Online Parent Support Chat

25.1.07

I am at wits end...


I just had a major argument with my 14-year-old son regarding his school assignments. He suffers from depression and has missed a lot of days from school. Therefore, he is behind. His teachers are willing to work with him to get caught up, but he is refusing to do any work. He says he doesn’t care anymore. He is in the 9th grade and failing. This problem began in his 8th grade year. His 7th grade year, he had a 2.9 G.P.A. He graduated from the 6th grade with a 4.0. I am at wits end.

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Response:

Unfortunately, you can't motivate your son to perform well academically. Do yourself a big favor and get out of the business of playing principle, vice-principle, dean, school counselor, teacher, etc. It's not your job - school is your son's job.If he were working at McDonald's, for example, you wouldn't show-up there to see whether or not he was putting the pickle between the top bun and the beef patty, that he was frying the fries at the right temperature, that he was putting the right amount of ice in the cups, etc. You would know that your son's performance - or lack thereof - is between he and his boss. And if he gets fired - it's all on him. The same is true for school. What goes on there is between your son and his boss - the teacher.If the problem is behavioral, that falls in your court. If the problem is poor academic performance however, that should be the teacher's concern alone.


I know teachers will want to recruit you to help them with their job (e.g., check that homework, sign this slip, etc.). Simply say to the teacher, "Poor academic performance is a constant source of tension in my home ...I'm not going to monitor it anymore. If he's misbehaving - call me. Otherwise, his poor performance is his problem."


The more you take responsibility for your son's academics, the less responsibility he will take. The problem is an ownership problem. Let go of ownership of your son’s education. No more nagging about homework. No more asking about assignments. This problem belongs to your son. When you give up ownership, your son will have to make a choice - he'll have to decide if he will or will not accept ownership of his schoolwork. And he'll lose the power of pushing your education buttons, to frustrate and worry you.


Out-of-control kids intentionally get low grades to push their parents’ buttons. Often parents are in a never-ending cycle of their kid’s sabotage. Since parents are continuously telling their kids how important grades are, their kids use this information to anger them. The more parents try, the less out-of-control kids work.


Your son is not going to end up sitting on the street corner with a tin can waiting for coins to be handed him from sympathetic passersby. Get rid of the fear that poor school performance will damage his future. When he decides it's time to succeed, he will. I've never meet a kid yet that didn't realize - at some point - that he at least needed to get some form of education and/or skills training.

I know this is a difficult thing for you to hear. And most parents disagree with my recommendation on the subject of poor academic performance. But many of these same parents continue to "do it their way" only to find that "their way" is still not working.

Often times, parents ground their kid for the whole grading period because of failing grades. In those cases, I always ask the parent if that strategy worked. The parent always responds by saying "no."

Take a step of faith here and try my recommendation. The parents who do follow it find that their child's grades -- although never perfect -- improve significantly over time.

Mark

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