Teenagers Are Lazy

February 19, 2015

Unruly Teenagers

I hear this a lot from all types of people:

“Teenagers are lazy.”

Old people seem to say it a lot. So do people who don’t have children. And even some people with children. But more than that, lots of teachers I know say that.

“Teenagers are lazy.”

You’re right. Some of them are lazy. And some of them do not care.

Some teenagers do not care about algebra.

Some teenagers do not care to annotate 20 pages of poetry.

Some teenagers do not care to study cell reproduction.

They care about something though. Maybe you just haven’t found out what that is.


Why do we want these teenagers to sit in a classroom taking notes? The short answer is- so that they are educated and better prepared for the future, whatever that may hold.

And we know what things do and don’t work if you want to be a good student. If you can minimize distractions and focus and work through intellectual roadblocks, you will learn and you will succeed in school, and in your career.

The brain of a teenager isn’t fully developed, so we worry that they will make bad decisions if we aren’t there to guide them. And they usually do, if allowed to. So we support and prod and sometimes force them to study and do homework and get good grades. And I don’t think that’s wrong; we need to promote education and support their intellectual growth, even when they feel like giving up.

But kids are people, and people come equipped with minds. Beautiful minds that are capable of much more than they or you realize. And maybe they already know they aren’t interested in Shakespeare. If that’s the case, there’s not a lot you can do. And for some, math is torture. They attend because it’s on their schedule, but it isn’t fun or funny or relevant and it sure as hell isn’t sexy.

Some kids love to read, while others love science. I have a student who loves math so much that I give him assignments and he does extra problems and then extrapolates those to make connections to the universe that I would never have imagined.

Every kid has something. You just need to find it.


Perhaps they are really into art. Have you considered that? Maybe they love to create and build and draw and paint. Music may be their passion. They may daydream of their next masterpiece all day long, waiting to get home and start their creation. But their homework buries them, and the dream eventually dies.

Socializing is probably very important to them. You know how they seem attached to their phone? Believe it or not, that’s how people communicate in 2015. They don’t all have time to walk to their friends’ houses for play dates, and if their parents let them walk anywhere they would be investigated and possibly imprisoned. So they grab bits of socialization here and there, usually through their phones.

Sports have evolved since I was in high school. We used to play football and then basketball and then track. They had different seasons, and when the season was over you transitioned and perhaps even took a break. Now you play one sport and you play it all year long. Kids have soccer games in Seattle and Bend and Las Vegas ON SCHOOL NIGHTS. The volleyball girls hammer their bodies through the school season and then club volleyball starts and then there are spring workouts and in the summer you have to play beach volleyball to stay competitive.

Some kids just don’t fit in, and they are only trying to make it through the day so that they can go home and hide from the people who torture them. Or maybe home is what tortures them, so they hide at school, only hoping to get a break from the stress. Maybe they just want to sleep. Maybe they can’t.

Sad Cartoon Teenagers



Maybe they have a lot of energy and wish they could go run or play.

Maybe they hate to run and play.

Maybe they just aren’t the same as you.

Maybe they are people. And people are different.


Don’t tell my students this, but I was a terrible student through high school and even for most of my undergraduate. I was bright and learned quickly, so as a teenager I fooled around in class and didn’t do my homework. When I got to Eugene I was consumed with the social scene and prioritized everything backwards. A Don Quixote reading test on Friday? Well there’s a party on Thursday, so I will read about 10 pages and then bullshit my way through the essay. The perks of being a decent writer with a wild imagination and basic grasp of communication in another language, I suppose.

Think back to high school and ask if you LOVED sitting in the room taking notes. You didn’t. Nobody did.

“But it was different.”

You’re right, things were different back then. The world has evolved and nothing is the same as when you were young.

But don’t take it out on these kids. They aren’t into what you are into and they won’t always love your lessons and they may seem disinterested. But they are interested in something; it’s our job to find out what.


Please, do not stifle the creativity or imagination or energy of your students or your children. Support them in their education but don’t think that their doodles are an indication of an attention deficit. Please don’t watch them fidget in class and assume they need medication. Promise that you won’t call them lazy.

Whatever you do, don’t call them lazy.

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  • Reply When the Dust Settles February 21, 2015 at 12:12 pm

    I recently read a study that states teenagers need more sleep than adults or younger children (sorry can’t recall the link), I think that is where the laziness aspect comes from, but the other elements of laziness are not typical but individual as you say.

    • Reply David February 21, 2015 at 12:46 pm

      Perhaps this one, or something like it?

      They need more sleep, for sure. Plus they aren’t all the perfect student. And they don’t want to sit in a classroom for 7 hours a day under artificial lightning, breathing stale air, listening to adults hand down information that seems completely irrelevant.

      It’s usually pretty relevant, as they’ll discover when they get older. But at that moment, they don’t always care.

      Plus they’re tired. Very very tired.

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