3 Powerful Principles for Motivating Your Homeschooled Teen

I know it's frustrating.

You've researched high school education requirements.  You've purchased materials, organized tutors, and prepared the checklist.  You're ready to engage bright and early each morning.

But when you present your ideas to your teen, he rolls his eyes, crinkles his brow, and shakes his head in disagreement.  Do you wonder how he'll ever get a decent education?

Inspiring your teen isn't an impossible task.  Approach your homeschool journey as a marathon and not a 1oo meter dash.  It takes patience and stamina, but you can do it.

Let's explore how.


You hold the baton

I may not set the best example for making the bed every morning.

And I certainly love to hang around in my pajamas and slippers far into the afternoon on many Saturdays.

But you bet, I want my kids to see me prioritizing what’s important to me. My twice-weekly yoga class. Curling up on the comfy chair with my latest book-find in hand. Baking a red velvet birthday cake and making a giant poster for my friend’s special day.

I value my self-care, curiosity to learn, and kindness to others, and I want my kids to witness those.

Ideally, positive role-modeling of a healthy lifestyle starts right when our little ones join us.

But we are always learning and evolving, and our habits develop over a lifetime.   And even when we know better, we aren't perfect.

You don’t need to be though!  Your teen sees you trying, failing, and getting back up.  Even if you can’t maintain the 2-mile run three times a week, he notices that one time a week you do.

He sees how you scale your own inertia mountains.  And that’s what sticks and becomes imprinted in him.

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott says,

“Everyone is walking around as an advertisement for what he or she is.”

Which lifestyle habits do you want your children to buy into?  Decide what is most important to you and live it.

If you want your children to enjoy writing, make sure they catch you with your journal even if it’s just for 10 minutes each evening.

If healthy eating is a priority, drink your daily green smoothie before reaching for the chocolate-covered coconut macaroons.  (At least sometimes.)

If empathy and problem-solving is your go-to communication style, your teen will arrive there too, if you can breathe and hold that space.

As a parent, you start by holding the baton. Let your children watch how you run with it.


Hold the baton together

Some teens prefer a tight plan for the day; some more choice and freedom.

Or is my 13-year-old the only one who resists structure and expectations?  Instead of my chosen activities on his daily agenda, you'll find: code one level of the computer game I'm creating, do 10 pull-ups, write five jokes for my book, and practice guitar for 2 hours.

Hey, totally cool with me!  His goals or mine, he is learning to overcome his own resistance and build discipline toward something greater. And honestly, I value self-driven learning above all.

Planning, organization, finishing tasks (heck, starting tasks!), effective study habits — these don’t come naturally to everyone.

You can teach them to your kids.

Does your teen have an agenda?  Give her a budget to purchase one she'll love and add in some colored pens.

Meet together one evening a week; I like Sunday’s after dinner. Open up your agenda alongside your teen’s. Block out appointments, commitments, and planned activities first.  Are there any assignments with hard deadlines this week?  Write them in.

Show your teen how to plan for the week ahead. Ask:

  • When will you accomplish your priorities?
  • How long will the next math set or essay take?
  • What are your audacious goals and your practical steps to pursue them?
  • Where is your free-time?

Your weekly planning meeting is also an opportunity to find out how the previous week fared.  Ask your son how his goals are coming along and how you can help.  Working side by side, guiding through each step, and discussing afterward aids your teen’s focus to accomplish his goals and other high school expectations.

How can he better prepare for the coming week? Celebrate his successes and ask where he thinks he could have done more.

Have you evaluated what type of student your teen is?

  • Some are anxious and on-top of everything without even a nudge from you.  This child might need to indulge in more self-care and fun and freedom with friends.
  • Some feel no sense of urgency to get anything done but somehow manages to — at the last tick of the clock.  This child might need to narrow in and complete three must-dos each day before starting a guitar jamming session.
  • Some have trouble focusing on a plan even if it's neatly written in neon colors on their weekly calendar.  This child might appreciate the Pomodoro technique: study for 25 minutes, break for 5. Alternating between the two, until the day’s goals are reached and with you staying close by to hold him to his word.

When you both hold the baton, you fortify your teen’s strengths and bring awareness and solutions to their struggles — together.


Hand the baton over to your teen

I've had more than one teen feel the full consequence of not completing work they've committed to.

And you know what? The awkwardness of being unprepared and the disappointment of poor feedback was enough to prevent it in the future.  No lectures from mom needed.

Well, most of the time anyway.

Handing over the baton is the hardest part of parenting.

We’ve given advice in countless discussions, informed them of every worldview position we hold, and filled their heads with our voices of what's right.

Now it's time to let go and trust your young adult to do the best for themselves.  Drop the reins before they leave home for college or solo living, and here’s why — They'll need you those last few missteps before they hit true adulting.

Not to deliver the “I told you so’s.”  But to listen to how they intend to solve the problem and repair the damage.

And be available if they insist on a bit more of your “wise words.”  Yes, I’m sure they’ll ask for more of that!

If your teen decides not to complete this week’s AP English Language class writing assignments and instead binge watch The Office on Netflix, so be it.

Remember, you held the baton for them and demonstrated what’s important in life.

And you held the baton with them for many years, so they know how to plan and complete meaningful goals.

Your teen may not do what you value.  That's fine. Guide her toward self-awareness and keep her informed, but also allow her to stumble and pick herself up.  Be her coach.

As William Stixrud, Ph.D. says in The Self-Driven Child,

“Our role as adults is not to force our teens to follow the track we’ve laid out; it’s to help them develop the skills to figure out the track that’s right for them.”

For our young adults to find their own motivation and direction, they may need to fall down. It will bug you like crazy and break your heart.

But let your teen take control, and allow the consequences to rain down while the stakes are low.

Be there — not to demand, but encourage.

Release the baton.

And watch in awe how fast and sure they run with it. 

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