underachieving 17 yr old
My son is a good kid and gets decent grades but my husband & I know he isn't working up to his potential. With a minimal increase in effort his grades could be even better than they are. Trouble is he doesn't care. Positive incentives ($$, a new guitar, etc) haven't worked and negative incentives/punishments (taking away privleges) definitely hasn't worked. He has even said "Short of you buying me a car there isn't anything you can do to motivate me" and we most definitely won't be buying him a car (although part of the current positive incentive strategy involves our contributing to the car fund - amount based on grades). This kid is half-way through junior year, is motivated to go to college and have a successful career and completely understands the need for him to do is best in school - especially this year. His GPA is slipping instead of inching higher. His love of mediocrity is maddening! We want the home life to still be a happy, loving one so we don't harp on him constantly. In fact we try to carefully time our discussions to take place when he seems to be in a happy, upbeat, receptive mood. Are we supposed to just accept this lack of motivation? Even his guidance counselor and other "non-parent" sources of encouragement lack the ability to light the fire under his butt. Do we simply accept that this is how he is hard-wired and shrug our shoulders and be grateful for all the good stuff? That's what we have been doing for the past couple of years. I just know he will look back a few years from now and say "I wish I had put in that extra effort.." Any suggestions?
Your message was particularly poignant for me to read since my own son was so similar in high school. Back then I painstakingly reviewed all the motivational research which essentially suggests that we pick our battles with kids like this, since applying too much pressure can be a "win-the-battle/lose-the-war" scenario where the bad feelings can outweigh the gains and lead to problems much worse than mediocre grades. When my son turned 16 (the same kid who fought me tooth and nail if I ever got involved in his schoolwork) he angrily complained, "Why didn't you force me to do raise my grades when I was 14? Then I wouldn't have to work so hard now!"
Well, that same kid just finished a straight-A semester at college, an outcome that likely would not have happened had I gone to war with him over unfulfilled potential years ago. For now, HE has decided that he wants to excel, and that is the only motivation that can make a college student work hard and happily.
So focus on his heart, and tell him what makes you so proud of him, and just softly ask if he's happy with his grades. When he says "YES!" just smile and walk away. The odds are that when you stop nagging he'll start hearing a small voice inside of him begin to nag, perhaps the same voice that helped my son hang straight A's.
Dr. Mike Bradley
Like Marybeth above, I too have an underachieving 17 year old. Our concern is that his grades are not great, but ok (he could do alot better with little effort) - he wastes alot of time playing video games (we have put a limit of 1 hour a day on these), and he is not doing anything constructive with his free time. During the summer he was on the golf team but now he has alot of free time. We are encouraging/on the verge of forcing him to get a part time job. One reason is that HE agreed to pay $100 per month ($75 during the school year with incentives to lower the cost for good grades) for the Country Club Golf Membership he begged us to buy a year and a half ago. So far he has kept up his end of the bargain through money made by mowing lawns. Well, he has run out of money, and now because he does not want to get a job, said to just "give back the membership". We don't feel this is a good option, because others in the family use it and also pay towards it (we know he will want to use it in the spring because he is trying to get a golf scholarship). He is not motivated by money, car, etc. He doesn't care if he has money and his friends drive him everywhere. What are our options????
same kid one year later
we've survived another year and he's gotten in to his top choice college, is an eagle scout and is holding good grades however he is smoking pot fairly regularly (1-2 times/week is my guess), admits to using it, liking it and prints articles for us declaring it safe in moderation. He argues with our rigidity on the matter (zero tolerance from us, punishments including being grounded, taking cell phone, limiting internet/facebook). He states he sees absolutely no problem with continued use now and in the future. He refuses to accept the info we throw back at him regarding the dangers (mostly as laid out in your book: potency, gateway drug, legal issues,etc). He owned paraphanalia and a bag of pot which we recently found & threw out and he actually has the nerve of demanding we reimburse him the $ he spent on the pot!!!! Despite his great successes thusfar in life he has little to no discipline and self control (self-admitted) and we worry about his health & safety. Given this lack of self control, we are VERY concerned about the choices he will likely make when he's independent of us at school: smoking pot, drinking and who knows what else? How do we deal with this?! It's hard to love and support a kid who is taking a stand in direct opposition to us and our and society's view on pot smoking. We won't be condoning it, we will maintain our zero tolerance but for months now we are in a constant state of tension and negativity. He's sucking the joy out of every situation we can and should be happy about. HELP!