Here, in precedented times we are still struggling to understand how the last two years affected our children/students emotionally and as learners. One thing parents and educators (of young children all the way to college-aged students) can agree on is students/children are less motivated than ever before and across the board.
I am willing to state with certainty that young people are less motivated to learn and really less motivated to do – in general.
What is student motivation?
Let’s leave the questions and challenges of general apathy in young people post pandemia – and instead focus on and compare the trends of student motivation – then and now – that is, pre pandemia to now (hopefully soon) post pandemia. I think we will find that we are ill-prepared for these now precedented times, and our children (both as children and as learners) are suffering as a result.
Motivation as a developmental milestone
From infancy to young adulthood, children are motivated to continue their actions as a reward. Motivation is a skill that is ever-present on the road to adulthood. The best way to hone and grow it is to develop one’s sense of self alongside it. This looks like children maturing from simple obedience due to external motivators successfully navigating peer pressure.
Way back when times were still unprecedented, we spoke a bit of how our children/students would react to distance learning and masking – but did we challenge the conventions we needed to, to support this new generation of learners?
We know what happened – like on a basic level, we know that a pandemic shut us down, forcing us inside and cutting our children off from their friends, and an all-around typical developmental experience for whatever age they were at in March of 2020.
April Requard, an instructional technology specialist and a teacher of teachers, tweeted the following infographic on September 29, 2022. She tweeted, “I recently saw a graphic floating around, which showed when students had their last “normal” school year through 7th grade. I then created this to point out that our current seniors haven’t had a fully “normal” school year since their freshman year of high school! Lots to digest!”
Teachers of students or parents of children – take a moment to digest this.
What is pandemia induced apathy?
Here is where our adult capacity for emapthy is required if we want to understand how to motivate our children/students again.
Apathy, “is when you lack motivation to do anything or just don’t care about what’s going on around you.” And, considering what our young people have sacrificed – pandemia induced apathy is no joke. In January 2022 a study was conducted that revealed “A small minority (10- 20%) are at risk of developing significant mental health conditions and will require specialized mental health care” due to the pandemic.
Are we naive enough to think our children will not or do not fall into this category? – many of our children back in March of 2020 did not even have th emotional capacity to understand what was happening or how their futures would be affected. And now here we are almost three years later – they have been affected. And before we can dive into actionable tips to help our young people we must first give them the grace and understanding they need and deserve. However old they are today please remember – that age, is just a number – the emotional age of our pandemic students is closer to December 2019 than February 2022.
2 tips to help your unmotivated/apathetic student (or self)
First and foremost, teachers and parents need to work together now and more than ever. Parents, teachers are key in protecting student mental health, and now more than ever we need to communicate and trust our teachers. If we can work together to support our children and help them find their “oomph” we can literally change their world and ours as a result.
1. Find new ways to connect. In the Spring of 2021, Harvard Graduate School for Education printed an article to help teachers recognize the dangers of apathy and non-motivation and to help their students find their “get up and go” again. The article states “even during normal times, these relationships are important to academic development. During the pandemic, they are crucial. Research has shown that when teachers can build a good rapport with their students, those students are more motivated to do well in school.”
To build that rapport, students need to believe that their teacher has a good sense of their abilities. What does this look like in and out of school? Well, it looks like the infographic above. To understand our children’s abilities in this moment of time – we must FIRST understand that today our young people’s emotional age has veered drastically from their actual age. A sophomore today is still more of a seventh-grader than a high school student – I know this because I have a tenth grader. Parents, the onus is on us too. It’s hard to reconcile when your fifteen year old is acting like a thirteen-year-old – but we need to reconcile it. Connecting with an unmotivated student today – means meeting them where they are and finding common ground and building off of it. Teachers and parents the secret to this step is: communication, patience and grace.
2. If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again. Teachers and parents alike are faced with a new generation of children and learners – we need to figure this out. From the gaps in soft skills to the very real mental health issues plaguing our youth – motivation is the key to getting “back to normal.” Now, more than ever – we cannot give up on our kids. And, at the same time, we cannot pretend like nothing has changed and approach them as such.
Obviously, academics are important but educators know better than most that it is happy kids with their needs met who learn the best and optimally. If our youth has lost their “get up and go” we need to find our “get up and go” until we figure out what each individual child’s secret to motivation is.
Seems daunting, sounds hard – but if we want our kids to do these very hard things, like reacclimating to life and school without the proper emotional development -then, we need to do these very hard things and connect with our children in new ways.
If this was 2019 or before actionable tips to motivate the unmotivated student would be easier and more plentiful to come by – but this is post-2019 and the action starts with the adults in these children’s lives and remembering the following:
- Motivation is something on the developmental spectrum so a lack of motivation in our youth – right now, needs to be understood through a developmental lens.
- Student apathy, in general, is a red flag and pandemia induced apathy is flagging all teachers and parents right now.
- Understanding what two-three years of emotional development looks like in children will give teachers and parents the patience and grace they need to motivate this new generation of learners.
- CONNECT and DO NOT give up on our kids – even if they push us away – it is the dogged need to connect and try everything in your wheelhouse – that will ultimately reinvigorate our children and their trust in us and the system.