Having spent my career so far working with teenagers, I know that they can be simultaneously the most rewarding and the most trying age group to work with. As both a teacher and a parent I have been guilty of using the label “lazy” for children, rather than thinking about the reasons behind this behaviour. Simply, labelling a child “lazy” creates a dead end when working with these students, and instead parents and teachers can benefit from thinking about what is driving this behaviour in order to overcome these obstacles to learning and progress. Here are some ways to perhaps reconsider some of the more frustrating behaviours they sometimes display.
One reason for perceived laziness is that teenagers have not yet developed the skills needed in order to become effective organisers. We get frustrated when they forget things or do not meet deadlines, but this is actually a skill that our brains do not master until young adulthood. The reasons for this are rooted in neuroscience. The frontal cortex is the last part of the brain to develop, and this is the part that helps us with planning and organisation.
It can make time management and multitasking tricky for teenagers, and is a skill that we need to actually teach them and support them with, rather than just punishing them when they go wrong. Whilst they do need to take responsibility for their own organisation, we can give them tools to help them do this, such as planning tips and resources they can use to schedule their time and ensure deadlines are met.
Spending too much time online
Many parents lament how much time teenagers spend online, especially on their mobile phones, and not enough time working. However, at the same time it is easy to overlook the fact that this technology was not available to anything like the same extent when we were younger. No other generation has had to deal with a world that relies so heavily on online technology. Teenagers now are saturated with online distraction and stimulation, especially in the form of social media, which feeds upon addictive patterns of behaviour and encourages users to be on there as much as possible. It is not surprising that teenagers can find it hard to control their use of online technology, especially when their brain development means they are in the most impulsive stage of their lives, unable to always appreciate the long term consequences of their actions.
Again, it is something that we need to help them with rather than just berating them. We need to ensure there are boundaries in place, and we are not unconsciously encouraging bad habits, for example by letting them have televisions and computers in their bedrooms, when in reality this is not a good idea. Setting time limits on technology and helping them see it as a privilege to be earned, for example a reward when they do a piece of homework, can support them in establishing these boundaries.
Sleeping all the time
It can feel like teenagers are being lazy when they spend all morning in bed, but science does support their need for extra hours in bed. Their circadian rhythm means that they feel tired later than adults in the evenings, hence why they struggle to then wake up earlier in the morning. The timings of the school day do not actually work well with the natural sleep cycle of teenagers. Whilst there is not a huge amount that parents can do about the school day start times, it is worth remembering that your child may actually genuinely be tired in the morning, and need some time to wake and adjust before being ready to learn. Encourage him/her to make sure they are organised for school the evening before, so that when they do wake up in the morning they are ready to go and do not need to do too much before heading out the door.
Is there an undiagnosed SEND?
If your child is reluctant to engage with their school work, make sure that the avoidance is not a defence strategy to avoid admitting they are having difficulties. Sometimes, students with SEND that have not been diagnosed may understandably feel embarrassed and upset about their difficulties, and avoid the academic activities that may expose them. Furthermore, some SEND such as dyspraxia may mean that students lack the ability to organise their time and work effectively, and can get mistakenly labelled as “lazy”. If you are concerned about your child’s attitude to work, talk to their teachers and see if they share any concerns.
Is their mindset an issue?
Following on from the previous point, lazy behaviours can sometimes stem from a lack of confidence and a fixed mindset. For some students, it seems easier to not try than it is to risk failure. He/she makes the choice to resist work and school, thinking that this option will protect them from getting it wrong. Some students also go into a state of “learned helplessness”, where their brains tell them it is better to wait for someone else to do a task for them than to do it themselves and make a mistake.
It can be very difficult to work with students when they are in this fixed mindset, but it is important to teach them that it is something that can be changed. Neuroplasticity means our brains can be reprogrammed to think about things differently, but it does take time and practice. Students can improve their mindset with techniques such as journaling or using positive affirmations. Start by talking to your child about the thoughts that go through their head when they have a piece of school work to do, and why they do not want to try. You may be surprised by what you uncover!
Get them a vision!
Talking to your child about what they want to achieve can help him/her rediscover their focus and motivation. Very few people genuinely want to do absolutely nothing with their lives! If you can tap into the things that motivate him/her, it gives you something to refer back to when they need a little extra push. Making a vision board can also be an effective way to turn their dreams and ambitions into a visual prompt, that they can go back to when they are lacking in motivation.
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