Saturday, July 31, 2010

Teen's motivation and grades

Knowledgeability Clarity of Response Timeliness Politeness Nomination?
10                       10                           10             10           Yes

Comment: Thank you so much for your help. I agree with your response 100%. By the way, my daughter made the honor roll in school and I couldn't be more proud of her. Thanks again.

Questioner: Karen

Subject: motivation and grades

Question: I have a son, 16 this August, in 10th grade. I am very concerned about his academics. This is his first year in high school (9th grade was at the jr high). He received 4 D's on his first semester report card, but just barely was lucky to pass them all.

The subject of schoolwork continually causes friction between he and us (his parents)and no matter how we approach things we always end up with him saying "I know what I have to do, it is under control" yet we don't see the results.

We have tried being his friend, trying to listen to what is going on, offer friendly advice and support. We have also tried being strict, taking away privileges when work is not done, etc. and nothing seems to motivate him. He is very capable of doing well, this is definitely a effort and motivation issue, not an issue related to his inability or academic weakness.

He tells us he has done his work but he does the bare minimum to get by, barely getting Ds on the assignments and failing all tests. Today I got an email from his math teacher telling me he is concerned he will fail and that during work time in class he puts his head down and listens to headphones. (Of course, my initial reaction is why do teachers allow this?) Any advice you can give me to find a way to get through, to motivate him is appreciated.

We have also talked extensively about going to college, getting the job he wants, etc and he is convinced he can do whatever he wants without the grades and that none of what he is doing in school will ever matter. As a side note, this is the ONLY issue we have with him. He is a wonderful person, a leader in his church youth group, has good friends, is a great big brother. Sometimes I feel this issue with his grades is a control issue.

He will occasionally say things like, "you just want to control what I do" or "just because I don't do my homework exactly like you want it" etc. We are really having our issues with this.

Thanks in advance,

Karen

Answer: Dear Karen,

Yes, it could be a control issue. During the teen years teens have 2 developmental tasks to complete as they grow cognitively and emotionally, social skills and independence. So they socialize much to their parents dismay because it appears their family is no longer the center of their world and while they are practicing many times their grades, their family relationships suffer as well as other areas of their lives.

Mainly becuase they have an all or nothing attitude at this stage of their lives. My I also note that going from being his friend to being strict is also a all or nothing type of approach, maybe middle ground would be more effective. The second developmental task, independence is something most parents are just not ready to deal with as we have had the rope close to our hearts and letting the rope out is quite frightening and means our little one is all grown up and possibly does not need us the same way they use to.

Your son maybe telling you that this is his life and he needs to make the choices not have them made for him. What I see when I read you letter is you are doing all the work. He doesn't have to even WORRY about his grades, or his not graduating or passing to the next grade because you are doing this for him. It is time to let him deal with the pressure of making his own choices. The best way to win a power struggle is to let go of the proverbial rope.

Now this does not mean he gets everything he wants and runs his life into the ground. He has choices to make about school and he is the one who ultimately has to live with these choices for the rest of his life. Along with these choices come responsiblities for his life. If he is going to trash school does he do what he needs to do to earn his keep or get priviledges?

Freedoms and choices are balanced out in the real world with real life consequences and responsibilities for our lives. When you don't pay your bills you lose services, correct? Try and keep in your mind what you wrote here. He is doing well in other areas of his life which tells me he has a lot going for him. However maybe some of these other activities are feeding his need for achievement. Does he have too much going on? Is he seriously allowed outside activities when he is blowing off school?

Also, remind yourself other children choose some very destructive means of seperating from their parents, drugs, sex, criminal activity. You son is choosing something he knows will get the message across without really putting you into financial or legal challenges. For this be grateful. You are doing the hardest work you will ever do. He is very lucky to have parents who care enough to worry about him.

Best wishes!

M Kay Keller