Preventing your Teen from Catching Senioritis

by Jessica Fox, LCPCSenioritis

You have heard it since September: “I have Senioritis”. According to a leading medical dictionary (invented just for this blog post), Senioritis is a disease that spreads like the plague throughout the senior class. You hope your teen doesn’t catch it, but sure enough, he comes home with a bad case, and it seems like there is no cure. Day after day you watch your cherub struggle with the symptoms: lack of motivation, laziness, low energy (except for late at night), increased appetite, falling grades, and more complaints about teachers and peers. However, you feel like nothing you say or do motivates them to care like they used to. Your once A/B student is now very comfortable with D’s and C’s.

Senioritis (literally, inflammation of the senior) spikes when students begin getting accepted to the college of their choice, wherein they no longer feel like their grades matter. This mentality stems from subtle but powerful messages sent to them from teachers and parents during their previous four years.

Many parents purposely utilize the prospect of getting into college as external motivation to drive their adolescent to do well in school. While this may work for a time, there are consequences for using this type of reinforcement. Students may never develop the intrinsic motivation that helps them truly feel good about doing well if it is all about reaching this goal of college. Once the goal of getting into college is met, many students lose the motivation to do homework, study for tests, read, and focus in school. It is incredibly important for students to continue developing these skills during their Senior year, because they will need them to be even sharper when they enter college. So, either parents will need a new external motivation to help them stay on top of their work (like taking away the young adult’s car), or they will need to try to prevent this from happening as much as possible from the start of their high school career.

The best treatment for Senioritis is prevention; the vaccine is focusing on encouraging students rather than praising them. The difference is this: encouragement takes place while a child runs a race, and praise is what one tells him or her at the finish line. Encouragement may sound something like this: “I can see you are really taking your time on that project. That thoroughness and focus is clear.” Praise would sound sometime like this: “Good job getting an A on that project. That will look good for college.”

Notice the difference?

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