Causes and consequences of low motivation among teens and possible interventions

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Lack of motivation among teenagers is an area of concern for parents and school administrators alike. Low motivation can manifest in the form of disinterest toward studies, unwillingness to participate in extracurricular activities and disinclination toward sports, etc. Low motivation was also closely linked to a plethora of other teenage problems, including “detrimental family background,” “lack of preparation for learning,” “disrespect for teachers,” “participating in school violence,” “truancy”, “deviant behavior”. (Vanderjagt, 2001, p.39) It this context, it is likely that inspiring and motivating teenagers can bring positive transformation in other areas of their lives, creating the groundwork for a healthy adult life. Sociologists have come up with several theories for explaining low motivation among high school students. There are also more practical reasons based on the political, economic and social conditions of the locality and country inhabited by the student. This essay will look into three aspects of low motivation among teens, namely causes, consequences and possible interventions.

One of the major areas of deficiency that leads to low motivation among pupils is the way education systems are set up. For example, one of the lesser acknowledged reasons for low motivation in the classroom are inadequacy on part of instructors to prepare students for a class. Surveys reveal that many students do not understand the rationale for studying a particular subject and don’t comprehend why they are attending classes on the subject. This will make them disinterested and prevent them from fully exploring ideas within the subject. But a bigger reason for student low motivation is “low self-efficacy” induced by poorly designed instructional programs. As researchers assert,

“instructional programs designed to identify and label students who are lacking in the reading areas of decoding, fluency and comprehension have led to intensely negative perceptions about students’ abilities even as the programs strive to correct their reading deficiencies…Others argue that the school curriculum can lead to low motivation by stifling children’s choice in reading and continually setting limits on reading, which can permanentlyaffect how students see themselves as readers. Whatever the origin, low motivation can seriously hinder a student’s progress within the language arts classroom. (Seglem, 2006, p.76)

Another cause for low motivation among highschoolers is their tendency to experiment with recreational drugs. There is also a correlation between early drug abuse and dysfunctional family background. Hence, drug abuse itself can be seen as a consequence of another social problem, namely broken homes. These days school playgrounds have become places of drug retailing and drug consumption. Research based on American schools has found that “Drug use increases as the grade level increases. Many students become involved in using illegal substances because of peer pressure and others due to an emotional need. A feeling for need fulfillment may propel adolescents into the destructive behavior of substance abuse.” (Vanderjagt, 2001, p.39)

The atmosphere within the family, and especially the values transmitted from parents to children can play an important role in the motivation levels of teenagers. Adolescence is when individuals rebel from parental values and social norms and try to form an identity of their own – a process referred to by psychologists as ‘individuation’. Teenagers face a lot of internal conflict, as their early parental molding comes into conflict with divergent set of values acquired from peers and society during adolescence. This leads to a period of uncertainly and personality re-adjustment, which resolves itself into a stable state by the end of adolescence. But if the home atmosphere, especially the relationship between parents is strained or broken, it can leave a lasting negative impact on the formative teenage personality and motivation levels. Also, the effects of family dysfunctionality can manifest differently on girls and boys. (Pinquart & Silbereisen, 2004, p.83)

Another recognized factor in low motivation levels is lack of physical activity. Physical activity in the form of outdoor sports and games is an integral part of the process of growing up. Such exercise helps the body and mind grow to its full potential. A good foundation in physical education during teenage years is said to prepare students for physical activity for the rest of their lives. Educators should be worried if highschoolers are spotted shunning outdoor sports, as it could lead to making them adopt sedentary lifestyles as adults. More importantly, there is a definite correlation between lack of physical activity and low motivation levels. While this correlation is not so strong during teenage years, it strengthens during the next two decades of their lives. According to a nationwide survey of 2500 high school students, close to 56 percent of sampled students were found to have less than requisite physical training during high school years. Divided into groups A,B,C,D and E, with A being the group with highest physical activity and E being the least physically active group, the study found groups C,D and E to comprise nearly two thirds of the total sample. This situation poses a real challenge to school administrators. Further, the students falling in C, D and E classifications posed more problems for their teachers:

“Their teachers found that they were a challenge to engage even in the best lessons, because of low motivation and lack of interest in most physical activities. Teachers often describe such students as “difficult to teach.” We have a few examples of research on programs that successfully engage students that fit this profile, but it is an uphill challenge. While Group A and B students enjoyed physical education and participated wholeheartedly, regardless of the activity or the group to which they were assigned, Group C, D, and E students had not learned to value physical education and activity.” (Bogenschneider, et. al., 1998, p.33)

It is also believed that a pupil’s ability to perform metacognitive skills is both a cause and consequence of motivation levels. In order for students to perform reflective thinking, skillful learning, etc, they need metacognitive skills. The better students are those who take time to think about learning strategies and are able to assess their own performance in class. There are always a percentage of students in each class who are inherently gifted to work independently, and to “focus on understanding the material and are able to connect the content and instructional concepts to their own lives. As self-regulated learners, they use metacognitive abilities to plan, regulate, and assess their performance.” (Joseph, 2006, p.33) It is not surprising that usually such students have high motivation levels as well. On the other hand, most highschoolers do not possess sophisticated thinking and learning capability. This group of students needs encouragement from teachers and parents in order to establish and sustain constant focus on their learning activities. They also have a tendency to fall back into unproductive learning techniques. Even if they are able to read and interpret a text, this group of students does not easily trust their own understanding. Insofar as metacognition involves the ability to understand one’s own learning process through a process of self-regulation, these students usually fall short of the mark. Their difficulties in the classroom lead to low motivation, which consequently discourages them from putting whole-hearted efforts. Hence a vicious cycle is established leading to consistent underperformance in tests.

The vicious cycle of learning difficulty and low motivation is a phenomenon confined to the classroom. Outside of it, there is another manifest negative spiral, in which social and economic circumstances of the teenage student leads to low motivation levels in all facets of life. Consider the following statistics:

“up to a quarter of all students are not graduating on time or not graduating at all. Students from low-income families are 4 times more likely to drop out of school than are students from high-income families. Approximately 1 in 10 youth from low-income families drop out of school (10.4%) compared with 2.5% in high-income families. According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, 3.3 million people, or 11% of people ages 18 to 24 years, were high school dropouts in 2006. Almost 9% of 16- to 24-year-olds were considered to have dropped out of school prior to earning a diploma in 2007.” (White & Kelly, 2010, p.227)

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