Academic Struggles in High School

Parent Q&A

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  • My son a 9th grader is resistant to engage in virtual learning during this pandemic . Prior to last day of school March 13 I suggested getting caught with all classes (and he did) in expectation the lack of structure is a challenge .  He is not 100% academic motivated , but will do the work if in the classroom setting.

    he doesn’t need to get up early and do the morning routine - so I assume virtual learning will be fun and easy- however is a challenge.

    he doesn’t get upset when his mom and I talk to him about it - I assume he is aware of his choice to not engage.

    few days ago told me it was annoyed by us telling him to get school work done, I don’t want to remove the cell because I am confident he can do the job with no consequences.

    how can he get motivated ?

    any similar experiences?

    I imagine that you've already asked your son for his input about why it's hard to get into online learning. But if you haven't, just using some curiosity WITHOUT responding with advice is a good place to start. Sometimes just our kids just want to be heard without immediately being given a parent opinion. So, starting with "What is it about distance learning that's not working for you as well as being in class?" (Again, you've  probably already asked this.) Then just validate how he feels. "Yeah, that makes sense. If I had to do 9th grade online, I wouldn't like it either." A few hours later, you can tell him: "I was thinking about what you were saying about how this method of learning sucks. Your mom and I get that. AND right now, that's all that is available until school ends. Our expectation is that you're going to do your school work on time every day. We're looking for you to manage that yourself. If that doesn't happen, we'll have to step in. We would hate to put away your cell phone (or other devices) until your work is complete. So what do you think? How are you going to motivate yourself to get your work done on time? We're happy support you if you have any ideas--like earning tech time or whatever you think might get you going. We all struggle with motivation at times." I hope that helps. Good luck with your son. Sarah

    Both my 14yr old and my 9yr old are struggling.. I’ve come to a similar conclusion that they need the classroom and accountability to a teacher to be motivated. Even w the accountability - they both tend to exaggerate how much they’ve completed and often “forget” to turn things in online. It’s discouraging when I hear about other families whose kids are engaged. I’m exhausted from fighting w them about it.. I’m super busy w my own work and trying to balance the two is really hard. 

    Hi there,

    What you are seeing with your kid is not surprising!  He no longer has the social element to keep him motivated to do work that he did not design.  This is actually a great opportunity to take a page from what homeschoolers know about developing intrinsic motivation and self-direction. Check out the Alameda Oakland Home Learners website... we are offering free support for families during Shelter in Place.

    Yes, yes, yes.  I bet you describe what MOST parents are going through right now, from Kindergarten on up.  Parents are not the best motivators for kids to do schoolwork.  Teens, especially, become resentful, and remember, you have to live with this young person 24/7.  Trust your kid to do what's right.  If he says he's got it, back off and let him handle it.  My son is in 9th grade too, and even before COVID-19 he really wanted more independence in getting his work done this year, and I was checking in on him much less frequently than I everhad before.  Sometimes we need to let them go, set them free, so they can rise to the occasion on their own terms.  The phones can't be taken away right now; the phone is their lifeline to the outside world, and their social world.  My suggestion is to tell him your expectations (pass 9th grade!), tell him you're there to help if he needs it, and let him do it on his own.  Watch from afar.  He may surprise you.  

    I feel your pain- same here at our house. My two boys, HS and middle schooler, are also refusing to engage with school and/or assignments. At this point it’s a constant struggle to get them to do any school work, even as I try to entice them with the credit/no credit grading.

    Sorry I don’t have any suggestions, but I wonder how many other kids are in the same situation, and how this will impact the next school year. The longer this goes on the harder it gets for us.

    Not sure if this will work for you but our kid gets overwhelmed with lack of structure or having to organize things himself. So I wrote up a did a daily schedule, printed it out, and have check boxes. He has to get up by 10, then has a set schedule of classes he focuses on that we devised based upon his school schedule. We included breaks, exercise, chores and shower. Then at any given time he knows exactly what he should be doing and he checks it off as he goes down the list.

    The only complication is this requires some flexibility too as there will be different assignments that don't fit so nicely into the schedule. But so far for as, as long as he has a basic guide line he can make minor adjustments.

    We won't let him start the video games or socializing until after he gets things done. That was the struggle at first, just saying friendly but firmly NO. First finish this, then you can do that. If I don't, he'll try to get away not doing things. I also check in several times a day to see where he is at. He managed to avoid math which he doesn't like, so I make sure he gets that in and sometimes award him with okay here are some cookies to snack on while you do your least favorite class.

    For us the key is persistence, saying things firm but friendly and in a few cases taking away all electronics for the whole evening to do other things like cook dinner, or read. I did however feel bad about preventing him from socializing with friends so I try not to take that away.

    It's tough for sure.

    Thanks you everyone for your thoughts and advice.   I done tons of reading about puberty, development, and teenagers challenging phase as they go through puberty.  14 year old is a challenging age. We are trying to stay healthy, away from this pandemic and looking forward to the future and hoping next school year things go back to normal.  I am sure there are thousands of students across the US that are craving to be back on a classroom meeting.

    Sorry to not respond to your question directly and instead to treat this as a general discussion - I think we are all having major challenges regarding our kids and distance learning! My son (HS junior) goes to a boarding school in NH. He has always been a good student. At boarding school, his time is structured - daily classes, athletics, "jobs", and evening study hall 6 days a week. Now home for distance learning, the class schedule is from 7-9 AM (to accommodate kids across time zones). Each class has been cut to 30 mins twice a week and no athletics. Since he has been living away from home, he feels quite self-empowered to decide how he spends his time and not open to any discussion. Once class time is over in the morning, he is gaming or watching something on a screen until the evening when he does what seems like the minimum amount of homework. He is supposed to be working on his college search but I have not seen any activity. It's been quite difficult to watch how he spends his time, as I hope that he would be intrinsically motivated to do more and would use this as an opportunity to pursue some other interests. And since he doesn't regularly live at home, it's been hard to get him to do any chores, although he does his own laundry, which is left piled in a basket instead of being put away. I worry that he is developing very bad habits.  Given that he has lived away from home for the past 2 years, he does not want input from parents. I have not been a very authoritative parent because I am still grappling with the trauma that I experienced from my parents growing up. Also, from the beginning, my husband and I have tried to co-parent equally but we don't always agree, which has left me to question my own instincts and follow his lead, which is often different than how I would parent if it were left up to me. I'm also interested in hearing how other parents are feeling right now.

    Instead of a daily schedule, we worked out a daily checklist of things that need to be done.   The checklist can be simple (for example, listing 6 classes and 2 chores) or more detailed (each class has a sub-list of action items that need to be done).    Review the checklist together as often as needed -whether that is at the beginning and end of the "school" day or once per day, or every other day, whatever works for you.    The main thing is the checklist gives structure and the ability to know what "done" looks and feels like.    Our house rule is no video games until the checklist for the day is done.  

  • Did you have a mediocre HS student?

    (7 replies)

    Our 15yo daughter has always been (and continues to be as a HS sophomore) a mediocre student with a lackluster work ethic. She gets tutoring help for a couple of subjects, but still just scrapes by. She doesn't have any learning disabilities. My husband and I try hard not to apply our academic standards on her (both of us were hard-working students who went to selective colleges and graduate schools). We want to believe that she will find her way and that it's okay that her path will be very different and less traditional than ours. She says she has no interest in going to college, but understands that she needs to (eventually) in order to have more career opportunities. I struggle with all of this, because I have a brother who was lazy in school, struggled through college, and turned out to be a mediocre employee who has repeatedly gotten laid off or let go. This isn't the future that I want for my own daughter. I do understand (at least conceptually) that she has to lead her own life, but while she is still a minor, I want to guide her in a way that gives her the best chance for success (meaningful life with a job/career that will allow her to support herself). I don't need judgment, but would love to hear from other parents with a child who also did poorly in school but eventually found his/her way to a gainful employment/self-sufficiency as an adult. I would greatly appreciate any advice. Thank you!

    I had a brilliant daughter who just skated by in school.  It was very frustrating.  In high school she was also wild and difficult to deal with, although she didn't use drugs or get arrested.  She signed up for community college but repeatedly dropped her classes.  She wanted to go to beauty school which I reluctantly decided to let her do.  She even got kicked out of beauty school.  I was so upset.   She did finally finish beauty school, which she had to pay for because I had paid for the first one,  and is a very talented hair colorist.  She now lives in NYC and has worked hard.  When she went to NY I was very worried but she made it, even though she was making very little money.  She is very hard working now and is very successful in her career.  Don't give up, your daughter may surprise you.  I know mine did.  It did take her stumbling around until she was 25 but I couldn't be more proud of her hard work and success than I am today.  They don't always do it the way we would like but that doesn't mean they won't find their way.  Good luck!!

    I hear you!  My 24 yr old daughter was average in school. She went to an "average" CSU college and graduated. She decided on a career path and found a job- she now lives on her own and supports herself and is happy. Not everyone is meant to be academic or go to grad school!  Even if their parents did. Hang in there and try to encourage whatever passion your child does have....

    I have a kid like that! I just ordered the book, "He's Not Lazy" by Adam Price. It came highly recommended, so I'm hoping it will help.

    My son is not yet in the working world, but he has started college and is loving it, after being a bit lost in high school. I was a straight A student who attended a big name college and then grad school. He did not work much at high school, and it was hard for me to understand. In a way, I found it refreshing that he didn’t do something that didn’t appeal to him, because I was a goody-goody who was too afraid to disappoint anyone.  But I also had a hard time understanding why he wouldn’t try his best and of course I worried. He started out in an ambitions program — IB — but hated it and quit. Then he was struck down with a scary bout of depression. That put everything in perspective for me. I would not wish that on anyone, nor am I suggesting that lack of motivation is always connected to depression. (But I do know that teenage depression is under-recognized.) After the episode, my standards totally shifted, and all I wanted was for him to get through each day and feel okay. There is a college for everyone, even after a little time off, and there are all sorts of ways to find success. He is thriving now. He is confident. He likes what he is studying and for the first time seems willing to work hard. I guess in simple terms, I’m saying trust that things will work out and your daughter will find her way. Keep loving her. Give yourself a break. The teen years can be horrible but we get through them. 

    I was a mediocre HS student! I had no interest in sports or extra-curriculars and generally was a procrastinator who did the bare minimum. I enjoyed the social aspect of high school but I did not have the drive to be a high achiever like most of my friends. Like your daughter, I didn't have any interest in college but I knew at some point I would go. For me the turning point came when I finally decided (at 20) what I was interested in doing as a career. I went to community college part time, worked part time, grew up a lot and eventually transferred to a CSU. I graduated with bachelors in nursing and I love my job. I'm thankful that my parents allowed me the time and space to make mistakes and find my own path. My advice would be to gently encourage your daughter to continue her studies, provide her with information, talk about what her career path might look like and how she could get there. Often times there are many different ways to arrive.  Most importantly, don't project your brother's issues onto her. She's still very young with plenty of time to discover her passion and develop her drive.

    Yes, I have not one but three mediocre high school students. The youngest is a high school junior right now so who knows, maybe he will really turn things around next year (just kidding.)  C's, D's and F's throughout high school, getting by with the minimum expenditure of effort. Very frustrating for a parent who is an overachiever. But the two oldest did eventually finish college at varying long-ish speeds, found their niche, are supporting themselves now, and have both just started grad school in their early 30's to improve their career prospects. They are really good kids and I love them but they are late bloomers and it has taken them a long time to figure out how to "adult". It is not easy for a parent to be supportive of a kid who seems to be just not trying very hard. 

    But in retrospect, support from the parent is a key thing. I also have siblings who have not fared very well, and I think much of it has to do with our parents not really being there for us, not only financially but also just not helping us feel confident in our own abilities.  Treat your kid the way you'd treat a co-worker who you really like, but who lets you down sometimes, and who you know could do better. Be sympathetic, be respectful, give them support as you are able to, including financial support if you can, but don't fund stupid stuff like bartender school or motorcycles.  Keep your mouth shut unless you are asked for advice (I only manage this 50% of the time). And when you do give advice, do it the way you'd do it with a co-worker - you don't want to make them feel bad but you also want to hint strongly they are on the wrong path and suggest a better course.  The goal is for them to see themselves as the responsible party making the decisions, not you. Be clear that you are their safety net, you're there for them, and you believe in them.  And find ways to have fun together. It's like money in the bank!

    Try looking at a community college coursebook!  You can concurrently enroll her in community college.  Sometimes the best option for a struggling student is for them to take the GED, graduate early, and start earning college credit!

  • Next step for struggling High Schooler?

    (8 replies)

    I could use some suggestions from those who've gone before on trying to sort out the issues of a 15 year old who's struggled with Math and some other aspects of school forever.

    My observation is that she processes at a slightly reduced speed then her sister and I, It can be hard for her to grasp concepts from complex questions, or statements. As in: All Quiet on the Western Front is over her head and the essay questions just don't make sense to her. She's not cognitively slow: she has a perceptive wit and sharp insights. But when she's pressed for time, or people become impatient with her, or is given too many directions at one time, she gets very anxious and frustrated and shuts down. Math is very hard for her, and tests are a disaster. She is a model student, not disruptive, polite and kind. She can tend to daydream, really has no interest in school other than knowing she needs to make a living someday. She's hard working, and does ok, but there are a few areas of concern, and as her course work gets more complex, she seems less able to function well. She hates that school seems much harder for her than for her friends.

    I don't know if I should go to a Neurological Psychologist and have a full work up so we can put accommodations in place? An Executive Function expert? Or a therapist for her anxiety?  I know any direction I go is out of pocket so I want to make sure I'm heading in a direction that'll get the most results. 

    Anyone have any experience or advice? Thank you.

    Hi! My son does this too. He has slow processing speed (check out the book bright kids who can't keep up). That book helped me understand what was going on. Taking information in is slow,coming out too sometimes. We were in a private school and had to pay out of pocket but I think public schools have to provide for testing and for help. He didn't realize he was slower and we didn't either. Technically he has some sort of dyslexia. But I'm guessing maybe that is going on? One md said he could be helped by drugs but that was incorrect . You know some people who go lightning fast? This is the other side of it :). One your daughter knows what is going on she will be able to ask people to communicate with her more effectively and it will get better! The anxiety is normal too, obviously, if you are being rushed....take care!

    Hi there, my son had some of the same issues and we were referred (by his middle school) to the Anne Martin Center for educational testing. They do testing over a 3 day period of all aspects of processing, comprehension, and ability.
    It is not cheap ($2300) and there is no financial aid available, but it was VERY informative and helpful. The person who administered the test identified some issues, but guided us to another diagnosis....very a-typically expressed ADD.
    They are super thorough. My son got the support he needed and has just made the honor roll this year. It's an incredible turn of events. We got the testing done a year ago and it has really paid off.
    Publc schools can also be petitionedto do assessments....just be reallyproactivefor your daughter.
    I wish you all the best.

    It sounds like she may have undiagnosed learning disabilities. You can go through your school district for a free evaluation and IEP -you don't have to pay out of pocket. I'd start with having her evaluated and then work on the anxiety, for which you will have to pay yourself, but at least you'll know exactly what the problems are and how to help. Good luck!

    Hi there- 

    I totally empathize with you and your daughter as I had similar struggles when I felt pressure to perform or discuss things on the spot. 

    I did well in school but struggled during tests or timed exercises where there was a need to perform on the spot. A really great teacher recommended that my parents test me for auditory processing problems and it showed that I was struggling when I had a mix or oral and written directions - my brain was basically not able to put the information in order since they weren't given to me in the same way. Once we discovered that I was able to get a 504 plan that accommodated having all directions provided in the same way. Also, a 504 plan is also useful in university settings and when I attended CAL they also were able to help with provided directions in a more understandable format for me. 

    Fast forward to now and I was able to learn skills that allowed me to work in a business setting and I just have to take more time to prepare for meeting in advance. Please let your daughter know that this isn't an intelligence thing, it's a processing thing because until we discovered that for me, I felt very anxious and embarrassed about my ability to be successful in school and was constantly second guessing my own intellect. 

    Hang in there mama!

    Hi - If you have the means, I suggest getting a full neuropysch test. Having her tested & being able to understand her areas of strengths and challenges, will be helpful in understanding the best options to help support her though school. Lack of focus can cause all of the symptoms you describe in your post. When a person cannot focus, they cannot organize their thoughts to bring in and retain information --- even if they try hard to focus on the content, their brain cannot take in the information in an organized manner; this creates anxiety, which in turn may cause the person to shut down --- ignoring hw, not liking school, appearing to not to care, self esteem erodes, etc.  Also, having a slow processing mind (this is not indicative of intelligence --- just the need for more time to understand the material) can create anxiety as the student falls behind or becomes frustrated.  As for slow processing with math, this link to a quick lesson plan from Stanford smashes the myth about who is good at math and who is not.   I highly recommend you and she sign up for this free class. It is very short and no hw. It helped my math anxious middle schooler, at the tim,e to understand that being slower at math is fine (Einstein had a "slow" processing brain). I like to think of slow processors as deep thinkers. My slow processing child needs to understand the "why" in math.  My fast processing child gets it fast but only to a certain level and does fine, but doesn't remember as much the next year.  My slow processor has depth and fast processor is more surface level. Once my slow processor took the Stanford class, it helped her anxiety. Schools teach rocket math and "be quick" with math facts, there is a certain way to learn math and there are "math people" and not "math people" -- Fast math, learning math one way is the right way and math vs. non-math people are all myths. Being slow at math, learning more than one way to do math and in most cases hard work creates a "math person" not natural ability is reality. Because you mentioned some areas outside of math that your daughter struggles, I suggest getting her tested and finding tools (counseling, tutors, medication, etc.) to help create a way for her to learn best. The more you understand how her mind works, the more you can tailor her tools. It will still be a hard work to learn (it is for most of the population), but she will begin to see results which will give her self confidence again. My slow processor hated math going into 5th grade and now loves math in high school. Once she was diagnosed with ADHD inattentive, given medication, counseling and an understanding that slow is ok, she took off.  Without meds/counseling and the Stanford class, she would not be where she is today.  Wishing you the best in finding the best path for your daughter.

    I am not a specialists but my son is exactly the same.  He was tested and came out as very bright but with very slow processing speed.  Knowing this helps, but it is still very frustrating as he seems 'normal', so it's hard to keep in mind at all times that he just can't do things faster.  For this very reason he has an IEP at his school and he gets extra time on things.  Last year I even managed to get him remedial help for English from his school.  Try seeing if you can get her tested; you will probably find the answers there.  

    Good for you for taking action.  I have a nearly 17 y.o. in the same situation, though he was professionally assessed (by an Education Psychologist, not a Neurologist) at age 10 (and has had two subsequent assessments, as they need to be updated in order for IEP (Individualized Education Plans) to be implemented.  From what you are saying (and I'm not an expert, just a mom with a similar sounding kid) it sounds as if your daughter might have an "Auditory Processing Delay" (APD) -- which means she's processing information at a slower rate than most -- especially with topics she's not interested in, are "over her head" -- as new math concepts can be for many -- or that she's not heard before.  If this is determined to be true, learner support can be put into place to help.  Teachers can "pre-load" new information before a new concept will be introduced in class.  For kids with APDs, this can be massively helpful as they are not hearing new concepts for the first time in class -- and their brain can tune into them more. Receiving lectures in writing as well can help a great deal.  (If reading comprehension is determined to be good.)  This will be very helpful at the university level, for sure, as long lectures are hard to keep up with if you have an ADP.  For my son, the ADP has also created difficulty with memory retention of new concepts as well as a lot of anxiety about the time available to him in class for assessments or classroom work.  The ed-psych assessments have provided him with 50% more time for tests, including the SATs and ACTs (which the College Board must approve and will only do so with a professional assessment declaring the need.)  And, in my son's case and based on the assessments, a learner support teacher was provided in Math and Science -- his most difficult subjects -- to provide extra support.  He attends a private school and this was an additional expense but beyond worth it.  It's available in public schools as well.  He had that support in place for Grades 6-9.5, when the school determined he was fine on his own.  He had taken on board so much of the support strategies and knew how to advocate for himself. As parents, we were afraid to cut off the direct support but he's proven he's ready for school without it.  We also paid out of pocket for each of our son's assessments (however with the last one, the psychologist stated on our receipts that she was looking at his anxiety as well, so our insurance reimbursed us.) I will say it has been the best money we've ever spent.  For us, knowing exactly what his learning challenges were eased our minds. For him they've totally changed the way he sees himself (though self-doubt still often creeps in and he doesn't see the fairness in getting more time for tests). It's also given him tremendous confidence in school.  Math is still the thorn in his side, but you know what?  I didn't like it either and just did what I could to get by.  We all now know (teachers included)that the information is IN HIS BRAIN but it just takes a bit longer to get it out on the page. Best of luck with your explorations, but I can't say enough how invaluable the Ed-Psych Assessments have been in the life of our child.  Sooner than later.

    My son has similar issues. He was evaluated when he was 10 by a developmental pediatrician who thought he had some auditory (language) processing problems, then by a neuropsychologist ($$!) at 15 so we could help him get a 504 for high school. The second eval. did not focus on the language processing, although we asked for this (frustrating). It found he had some anxiety and depression (you would too if you had to struggle to understand in the classroom). He does very well in school, but has to work very hard. Tests are the biggest challenge. He got the 504, which gives him time and a half on tests and quizzes, and that definitely helps. If it takes a neuropsych test to get the 504 (or IEP) it is probably worth it. If you go that route be sure to insist on testing for language processing speed and comprehension; there are apparently multiple short tests for that. The good news is that our smart son is doing well in most classes now. There will always be that one (or two) teachers with a teaching style that clashes with your kid, but we have found that tutoring helps immensely in those situations.

  • Struggling 10th grader

    (4 replies)

    My 16 year old is in independent studies at Berkeley High. However, he is not getting the support he needs and is falling behind. Going back to Berkeley High is not an option. Right now we are looking into different options, such as online school or alternative (not too crazily expensive) high schools. Has anyone ever had this dilemma? I would be really appreciative for suggestions!

    Our son, who is now 20, also struggled in school, mostly because he was not motivated to do the work. We turned to lots of resources to help him - counseling, tutoring, behaviorial assessment, etc. Nothing helped, so we decided to have him test out of high school and go to work. He took the CHSPE in March of his junior year and then got some part-time jobs, he's now at junior college. He learned a lot from being in the work force, and he gained from not being in an environment where he was struggling and failing. 

    Look into Mentoring Academy on College Avenue in Oakland. My son is a student there, and we had a similar experience at his public school (Not BH). But, I know of a few students at Mentoring that came from Berkeley High. 

    Mentoring is a small high school that has helped a lot of kids for whom school wasn't working. John Muster the head of school has created a wonderful and caring environment that meets the needs of students. Our family has been very happy here.

    Try seeing an Educational Therapist in the area who specializes in working with teens.

    Our son spent a semester at Tilden Prepatory Academy in Albany (, which has middle through high school level courses. Each class is one-on-one, so students go at their own pace -- that's the ULTIMATE in support!  My son was in 7th grade and recovering from an illness (in fact, I credit Tilden Prep not only in catching him up an entire academic year in 4 months, but also with decreasing the stress level so that he was able to fully recover). We were so impressed with the teachers -- they were really knowledgeable and motivating, and many of them had advanced degrees from, e.g., UC Berkeley.  Perhaps these great people teach here because they don't have to have urban high school classroom management skills, they just have to love teaching, learning, and knowledge! My son (now a sophomore in high school) still talks about things he learned from his teachers there.  Students go there for a variety of reasons, and include musical prodigies and Olympic athletes (who need a very flexible schedule), students recovering from viruses and concussions, students with learning differences, and students who are so bored out of their minds in a traditional high school that they start falling behind. In addition to the one-on-one teaching, there are also group activities, clubs, state-approved PE classes, etc. It was a godsend for our family; I can highly recommend it.

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15yo is marginal student at private school we struggle to pay for

June 2011

Our 15 year old is marginal student at a Catholic high school the cost of which is currently a financial burden exacerbated by both parents being unemployed. Despite that, we are willing to continue sacrificing if she only tries a different approach to her studies (i.e. not leaving everything to the last minute)to get a better outcome. She's refused to cooperate. Should we let her call our bluff and take her out of that school? I'm afraid if that happens, what will have been achieved ultimately? We won the war but lost the battle. Furthermore, the public school she would be assigned is very undesirable. What's the solution? The decision must be made by June 15!

Have you considered homeschooling? There are active homeschoolers in the East Bay. I had friends who combined homeschooling and charter schooling all the way thru high school graduation and their daughter is attending a competitive college.

If you are both not working it might give you time to spend with your daughter, and she can participate in setting her own goals within structures. There is a lot of info on the Parents' Network website to start. Networking with other homeschooling parents might also help you expand your horizons. Homeschoolers can be fairly enterprising people.

Even if you don't make the move ultimately - actively exploring the options might help your daughter take some ownership of her education. Right now you are combining a lot of stress with finances, habits, adolescence and maybe the school itself - possibly unavoidable considering the public education options and the economy - but somehow you need to get thru this at a critical time in her development.

The parochial setting is not for everyone. Probably though you need to get this thought thru so you don't get stuck with next year's tuition if you do decide to move out of the spot. Depending on the school and her year, it might be hard to get back in. If her grades are suffering and she can't pull it off, there are more reasons to be making this ''option review'' than the money. If she likes the school and wants to stay there, then see if they have study skill counseling - most private schools do, and they can help her with the time management skills. Stressing her probably won't. You need to be honest though if you can really afford it.

Do not envy your difficulties but sincerely hoping something does turn up. Sometimes asking the right questions makes all the difference in the answers. Encouraging Conversation

Teenagers are SO hard! As an applied behavior analyst, and step-parent to teens here's my suggestion: you are the parent, and if you believe the school she is in is the best option for her, that should be the school she stays in. As for her marginal efforts, the things to be taken away after one discussion about consequences are as follows:

1st, and right away after an incomplete assignment, take away the cell phone, tv, and computer for the night/weekend.

2nd, if 1st doesn't work, cancel all friend/social time, non-school activities that aren't necessary (I think sports, leadership, community services are necessary)until the appropriate effort is demonstrated such as homework complete, test studied for, etc...

3rd, if above doesn't make an impression all fancy products & clothing beyond the minimum of hygiene, and adequate clothing, so out go make-up, hair gel, hair spray, body spray, designer/label shoes, purses, skinny jeans, etc...

The above are all privileges, NOT entitlements. When a child, or adult for that matter, isn't pulling their load, they don't enjoy the fruits of hard work, and success.

There is no magic, or mystery to this, just CONSISTENCY, CONSISTENCY, CONSISTENCY.

Good luck, and be strong! Beryle

Sophomore daughter is failing most of her classes

Nov 2008

I looked in the archives under 'dropping out', unmotivated, etc., but mostly found stories of students leaving high school to take classes at a jc, etc. These don't quite fit our situation, so I thought I'd post our story.

Daughter is 15 - a sophomore. She has received poor grades since 8th grade, failing most of her classes. She has had educational testing and has been found to have no special needs, aside from moderate ADD. In my non-trained but parent focused eye, she seems to give up whenever faced with a challenge - she gets behind, or skips an assignment, or anything, and then can't get motivated to try to catch up, thus falling farther behind, until she gives up completely.

She is too young for the CHSPE, and hasn't finished sophomore year; doesn't seem interested in classes at a JC or anywhere; too young to work, but not passing high school. She says she likes her current school, but I suspect it's the social life she likes. When in a particularly open mood, she admits to being sad or depressed about everything.

My own theory - she has gotten herself into a corner that she can't get out of. Too stubborn, too far behind, too unmotivated, or something. And she doesn't want to talk about it at all and becomes completely closed off every time the subject of school is broached. not sure where to turn or how to help her.

not giving up

Dear parent of ''unmotivated teen'', My son was just like your I read your posting, I felt that your talking about my son... almost identical situation... now he is in 12th grade and finally doing better.(from failing classes with Fs and Ds to As and Bs)

Id like to recommend a book called ''EMPOWERING UNDERACHIEVERS'' by Peter A. Spevak, phD. The book is not the answer to the situation but it gave my husband and I some ideas what might have been going on with our son and from there, we somehow were able to struggle out of the situation. It's not an over night fix and he isn't totally out of woods yet but doing better and will be graduation next spring.

As a fellow parent, if anything I can do to help you, please do not hesitate to contact me...I can feel your pain, and I understand how powerless you might feel. Nobuko

Please check out your daughter's depression. I always had irregular menstrual cycles and even though that question was asked at physical exams, no doctor did anything about it. Well into my adulthood I found out those irregular cycles were a symptom of an underlying problem which was causing the depression I had since my youth. Regardless of whether or not your daughter has irregular cycles, there may be a physical problem which is impacting your daughter's ability to deal with challenges. I suggest taking your daughter to a whole health practictioner (i.e, accupuncturist or natureopath) who, unlike western practioners, is trained to deal with causes not symptoms. anon

You say your daughter has moderate ADD. This could be an explanation for her lack of motivation. If her ADD affects her performance and she is not getting positive results or feedback, she may not see the value of putting effort into her work. You might consider seeking professional help from either a behavioral pediatrician and/or an educational therapist to address factors such as structure, organization, and other interventions. Dr Brad Berman is an excellent behavioral pediatrician in Walnut Creek (925-279- 3480) and Linda Lawton is an educational therapist in Albany (easy4you [at] You can get more names from your pediatrician. Good Luck

Smart sophomore makes stupid errors on tests

Nov 2008

My son is a sophmore taking Math IIIA. He is very bright, and understands the math very well- all agree on this. Yet, he makes ''stupid errors'' on exams, etc. This has become a big problem, and this year his grade is seriously affected. We have seen very good tutors, but all seem baffled, and have little to offer, as he so clearly understand s the math. I feel that we need some type of math specialist or educational psychologist to help. it is so hard to see him fail, when he so clearly understands the concepts. We hjave already visited several of the highly recommended tutors on this site. Any ideas? looking for ideas

Hi. What kind of ''stupid errors'' does your son make on his math tests? Does he misread the problem? Does he make mistakes in arithmetic? Does he fail to show his work? Is he rushing to finish the test? How does he do on taking tests in other subjects? Does he have test anxiety in general?

How does he do on his math homework? Does he get perfect scores on his homework? If so, is it because he checks and rechecks his work to eliminate careless errors?

My experience with my daughter when she was in high school sounds a bit similar. She understood the concepts, but really was not interested in taking the time and making the effort to neatly write out all of her work so that she could easily double check her work. She would write tiny, partly erase equations and write over them, etc. In other words, the mechanics of going step by step to get the answer didn't interest her, only the general concept. Once she got the big picture, the mechanics were boring.

What helped my daughter was doing practice problems before a test. I'd go over them with her and point out careless errors so she could get a better feel for on what kinds of problems she was more likely to make mistakes. I extolled the virtue of writing neatly and writing out most steps in solving a problem. This was difficult for her as she wanted to rush ahead and get the answer, but sometimes the error she made was in the mental arithmetic in the step that she thought was too trivial to write down. That made it impossible to spot the arithmetic error when she was hurrying to double check her work at the end of a test.

I think your strategy is going to depend on the nature of the errors he makes on his tests and whether he has test anxiety. At a minimum, you might suggest that he try writing out all steps in solving a problem and also doing practice problems before test day. Janet

This could be a long shot, but your son's difficulties may be related to vision issues, around focusing. Kids with focusing issues are ''stressing'' so hard to see and keep track of the information in a problem that they make many apparently ''careless'' mistakes. Focusing (''convergence'') issues do not get picked up in a normal eye exam, and are easily overlooked as a cause, as bright kids often are able to compensate for years. And they aren't aware of having a vision problem, as they may have otherwise good vision, or good corrections with glasses. We didn't learn about this until our daughter experienced very similar difficulties in 8th grade algebra. Especially if your son also has headaches, or reads slowly, or seems to spend too much time on homework, you might investigate this. Treatment involves specialized eye exercises, at home and with a therapist. Tedious, but it works. Kids may still need to relearn some of their own work habits...but writing out every step of a problem is easier when it is less tiring to have to look at them all, though. One source for information is, in San Carlos. There are other in the area who deal with this specialized field (''vision therapy'') but I don't have details. Good luck. This is frustrating for kids (and parents). Been there

I am familiar with this kind of problem so I passed this note on to a friend who specializes in coaching for bright, non-conventional thinkers like your son. Here is what he said: \xc2\x93Your son ''knows'' the math, so it is not a content issue. It is a matter of ''learning how he thinks'' and translating that into terms that allow him to prosper academically. I have had past success developing customized approaches through dialogue with students like your son to have them explain how they are looking at the problem as a window into how they think. I would have your son explain to me how he approaches a math problem and narrate his thinking as he attempts to work through it. I'll question and make observations so that his thinking is made explicit to both of us and then applied to problem-solving. Once this deeper understanding takes hold, it often spills over to success in standardized test-taking, writing, organizational ability, and motivation. I offer myself as a resource. We could do an initial phone call, to get more information and possibly set up a session to see if my services might help. drj

I went through the exact same dilemma in math; all the concepts came easily, but I made bone head mistakes on a regular basis. By the time I got to HS, I coped by zooming through tests so that I had enough time to work each equation backwards to find errors. This worked mostly, and I started getting consistent A's. But I felt like a moron.

The unrecognized problem turned out to be \xc2\x97drum roll please \xc2\x97 mild dyslexia. I would read 58 as 85, or 1478 as 1487, etc. Or my brain would be moving much faster than my pencil, and the number that my brain was on would accidentally be written down.

It's common for mild dyslexia to be missed in very bright people. been there

17-year-old son is just not interested in school

May 2008

I have a son who just is not interested in school. He is almost 17. He does not do drugs or drink and so that is not a problem...he just does not find school interesting and so he does not do well. He is in therapy and was tested negative for ADD/ADHD but also tested quite bright academically. I would like some advice from any other parents who have had this issue. Did you find a high school that worked for your son/daughter? Did your child take the High School exit exam and just forget the whole thing and move on? He does not need a therapeutic high school as he is not a behavior problem. I do not want to push him into another, fruitless, year(s) of high school where all it does is destroy any self-esteem he has left. Any ideas would be highly appreciated. looking for advice

You didn't say if your son was at Berkeley High or not, but you guys might consider the Berkeley High Independent Studies program. It's not for slackers, it's pretty rigorous. I know several kids in it and are doing well. Most of them just couldn't handle the chaos in the classroom or had other things going on with them that they wanted to do as well as school. Your son needs to be self-motivated to be successful in the program. I would look into it. Call the office and speak with the Director. Find kids who are in it and ask them how it works for them. Good Luck. anon

My son is also very smart but was totally alienated from high school at Berkeley High. Unfortunately. most high schools do not relate to kids who are not on the ''high stress, AP run'' schedule. My son is has been at Holden High in Orinda for the last 18 months, and this school has addressed his needs and he now plans to graduate on time with his peers. It's small and provides enough support to all students to make them successful. Check it out. For those who need it, it's a life-saver. I can't rave enough about it! (925) 254-0199 Thrilled to Graduate

16-year-old daughter is failing high school

Jan 2008

My 16 y.o. step-daughter is failing high school. Last year when she got an F in a class, her father stepped in and tried to get counseling, tutoring and any kind of help he could from 40 miles away. Her mother has never offered her any help or explanation as to why she didn't say or do anything before this. (She and my husband don't have a custody agreement and my step-daughter spends time with us when she ''feels like it'' which these days is not often). This seemed to backfire in my husbands face...his daughter refused to talk to him, answer his calls, etc. for months. This devastated him and he felt he could do nothing right. Now things are on better terms between the two of them, (and us as well as she was mad at me too, of course...) but we just got her report card and she has 4 F's, a C-, and an Incomplete. She's a junior in high school. We are devastated. My husband is afraid to step in again for fear of the wrath of her mother and because his relationship with his daughter is finally on the mend. I've been in my step-daughter's life since she was 17 m.o. She is my daughter too. But alas, I am just the step-mom and have been told by many that it's not place to say or do anything. Meanwhile my heart is breaking that she is having this trouble and neither one of her parents is doing anything about it. I understand why my husband feels the way he does (and remember there's 16 years of history here and consequently many other reasons why he feels the way that he does) but I don't necessarily agree with how he is handling the situation. How do I support him through this? How do I get her the help she needs without seeming to interfere? between a rock and a hard place

Dear Step-Mom- I too was once your step daughter - all i can say is stick with it - be her advocate with the man you married her dad and don't let other issues cloud your judgement - my stepmother kept me connected to church,my step sibs and her own extended family she really made a diff in my life - go to counseling with her and get her a massage after (go see Betty Tharpe - 549-2092 near Rick & Ann's in oakland/berkeley area) massage therapy in another office right there - also facials - this is a great reward after the therapy! Anyway god bless you and don't give up! Jackie

Would you consider family counseling? Maybe you should insist you need it. You have been a wife and a step mom too long to be this ''outside'' of things. The daughter needs help and she is messing up her academic life to get attention. It could be worse, but there is no guarantee it will not get worse. This will affect the rest of her life if she can not get a positive grounding in high school. To get that many ''F's'' in high school means she is not only not doing the work, she is undoubtedly cutting class. What is she doing when she is not in class if this is the case? By causing pain in her life she is hurting the adults who she perceives are hurting her, this is a lot of drama, counseling can help you sort it out, it is worth a shot. Forty miles away is not like half way across the country. All my daughter's schools were always forty or more miles away and we did those commutes daily without a hitch. Therapy Believer

14-year-old's grades have progressively gotten worse

June 2007

My 14 year old son is a very bright 8th grader with ADD, and possibly some other issues (OCD? Depression? Video game addiction?) His grades started out as B's in 6th grade, and have progressively gotten worse, to C's, D's and F's. He has also had more behavior problems this year, and after being sent to the office one too many times, won't be able to participate in any of the graduation parties or end of the year activities at school.

No amount of threats or rewards have helped with the grades or the behavior. Mostly it seems like he really, truly, doesn't care. We go back and forth between leaning over his shoulder and inspecting every last homework assignment (which causes lots of fights and stress around the house, and only works a little bit on the grades) and letting him manage his homework himself (which he doesn't do). The middle ground doesn't work because he'll tell us he's done his homework when he really hasn't.

He's a nice kid--people like him--he has a sense of humor, and when he's not stressed, he's fun to be around. We're not having big behavior problems at home--just the normal teenager stuff. When school's out, we get along great.

I have many questions I hope some of you might be able to help with.

1. Has anyone ever heard of taking a year off between 8th grade and high school to do something else that would allow him to mature more, be more prepared for high school? I can't imagine what this would be, but some sort of alternative educational situation? I can't home school and can't afford private school.
2. Is there a good mental health practitioner out there who could diagnose and treat both his ADD (he's been diagnosed for this already) as well as other possible problems like depression? I don't think drugs and alcohol are involved at this point, though it wouldn't surprise me if at some point they are, so I'd like someone familiar with addiction too (I seriously do think he has a video game addiction). I've gotten referrals from my health ins. co., but I've never found anyone on their lists who's actually available, and if they are, no one I know has ever heard of them.
3. Are there any good parenting support groups out there that don't cost anything?
4. Have you tried anything that worked to motivate your teen?

Thanks albany parent

I\xc2\x92m a psychotherapist working with teens who have ADHD. Parents often say that their ADHD kids are unmotivated, and sometimes they are right. School isn\xc2\x92t very appealing when you don\xc2\x92t get good grades and people say it\xc2\x92s your fault; when schoolwork is harder for you and takes longer; when your distractibility makes you \xc2\x93check out\xc2\x94 during classes, homework, and even test situations so everything seems \xc2\x93boring.\xc2\x94 Sometimes teens with ADHD take refuge in video games. (You can do them again and again until you succeed, and nobody ever makes disparaging remarks.) Unfortunately some teens also take refuge in drugs or alcohol.

More than anything else, your son may need to have you and other people understand what school is like for him. Then he\xc2\x92ll need a specific plan for school success. You might want to read Mel Levine\xc2\x92s One Mind at a Time, and also the biographies of Jonathan Mooney and David Cole, two young people with ADHD and dyslexia, in their successful book, Learning Outside the Lines. Then go on to Russell Barkley\xc2\x92s Taking Charge of ADHD, which is a guide for parents. Caroline

Dear Albany Parent with 'unmotivated teen.' You might want to contact Holden High School in Orinda, a very small alternative high school which is easily reached by public transportation. Their # is 925-254-0199. They seem to have a knack for helping unmotivated kids find their way back to loving to learn and are well worth exploring. You could also check out their website. I'd be happy to talk with you about the school; my son will be a senior next year. Contact me at 925-256-6451 or at my e-mail address. best, Deb

I suggest a smaller school environment for your son, where the adults around him will know who he is and care whether he turns in his work or not. My daughter has been attending Envision Academy this year and I have seen many kids who started out as ''at risk'' students really turn it around. The classes are small, and theres an advisory teacher who is very good at keeping after the kids and their work (so you don't have to). The teaching and admin staff is very supportive, and my daughter brought her grades back up to a's and b's. I swear this isn't an ad. You can give them a call at 596-8901 or e-mail me if you have parent-type questions. Jenny

It costs money, it is on the east coast but I have seen a friend's son's life go from aimless and sliding to social and motivated because of the Hyde School in Maine. It is a huge time and money committment, but my friends don't regret a dime or a minute. Oakland friend's son's friend

Hi, My son had a lot of trouble in middle school, didn't do work, failed many classes. We also went through a phase of anger, frustration, berating and stress.

Then we read ''bright minds, poor grades'' and it helped us a great deal. It takes a no-stress approach that puts the responsibility in the kid's court. I really liked the approach and it worked. It takes a lot of HARD work and COMMITMENT but I can tell you - it works. My son is now 16 and doing all his work on his own and getting A's and B's with a C here or there.

The other thing we did was use our ''D is for disappear'' program. If he received a D in a class, or was missing an assignment - things would disappear - 2 times it was severe (from a progress report grade, or if we got a phone call) where he only had 2 outfits, one pair of shoes and everything else disappeared for one week or two. This will motivate a teen! sure it's harsh - but our point was - why should you get things when you aren't doing your ''work.'' How will your child survive as an adult if they get everything they need/want without working for it? He got the message that we were serious and his ''job'' was to get good grades, turn in assignments on time etc. All of this was done with very minimal lecturing and anger from the parents - just ''we said this would be the consequence and your actions triggered it'' We made a list of things that would disappear if we found out about missing assignments, bad grades etc. The teachers sent us a weekly or bimonthly report on whether there were issues in their class - including behavior - like talking too much etc. Check if your school will do this, most do. So at times, the cell phone was gone (devastating to our son) or other more minor disappearances...all discussed ahead of time - posted on his wall so he had no excuse when something came about.

The maturation process for some boys is very slow and very frustrating. Once you get over that - and stick to your plan, you will see progress. Also, as often as possible find ways to encourage and acknowledge where they have made progress (something the book also discusses). Sometimes i'd be annoyed or frustrated with the amount of work it all took on my part - but it was definitely worth it and he is growing up in front of our eyes! it happens - don't give up on them and roll up your sleeves.

Also try ''anger'' by thich naht hanh - good for the parents...on how to cultivate compassion for your son and others in your life. find motivation for your kids!

Your son sounds a lot like mine and I can say for starters that rewards and punishments don't work because these kids don't make the connection between cause and effect. My son's doctor said punishing him won't make him mature faster. We take our son to Dr. Brad Berman in Walnut Creek. It's worth the drive and the cost. He's amazing. Our son has ADHD and ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) - is very bright, doesn't need to study often (leading to a sense that he NEVER needs to), is delightful with friends and strangers, charming to other kids' parents and REALLY hard at home. Berman is calm, straight-forward, incredibly experienced. He talks to your child alone -- my son has a good relationship with him (even tho he says: I don't need to go to Dr Berman!).

Yes, there is an addiction to video games -- addiction is when your brain changes in response to playing them -- Berman is great at explaining that.

My son responds to humor and to people who ''get'' his humor - - with Berman that's check and double check!

Unfortunately motivation comes with maturation. But along the way get support! I have seen support groups posted on the wall of the doctor's office.

My son is 16 1/2 -- I'm just a small stretch up the road. Honestly, it doesn't get easier for awhile. You sound very level headed and realistic. I'm sending you cyber support! a mom on the same road

Bright 16-year-old has begun to dislike school

November 2006

My very bright 16 year old grandson has begun to dislike school. He is getting passing grades when he was usually an AB student. This began a year ago. His attitude is that school grades do not matter to him. He was very active in sports but this year he quit basketball at school, to concentrate on volleyball. He's been playing basketball on leagues since he was 6 years old. His parents are perplexed and very upset. There have been many arguments with him and he has left home. He thankfully calls me and I go pick him up. I don't know what to do. This is his junior year in high school. He's a good kid, well liked by his peers. He is the oldest in the family and has a younger sister who is also a basketball player and an A student. Any advice would be welcomed
Concerned Grandma

It is not clear what the reasons are for your grandson's current difficulties with his parents and with motivation to succeed in school, but our program may be of interest to you. At our program, your grandson could remain enrolled in his current school where he is enjoying sports and succeeding socially. He could concurrently take one or two individual courses with us in the areas where he is having the most difficulty. We are experts at building academic motivation in our students. We could also provide you with feedback about the reasons for his current disengagement from school.

We provide individual WASC accredited high school courses, and use a one-to-one approach (one teacher for one student) for students who need courses for various reasons. Our courses are UC approved. We use a mastery learning approach so your grandson would be sure to experience success in his classes at our school. If he does not do well on a test, we re-teach and re-test to be sure that he succeeds. Our hourly fees are the same as most tutoring programs in the area and the average semester course is completed in approximately 30 hours. Please call School For Independent Learners, East Bay Branch at 510-835-5505 if you would like more information. Karen

Hi Concerned Grandmother,
It is hard to say what is causing your grandson to act differently that has in the past but here are some ideas about what may be going on - see if any of these seem like they may fit his situation...

He could be feeling pressure from his parents to be a certain way (good student, good basketball player, etc.) and in response to the pressure and expectation he is moving in a different direction. Maybe he is afraid to fail or let them down so he doesn't want to try (one of my current clients in this situation). I am curious what it is about your relationship that is different from his parents that makes him feel comfortable calling you? That may be a place to look for some insights into what is going on.

Or he could be feeling pressure from his peers to be a certain way that is different from the way he has been. There is a tremendous amount of pressure to ''be cool'' that can cause teens to act out of alignment with who they really are and what they value. Being cool can sometimes become more important than anthing else. Something is definitely out of balance and I am sure that he is having a hard time as well as his parents.

Looking for alternatives for 15-year-old boy

May 2002

Hello, I need a recommendation for an alternative way of learning preferably a school that a 15 year old boy, who has been tested in the Contra Costa school system, and has been slated for remedial classes. He has a hard time concentrating, writing skills are poor, and very forgetful plus low self esteem. If someone can please recommend something in the Bay Area that would be helpful. Thank you in advance.

Recommendations received:

  • Arrowsmith Academy

    Underachieving 15-year-old

    April 1999

    What do you do with a 15 year-old freshman who has been described by a teacher as sometimes almost brilliant who just brought home 3 C's on his report card? With the note work turned in late/incomplete.

    A. drag him to a psychologist to discuss his feelings about his father's mental illness and disappearance
    B. punish him (how?)
    C. set up a reward (bribe)
    D. make him go to summer school, missing the family vacation, if his final grade is a C (this would go against other family values)
    E. other ______________
    F. all of the above

    His only input is that the teachers involved don't like him/he doesn't like them/or the work is boring.

    Thanks in advance for all your suggestions. I'm not feeling confident in my parenting of a teenager abilities.

    If I didn't know for sure that I didn't write that letter I would have thought it was from me. I have exactly the same situation. Exactly. right down to the comments teachers wrote on the report card (work not turned in). Same boring classes, teacher doesn't like me comments from my son. Last report card had two D's on it, one in Ceramics, if you can believe that. My smart 16-y-o son (at BHS) has been utterly unmotivated since jr. high. and his 13-y-o brother is close behind. I don't know how to solve this problem but I will tell you what I've tried, and what the result was. Maybe others on the list will have ideas. If not, we can at least cry together on the mailing list!

    1. punishments - I've tried all these for periods of a week to an entire grading period: come straight home after school, no TV, no video/computer games, no weekend sleepovers, no more allowance Result: no noticable results

    2. rewards - instead of allowance, hefty bonus for A's and B's, nothing for C's, deductions for D's and F's. Extra bonus of TV in his room for all As and Bs. Result: slight improvement first grading period but zero profits all grading periods since then and he never qualified for the TV

    3. nagging & lectures - Where do you want to be in 2 years? How will you live in the Bay Area on miniumum wage? How will you get into college with a 2.3 GPA? When I was in High School All the Things you Have that I Didn't Have etc. etc. etc. Even his friends nag him about his crummy grades. Result: if he's feeling happy, he says either I guess I'm just lazy or Mom - think of what you're doing to my self-esteem If his self-esteem is low, or I push him too hard, he says: You just want me to be perfect! I'm not like you were! and there is a big screaming fight and we both feel terrible for days .... I know self-esteem does come into this, but how do you preserve their self-esteem while still trying to prevent them from making huge mistakes?

    4. private school - my son takes this as a threat. Very possibly this might have helped, but he loves the social life at BHS so much, and it is so important to him to be with the friends he's known since kindergarten, that I have never seriously considered this.

    5. tutoring - this is about the same as trying to get him to do regular school work, only there is an additional person also trying, and you have to pay them to do it. The problem is not that he doesn't understand the material - he doesn't want to do it. The tutor also wasn't able to convince him to do it.

    6. phoning/meeting with teachers - Result: predictable (He doesn't turn in the work) This can also have the undesired effect of turning the teacher's attention to a previously unnoticed poor student, which has a couple of times for us meant even WORSE grades - now the teacher is expecting lousy performance from your kid so even if he improves, he may be already tagged for failure. On the other hand, I think it's good to meet with the teacher now and then so your kid knows you are interested, and that you care about his school work and are trying to find a way to make things better.

    7. meeting with the school counselor - This was beneficial. The counselor listed all the classes and credits he's taken and he is actually not doing as badly as we thought, even though his grades suck, as he puts it. She had some helpful suggestions (find a study group). We felt encouraged. She also suggested we NOT take him off his jr. varsity team, something we had considered, because outside activities help with college applications. I also realized that being on the team is a big part of his identity, and that it helps him feel important and useful, so it would be devastating to have that taken away even if it interferes with his academic performance, which I am not so sure about.

    8. talking with my friends - this helps a lot. Everyone has stories of the sister/nephew/husband/son who went thru high school with a C average and then blossomed in college when he found his niche. Or even later than college. Or maybe never, but he's a really nice guy and everyone loves him. Seriously, some of my friends have teenagers who are brilliant in school, same schools as my kids all the way through, have fabulous GPA's and all sorts of extra-curricular activities, and are highly self-motivated, seemingly right out of the womb. That does get discouraging and it's hard to acknowledge that my kid just isn't like that. But it still helps to talk to other parents, because there are all sorts of kids, some better off than yours but some worse off too.

    9. focusing on his good points - He's a personable guy, enjoyable to be around, has a good bunch of friends. These attributes can sometimes be more useful in life than stellar grades. And we have a pretty good relationship and he has never given me any problems with bad or risky behavior, which I am grateful for. I hardly ever tell him I appreciate these qualities, and I should do it more, now that I think about it - it seems like they can't get enough praise. He doesn't say anything back, but if I just say You look nice in that shirt his face lights up!

    Anyway, I hope you don't put too much blame on yourself, because there are a lot of us out here struggling with the exact same problem, and there don't seem to be any easy solutions, at least not that I've found. But I'm always open to new ideas, so if anyone has something, send it on!

    What has worked for me with my 14 year old son has been a combination of reward and punishment. For reward he gets more of what he wants such as more time for playing on computer, sleeping later on weekends, watching more TV and...... For punishment he looses privileges and things he wants the most such as things mentioned above.
    This situation sounds just like my 14 year-old, down to the sometimes almost brilliant who just brought home 3 C's work turned in late/incomplete. First, the parenting of teenagers just isn't something to feel that confident about unless your child is a mutant. Having a child who is brilliant but won't do the work is a constant struggle! Don't give up.

    In your multiple choice test use psychology, punishment and witholding sparingly; I have had the best results with bribes and threats. If you use bribes, give the reward and then threaten to withdraw it if the desired behavior doesn't materialize. For example, put the phone in the bedroom, but clearly state that if there's more than one C (or whatever standard you want to hold him to) that the phone will be removed. It's a you catch more flys with honey than vinegar thing.

    Most importantly, (at least to me) don't sacrifice other family values unless absolutely necessary. Seek out some large privelege or material thing he wants, and either tie it to the report card or give it and say it will be taken away if the standard isn't met.

    Above all, be consistent and follow through. Do what you say you'll do. If you make a threat and fail to follow through, all you've done is teach him that your threats are meaningless.

    This approach works for me and my daughter, I hope it works for you!

    reply to underachieving 15 year old

    It might be worth screening him for a brain disorder/mental illness. You mention that his father has a mental illness, and sometimes those are hereditary. I don't know what his dad has, but if a teen is struggling with bipolar disorder, depression, or ADD, their life can get pretty out of control. Treating the underlying illness might help him get back on track.

    The only thing that is more challenging than parenting a teenager is parenting a teenager with a mental illness, but it can be done. Finding out if there is anything going on with the brain chemistry can really help. Best wishes to you.

    If there's something like the jr varsity that your kid is on, enjoys, and which plays a major part in life, perhaps you can capitalize on this: can you talk to the coach and get some advice passed along to the child through him/her? Advice always sounds much better and more reasonable to a child when it doesn't come from a parent.
    April 1999

    I would like to request advice. My 16-year old daughter is a sophomore at Albany High. Though all her teachers consider her quite bright, she seems to have enormous difficulty with homework, which is absolutely required at Albany, and with personal organization in general -- she cuts a lot of class. She is also extremely stubborn and inclined to be a free spirit -- she is pretty regularly a behavior problem in class. Her gradepoint average is currently zero-point-something. She is now considering transferring to MacGregor High, where she thinks she can get back on track and hopefully return to Albany to graduate her senior year. Transferring to another district is not really an option for us and private sckool is out of the question (besides, with her GPA, who'd have her?). She has been tested by a Berkeley learning specialist, Andora Freeman, who said there was no reason she shouldn't be getting at least B's. She did get straight B's her first quarter at Albany High, but something happened the second quarter and it was all down hill from there. I have been told that MacGregor considers itself an alternative skool and is not necessarily a dumping ground for troubled kids. Does anyone know any MacGregor success stories? Horror stories? Are there other public alternative schools/programs in the Albany/Berkeley area that we might consider??? My daughter is also in therapy and her therapist is flummoxed as to how to motivate her to succeed in school.

    My daughter was in her junior year at Bishop O'Dowd when her problems surfaced. It's not necessary to describe them, however we were able to find great resources for help within the Berkeley Public Schools and then the Piedmont Public Schools. We went the home schooling route with Berkeley Public Schools, and then once my daughter determined that she wanted more structure and we read an article about the Piedmont Public Schools alternative high school needing students, we did an intra-district transfer (totally legal and all we did was call into the District Headquarters, request the transfer, and it was done). If there are openings at Piedmont, I would highly recommend that you at least give them a call and see if it's at all appropriate for your daughter. My daughter graduated from there and is now at DVC and last semester, earned a 4.0 average. She is more self-motivated than ever. She continues with her therapy and peer group. She is looking towards transferring to Santa Cruz. I think, in looking back, that the best approach to take to what you describe is being open to other options -- it's a lot of work to seek out alternatives, but when things are not working out in a current situation and there don't seem to be any clear reasons, it's best to find different structures and other people who might be able to work with you. Good luck.
    My 22 year old nephew went from Albany High to MacGregor.... (See MacGregor High School for these recommendations)
    I thought about your posting a good deal last night; it sounded very much like an experience that many parents of teens go through. Far be it for me to offer advice, our daughter struggles mightily in school, works really hard and manages C+/B-, so we're hardly experts. But if I can offer my $.02. I'm wondering, though, if this isn't something more than a learning skills issue. Grades are, perhaps, the obvious manifestation. But could something else be going on perhaps?

    I wonder if sometimes there isn't a mother-daughter issue sort of built in to this period of life, something that fathers never experience with daughters.

    And I wonder, too, how parents avoid the trap of being constantly picking on the negative stuff when there seems so much negative, and instead find ways to glow about the positive stuff, to have faith that everything we've done in the previous years of life is enough, and that this individual that we have nurtured up to now is ready to be on his/her own more, how we find a different way to parent from how we did it when our child was 10 or 12. It seems to me that just when I've figured out how this works, we have moved on to something different and I'm having to learn all over again. I wonder sometimes how I can be so thick.

    Alternative School for Unmotivated Teen?