Why is it so hard to get teenagers to concentrate on schoolwork

perman asks: I am a maths teacher. Many students say that they can not concentrate on studies at this age. What’s the reason? Can you offer me any help to convince them.

Hi perman –

I have a number of posts on here for teens, about how to concentrate better, and study better.  It’s always been very difficult, but you’re right, today it’s even more than usual.


Why has it always been difficult?  Well, mainly because this is a time in life when people’s bodies are changing very quickly, their hormones are going just wild, they’re becoming much more interested in their peers than in anything else, and many of those peers are also changing, in ways that can become very very attractive!


But also, the teenage years are a time when humans begin to question everything.  They’ll start to doubt their parents’ omniscience (after years of believing Mommy and Daddy always know what’s best).  They’ll question whatever they were brought up to believe – in politics, religion, and, yes, in academics too.


Your job (and it’s not easy, I know) is to make math interesting to these kids.  Now sure, some of them will be just naturally geared that way.  But with the rest – can you explain to them why this will be good for them to understand in their lives?  I know that, when I chase a squirrel to a tree, geometry and trigonometry are very important to me – I want to catch the little beastie on his trajectory to the trunk!  And at dinnertime, I’d love to have enough Algebra to be able to know how to plan out how much food I’ll be getting out of that bag.  So I’d love to take your class.  But you need to find a way to get your students as excited by it as I am!


There’s one other issue about this age group, which I talk about a lot on here.  A teenage brain is fully-developed.  With one exception.  There’s a part of the brain that processes Time at a very complex level, which humans generally don’t have mastered till they’re maybe 18 or 19 years old.  This, mixed with their emotional intensity, makes them very antsy, and pretty impatient. So if your students are having trouble concentrating, just realize that it might be about their own developmental discomfort, and not at all about your teaching or the actual subject.


But still, my biggest recommendation is that you work to find ways to make the math you’re teaching relevant to their lives.  Think about cars, clothes, dancing… anything that they’re obsessing on today.  That’s your key.


Good Luck!


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