Academic Burnout in High School: When Your Teen Lacks Motivation

By Nancy Schatz Alton of Your Teen Magazine

Homework Help

Sylvan Learning partnered with Nancy Schatz Alton of Your Teen magazine for this post.

Lately, I’ve had moments when I wonder why my teenage daughter isn’t more motivated about her schoolwork. If you’ve got a high schooler, you probably know that feeling, too. Rather than harping on them for falling behind, however, Emily Levitt, Vice President of Education at Sylvan Learning, recommends that parents do a little sleuthing to find out the source of the problem. One possible culprit: Academic burnout.


Signs of academic burnout

“The signs of academic burnout include homework avoidance, letting tasks pile up, possibly school avoidance, and getting more irritated than usual when parents are trying to redirect them back to schoolwork. It’s worth trying to get to the bottom of what’s causing academic burnout,” says Levitt. “Are they floundering because one class is a lot harder than they expected, or do they have an extra heavy load right now? Or is the burnout a result of a personal issue?”

Whatever the reason(s) for your student’s lack of motivation, Levitt suggests the following tactics to help your student get back in the groove:


Give them a mental health day.

Everyone, no matter their age, needs an occasional break. It’s perfectly acceptable to give your struggling student a day to recuperate. Make sure to ask them how they want to recharge during their 24-hour break from all-things-school-related and respect their wishes to the best of your ability.


Trouble shoot and offer solutions.

Maybe they need to move out of an AP class to an honors-level class. Maybe it’s time to try tutoring; you can help them figure out if that means extra help from a teacher, another student who excels in the subject, or a private tutor.

Find a Sylvan Near You to Help Beat Academic Burnout

Try chunking the workload.

Teach them how to study for 25-minutes followed by a 10-minute break. Get out a calendar and map out the projects that are due within the next few months, making a schedule for each of the tasks that will lead to a completed project. If they’re not willing to learn these skills from you, it’s worth finding a trusted adult or an older sibling who can show them the ropes.


Step away from the online gradebook.

While some students might need parents to keep tabs on this system as they begin high school, it’s a good idea for your student to eventually monitor their homework and grades online all by themselves. Create a weekly check-in time where you look at their portal together, or have them tell you how school is going after they check the grades on their own. Your stress may be part of their problem.


Ask them what motivates them.

If your student helps design their own reward system, it’s much easier to get their buy-in. Maybe it’s a Starbucks gift card for reaching weekly and monthly homework goals, or dinner from a favorite restaurant. Sometimes the work is easier with a short-term reward in view, and that could be just the incentive they need to get back on track.



Seattleite Nancy Schatz Alton is an author, teacher, poet and frequent contributor to Your Teen magazine at