe that grades get far too much focus and attention. Over the years we have seen too many kids graduate with stellar grades only to flounder after high school. We have also seen many teens graduate with average GPA's who later went on to thrive once they were able to find a college or training program that matched their learning style and interests.  Our goal in this article is to challenge some of your assumptions about not only what success means to you and your child but also how to view your own role in your child's education.
Our present format of education in high schools unfortunately offers little inspiration for most teenagers. With schools placing new emphasis on standardized tests, it is often difficult for teachers to adequately engage students and even more difficult for students to discover the joys of learning. Instead, many students learn to "beat the system" by taking short cuts, cheating, or figuring out how to just get by to get you and their teachers off their back. These habits and attitudes will obviously not help them become the healthy and well rounded adults that you want them to be. That's why your role is so essential. Whether your child is an A student or failing classes, it's important that you are actively engaged in your child's education and learning.
What Doesn't Work
Turning your home into a police state:  Spending all of your time regulating if and when your child has done their schoolwork only creates added stress for you and resentment and frustration about school for your child.  While it is important to teach your child to do their work, study and turn things in on time, your energy should be balanced between this and engaging in their learning.
Doing their work for them: It's hard as a parent to see your child turn in a poorly written paper or a messy poster board, but it's much worse for a teen to learn that it's ok to have others do their work for them.  When parents do the work for their children, they unintentionally instill poor work habits and even worse self-esteem. It's ok to help your child brainstorm, think through ideas or gather supplies for presentations but the work they turn in should be their own.
Checking out until their grades come out:  Grades come out four times a year and that is just too long a period for many teens to stay motivated on their own. Teens get very frustrated and confused when their parents, who have been uninvolved in their education for several months, suddenly ground them for poor grades.
What Works
Talking with your child about their learning: Talk with your child every day about what they are learning about in school.  Share your knowledge, interests, or experiences.  The internet gives parents the opportunity to quickly read about any topic their child might be learning about, allowing them an opportunity to share interesting facts.
Tying your child's learning to real life: Once children enter the upper grades, learning can feel distant from their everyday life.  Help make connections between everyday life and what your child is learning by connecting the dots for them. Most teens don't realize how much math goes into designing their favorite video games and sports equipment or how much language and writing skills go into their favorite magazine articles and books.
Teaching your child how to organize themselves and study: We always ask students who are struggling in school how they learned how to study.  Most say they never did.  Teach your child how to study for tests by helping them with organization skills and structure. Support their learning in a way that matches their own unique learning style. For example, some kids are more visual, others more auditory and others more tactile.
Acknowledging your child's hard work:  School is hard for most kids and after spending all day at school, many children have hours of homework.  Don't forget to praise your child for studying, working hard on an assignment and anytime they prioritize school over another fun activity.
Learning alongside your child:  A few times a year, take the time to learn about the same topics your child is learning about.   Pick one book your child is reading in English class, read it at the same pace as your child and talk with them about their assignments in depth. The same can be done with a chapter from a history, science or economics book.
Modeling a love of learning:  It's hard for some teens to see why they should put time and energy into their academics if they don't see you also taking the time to learn new things.  Read books and talk about them with your child.  Talk about current events, history, politics or social justice at the dinner table and on car rides.  
Children love learning when they can engage and feel competent, not when they are lectured to. By engaging in your teen's learning you will provide both you and your child the opportunity to learn new things, build effective life long habits, and even more importantly, build a stronger connection through the love of learning.