Positive Work Ethic: The Real Reason Why Teens Lack It

The real reason why students lack a positive work ethic

A positive work ethic is one of the skills that is needed to succeed in both school and life. Yet so many teenagers don’t have it. 

Parents with teenagers who lack a positive worth ethic are rightfully concerned. Unfortunately, many parents miss the boat entirely when it comes to identifying why their teen lacks motivation and a go-getter attitude. 

It can be incredibly disheartening to see your teen get overwhelmed and shut down or procrastinate and try to finish everything at the last minute. It can be even more frustrating when you know your teen doesn’t know how to approach a problem, but they reject your ideas and suggestions.

Over time, this dynamic, paired with the consequences of poor academic performance, can lead to parents micromanaging, nagging, and constantly reminding their teens to get “back on track.” 

The Illusion of Sucess

This approach gives parents the “illusion of a win.” A teenager may turn in an assignment, complete a task, or study for a test, but in reality, the parent has done much of the work, and the teenager is not learning the skills they need to succeed in the long run. Nagging and reminding give you short-term gains but set the stage for long-term failure and a lack of positive work ethic. 

I understand that time is pressing, and each day, your teenager is getting one step closer to leaving the house. However, this approach fails to develop a positive work ethic in teenagers and can also be a source of conflict between parents and their children.

The conflict between developing a positive work ethic and the appeal of short-term wins begs the question, what is the end goal? 

Is it to get an A on the homework assignment today? 


Is it to raise a well-adjusted adult with a positive work ethic that can take care of their academic and professional responsibilities?

If your goal is the latter, keep reading to learn how to create an environment that will encourage your child to develop a positive work ethic and maximize their potential. 

young girl lying on bed holding a cellphone

Independence and Developing a Positive Work Ethic 

Teenagers are developmentally at a stage where they want to express and demonstrate independence. However, this conflicts with the reality that they lack many skills to handle their responsibilities independently. 

This circumstance puts parents in a challenging situation. Do you give your teen independence and risk the mistakes and failures that will occur? Or do you support them and help them avoid their mistakes? 

In my experience, many parents fall into the trap that the latter option presents. 

The overbearing support that some parents provide can lead to various consequences. Your teen may feel the following:

  • An inability to make choices for themselves 
  • There isn’t a point in trying because no matter what they do, it isn’t right 
  • A lack of confidence in their own decisions 
  • Apathy and a lack of ownership over school and their other responsibilities

These feelings can lead to a lack of work ethic and poor academic performance. It also contributes to teenagers’ focus on “unimportant” things like video games. They feel they have control in these areas and can express their independence. No one critiques them when they make mistakes, and they can make decisions and live with the consequences. 

Teens want to live with the consequences of their actions. They want to feel like they have agency and control over their life. If you want to help your teenager build a positive work ethic, there are a couple of critical steps you can take. 

Give Teens Agency To Build A Positive Work Ethic

The first thing you can do for your teen is to allow them to make their own decisions and, more importantly, live with the consequences. Let your teenager take charge of their school work, enabling them to take in the positive and negative feedback they receive.

Give your teenager the independence to decide when, how, and what to study. Most importantly, allow them to make mistakes. Even if you see your teenager doing something you don’t think is the right decision, let them take ownership of their choices and learn from the consequences. 

Now, this is not to say that you should wash your hands completely of the matter. It is vital to give your teen independence and boundaries, and expectations. Let them know what you expect of them but let them figure out how to get there. 

If your teenager fails to meet those expectations, establish consequences, but don’t try to save them from the mistake, and don’t take away their independence.

mistakes are a part of building a strong work ethic

Be Prepared for them to Make Mistakes When Developing a Positive Work Ethic

Take a minute to think back to when you were a teenager. What was your relationship with your parents like? 

Did you do everything they told you to do? 

What were some of the mistakes that you made? 

Was everything your parents said correct? 

Your teenager is going through a similar experience with you right now. Even if you provide them with positive guidance, they will make mistakes. They need to make these mistakes and learn from them to become a responsible adult.

Be there for your teenager, but be prepared to let them make their own mistakes. When they stumble and fall, be the one they can come to for support.

Allow your teenager to make decisions, even if they result in mistakes. Once they start making mistakes and learning from them, they will develop a positive work ethic.

Give Encouragement 

Although you are giving them independence, teenagers still crave parental approval. When you see them exhibiting a positive worth ethic – praise them! When they make positive decisions, encourage them. Let them know you appreciate their positive work ethic so that it becomes a habit for them. 

It is also important to remember that positive reinforcement works better than negative reinforcement in creating positive habits. Instead of punishing your teen for not meeting expectations, reward them for positive behavior and work ethic. 

Emphasizing the positive rather than the negative will help them identify the behaviors they need to return to continuously. 

Asking questions helps teens build a positive work ethic

Ask Questions 

Reflection is one of the most critical skills that lead to a positive work ethic—learning to think back and evaluate what went well and what didn’t allow us to learn from our mistakes and understand our strengths. Reflection gives you a sense of agency and control over your life which is essential for building a positive work ethic.

Unfortunately, many teenagers do not learn how to reflect because the school system focuses on rote memorization and external evaluation rather than self-reflection. You can help your teenager learn from their mistakes by asking questions. 

Some questions you can ask are:

  • What did you learn from this situation?
  • What do you think you did well?
  • Would you like some advice?
  • What would you do differently in the future?

Open-ended questions that focus on their option will give your teenager a sense of empowerment and ownership over their lives and decisions, which will lead to a positive work ethic.

It is important to note while asking these questions, don’t fish for a specific answer. It can be tempting to want your son or daughter to come to a specific conclusion, but your teen will sniff this out immediately. Instead, ask broad questions and let them think and come to conclusions. 

Keep the End Goal in Mind 

It can be easy to get caught up daily or week-to-week. This focus on the short run can lead to the “illusion of a win” that I referenced earlier in the article. Instead, focus on the big picture and remember the end of your teen’s journey is not an A on a test or even an A at the end of the year. 

The end goal is to provide your teenager with the skills they need to succeed and thrive in the future. A positive work ethic is one of these skills and one of the most important.

Each day, your teen has the opportunity to build the skills they will need to leave the house and successfully take on the world. 

Keeping this end goal in mind can make it easier to accept the mistakes that they make along the way. 

working with an academic coach is a great way to build positive work ethic

Give them Academic Support 

Helping your teenager develop a positive work ethic can be a tall task, especially when you don’t have the same academic expertise that teachers and tutors possess. However, there are still ways for you to provide academic support to your teenager.

Working with an academic coach is a great way to give your teenager the support they need to develop a positive work ethic. An academic coach can provide personalized support and help your teen develop positive study habits.

An academic coach can provide the consistent feedback, support, and accountability your teen needs to learn from their mistakes. Meanwhile, you will have the peace of mind that your teenager isn’t on this journey alone.

Hiring an academic coach can allow you to focus on the fun aspects of being a parent without worrying about your teenager’s academic performance.

If you think an academic coach is the support your family needs, let’s talk. I’ve helped hundreds of teenagers develop a positive work ethic while allowing their parents to take a step back and enjoy positive relationships with their sons or daughters.

About the Author: John Hyde

I am an academic coach specializing in teaching students academic fundamentals and a growth mindset. 

After graduating from Duke University in 2015, I taught at a public middle school from 2016 to 2019. Although I loved working with students in the classroom, the public education system was not teaching students the skills essential to academic success. 

I left the classroom in 2019 to start Academic Empowerment Academy. Since then, my coaching program has helped hundreds of students realize their academic potential by assisting them in building confidence and empowering them with the skills and mindset to meet their goals in school and life. 

If you’d like to discuss how I can help your teen be more motivated, foster good habits, and improve academic organization/performance, Book a Complimentary Discovery Call Here.

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Author Spotlight

Hi I’m John, author of this blog, academic coach, and founder of AE Academy.

I help teens reach their academic potential by empowering them with academic fundamentals, a growth mindset, and critical thinking. 

If your teen is struggling to reach their academic potential, or isn’t learning the skills they need to succeed in school, we should connect.

It’s on me – Book Your Free Call Here

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