18 answers

My 14 Year Old Doesn't Seem to Care If He Fails...

My son who just turned 14 and is now in the 7th grade isn't doing what he needs to in order to succeed. He does just enough to get by and that's it. I've had this problem with him since last year and thought that we had got through to him by the end of last year and wouldn't have to deal with it this year, but it's the same old story this year too.
Although this year he is turning in homework on time most of time. This year he tends to just rush through it all and gets terrible grades. He's even admitted to rushing through it and has said he'll try to do do better now, but I've not seen any effort from him since our school quarter end conference at the beginning of November.
We as parents can go online and look at their progress reports and I'm still seeing where he is missing half the problems or more. I checked on his homework he did the other night and over half of it was wrong. He has three F's, one D and one C for the second quarter at this point.
I know that he can do it, but he's rushing to get it done to be able to spend time with his friends. I have taken all the things he likes away including friend time to discipline him and told him that this is his #1 priority. He's been on what I call "lock down" in the past and that really didn't do a whole lot to get him motivated. I've even been told by the principal that if all things are taken away that it doesn't give them any thing to look forward to, so they tend to still not care.
He says things like I don't trust him and that he won't fail, but with grades like this he is definitely going to fail. He has excuses for all the things I ask him about on his progress reports. If there's extra credit he can get I ask him about it and he'll say it's too late that he can't do that now because you had to turn it in by a certain time. I'm like, so why didn't you do it in the first place? He's been told to do extra credit anytime it's offered. I've only seen him study for a few tests this year. He tells me that he did it in study hall, but the test grade reflects that he must not of studied. I've told him that any time there is any kind of test he needs to bring the material home to study for it, but I rarely see it.
I've been through all the disciplinary actions that I know to and can't get any where with him. He's been told there's consequences for his actions and that his privileges are taken away until he can show that he's responsible.
Please help!!! I don't know what else to do. I'm hoping that there is another option out there, because I feel like I've run out of options at this point.

What can I do next?

Featured Answers

Hi K. -- Honestly, I'd put the whole responsibility on him. If he asks for help organizing or problem-solving, give it to him, but make him be the initiator. Bad habits have consequences and flunking may be one. Flunking and/or repeating a year could be just what he needs (although not what any of you wants). It may get him thinking.

Oh! When he brings home bad grades, don't be angry at him. Be sad for him. Remind him that bad grades are the consequence of his behavior and to be expected. Maybe, if this persists, you'll have to sadly tell him that this means he'll have to go to summer school instead of camp, or some such.

It's much easier to give advice than to take it! Good luck! -- L.

More Answers

Hi K.
I am no expert but this is what has motivated my 9yr old and I would think it would work better the older they are. I have told my son that if he dosen't slow down and hand in quality work then I will need to come and sit next to him to remind him what needs to be done. He is highly embarrssed by his mom comeing into school and so I knew this would get him to straighten up. If you have to take a morning and go to all his classes with him you probably wont need to sit by him. let him know your doing it so you can get a better understanding of how he learns and how the teachers teach. If this dosent work. You may want to try to give him something to look forward to for getting better grades. Good luck I know how Frustrating it can be. T.

Our son is 17. Went through pretty much the same as you. He is very smart, but does not have much interest in applying himself. Last year- he failed World History-OK, so we sign him up to make it up the next semester-he fails it again! Now he has to take it in summer school, this past summer and due to certain circumstances, he ends up in a bad neighborhood. Yes-it was quite the culture shock. He is a Senior and we can't believe it-he's more responsible-we're not reminding him to get his homework done and he brought home all A's and B's-first time ever!!! Looking back on it we wish we had sent him to summer school years before- maybe his GPA would be respectable. Good Luck! L.

Hi K.,

Have you considered that your son might be bored and not at all challenged by his coursework? Have you ever had his IQ tested? People with higher IQs often talk about being incredibly bored in school, to the point that they stop caring. The fact that your son rushes through his work is a sign that this might be the case.

Is homeschooling an option? Is a charter school, or taking classes at a community college an option? We seem to think that a one-size-fits-all approach to schooling is the way to go.

Also, in a lot of European countries, secondary education ends around 16. From there, kids go on to college or to learn a trade. I think we could learn a lot from these other education models.

Hi K.,
We also have a 14 year old son. I'm going to recommend a couple of books. "Hold on to your kid, why parents matter more than peers" "Teen Breakthrough, the Relationship Approach". Just look them up at your library. They are very useful. There is so much emotional stuff going on with teens, to keep a connection is key. It's hard to motivate someone who does not seem to want to be motivated.
Best of luck,
homeschool mom and home business owner

I went through a period like this way back when and it was because I wasn't challenged enough...I was bored with it. So, one thing you might look into is if he really can do it is to see if it is too easy and he just skims through the problems to say he's done so he can do something else. If that is the case, try to get him into a more advanced class or talk to his teacher to see if he/she can make it more interesting. Try to connect the school subject with something else he's interested in. For example, to create computer games, one needs to know math, coordinates, and equations as well as life lessons of cause and effect.

Unfortunately, I'm seeing this same behavior in my 7yo son and what has worked for him (so far) is 15 minutes of homework (without distractions -- away from the tv) and then 15 minutes of play or TV time. After that, I sit with him and go over what he did, and help him figure out what he got wrong and why. I do not tell him the answers but ask him questions to help him figure it out.

You may have to take time to work with him and actually sit with him while he does his homework and have him tell you how he arrives at the answers. If he says he did it in study hall, have him bring it home so you can see it and go over it with him. If he says "you don't trust me" tell him that he's betrayed your trust and needs to earn it again. The records show that he hasn't done what he said he would do and how would he feel if you didn't follow through on things he wanted/expected/needed from you??? Turn it around for him to think through and realize that he's doing more damage to the people around him and himself for now AND the future than he might realize. Most kids don't see the full effect of their actions or consider any effects of their actions beyond one or two steps away. But we've all seen how one bad apple at the top can spoil the entire bag...even the one farthest away. He needs to understand that it isn't just that his homework isn't being done correctly and getting bad grades, it's also that he is changing his relationships with you, the rest of the family, his school/teachers, as well as jeopardizing his future career which would limit the number and kinds of toys (video games, stereos, car, home, etc) and free time he can afford on his own.

My son likes to just guess and write something to have it done... I've told him that homework is like anything else...it will reflect the effort/concentration put into it. (Again, like a video game, if you don't pay attention, you lose...if you don't pay attention to homework, you lose. In both, if you lose, you have to repeat that same level and can't move forward in the game, school, or life, until it is completed.)

Good luck! and I'm sorry for the book! :)

I didn't have that problem until my oldest (16) hit her freshman year in high school. Last year for your son could have been a hard year trying to adjust to middle school. They go to having only three teachers a day to 7 in most cases. You are taking on too much. The best teacher in this is failure. I know you don't want you son to fail. None want our child to fail but to get them to understand that this is important is a hard leason to teach. He might be a C student which is okay. Don't punish for C's praise him for every B and A he gets. Failure is not an option so when he is doing bad then let him know that he must lose out on things. Reward like this, and it has helped. For every A extra hour of computer or TV time. Every B half hour. Nothing for C's. D's and F's you take time away and he has to use it for study time. Sit with him while he doesn't his work and ask along the way to see if he truly understands. I also had a brother that until highschool had a learinging problem. If we was given a writen test he would fail, but when the same test was given orally he would pass. For what ever reason, when he tried to put it on paper it would come out all wrong, but when he would tell the teacher he got it write. Don't let him slack but reward and punish like that and you might see a change. Will take time but try for a grading period and see if it helps and Good luck

K., I know exactly what you're going through. When our son was 13/14,(now 18, senior in HS)we had the same problem. We didn't know what to do, so we hired a tutor which helped. When he was a Junior (last yr), he again didn't care anymore. He kept telling us he would make up ALL his credits as a Senior. Now as a Senior, he is REALLY struggling. I have tried everything I can think of to help him graduate. I spoke to his teachers to work with me. They have been very helpful with me but I found out that our son (and yours) has to want to do this. He recently talked about dropping out and working full time. When we found out, I was crushed. My husband and I sat him down and talked to him. We explained that he really needs a HS diploma to get anywhere these days...
An hour later, he agreed to try again. I guess it's harder for us because he's now 18 (an adult) but still lives under our roof. I have faith in him and believe he will do this.
Take your time with your son, sit him down and talk to him, hopefully things will work out. Good luck.

I was your son, in middle school and early high school i really didn't care about school work and did just enough to get by and stay eligible for sports but that was it. Part of it started b/c i had better things to be doing and the course work was easy for me and also i just didn't really care I had no concept of planning for the long run. Then once i got started down that road i didn't see a way back to good grades.

Over all i think i am an intellegent person and i did pass high school and got a 26 on my act.

I would suggest that you talk to your son about what he wants out of life. What job does he want, what kind of lifesyle is he planning.Then do research with him and find out what kind of education is required for those jobs. Is he planning on going to college, look up the enterance requirements for that college. Once he has that in mind work with him to set goals. Small goals such as raising each class by a certain percentage. And have him help you set limits and rewards for reaching or not reaching those goals.

I had the same problem with my 13 year old. We asked both of our boys what they would like as an incentive to work towards. If they bring home all A's they get what they asked for. My 13 year old this year has chosen video games for each report card with all A's, my 10 year old would like a lap top and we told him all report cards must have A's on it. It took a year to really get them motivated and realize that we will follow through on our end if they follow through on theirs. And now its working great and I don't have to worry about their grades.

Have you ever heard of a book called Parenting with Love and Logic by Jim Fay??? It is an excellent book for teens who need a little nudge in the right direction. The basic premise of this book is that children tend to disobey because they don't feel like they have enough control. So what this book does is teach parents how to give their kids choices that would allow the kids to feel like they have more control. For example, instead of saying, "Look here young man, you need to do your homework right now!" you might say, "Which subject are you going to work on first?" Another example might be, "You got 3 D's on your report card. I know you can do better than that!" you might say, "Wow, look a those D's. I would feel really bad about those. What is your plan for getting those grades up?" In both of these senerios you put the problem in the child's hands. It is now HIS problem and not yours. Which is true. You already did your work in school and are done. Now your son has to make the choices to do what is best for him but if you take away his best choice - to study - by telling him he MUST study to get his grades up then he feels like he has lost control.

Your son's actions are his own problem and you need to let go enough so that he can be allowed to make some coices on his own. Now is the best time because when he fails you can comfort him help guide him to make better choices rather than waiting for him to grow up and not know who to make responsible choices. This is a training process and is done in love -a lways sad and sincere when he fails and praising him for good choices. You just changed your role as a parent by becoming his confidente and counselor (as he trusts you) and his cheerleader to spur him on. In this senerio, you are telling him that you trust him to make choices for himself.

It doesn't mean that the consequences go away totally but if you say, "You must have a B on your report card (or whatever) or this will happen. How do you think you will make that happen?" Then if he doesn't get a B then you say, "I'm so sorry that you didn't get that B. If I were you I would be feeling really bad right now. Remember what I said would happen if you didn't get a B? I'm sorry but I must keep my end of the bargin.

Anyway, it is one of my favorite parenting books because it gives the kids control over what they can do, trains them to make good decisions and realize the natural consequences of certain actions. I hope you take my advice and read the book. It is an easy to read book and not too long.

I went through this myself at ages 13 and up. I never did well in school until college (Jr college & then a university). My Mom tried punishment, grounding me, etc. But what I really needed was help with my work. Help knowing what to do about school work, like how to study, how to organize my assignments. I didn't figure that out until I was in college.
Also at the time, my Mom had just gotten remarried & my Dad was spending all his time with his girlfriend, so I was left to fend for myself.

As it possible that your son is in with the wrong crowd? Not necessarly bad kids, just lazy kids. Are there any activities/clubs he can join to be around kids who want to achieve?

Best of luck to you!!!

Hi K. -- Honestly, I'd put the whole responsibility on him. If he asks for help organizing or problem-solving, give it to him, but make him be the initiator. Bad habits have consequences and flunking may be one. Flunking and/or repeating a year could be just what he needs (although not what any of you wants). It may get him thinking.

Oh! When he brings home bad grades, don't be angry at him. Be sad for him. Remind him that bad grades are the consequence of his behavior and to be expected. Maybe, if this persists, you'll have to sadly tell him that this means he'll have to go to summer school instead of camp, or some such.

It's much easier to give advice than to take it! Good luck! -- L.

Not caring is an indication of depression. My daughter went through her junior high and early high school years with the same attitude. Unfortunately, she found herself pregnant at 15. She now has a child, but during her pregnancy, we found that our beautiful daughter was clinically depressed. They started her on meds, which I denied most of her life because I usually detest the idea. I found myself with the child I always dreamed she could be. She now has goals, prior to this, goals were unheard of. She went from D's and F's to B's and C's, and is continually improving. I'm not suggesting that your son is depressed. But maybe talk to your family doctor, and possibly get a referral to find out. Most of my daughters early school years, I was told by the teachers she was a.d.d., but when we had her tested the doctors said she was not a.d.d., we never dreamed she had depression.

If you haven't done so already, you need to enlist the school for help. Where my children attend middle school, you can have them go to an addtional study hall during their lunch hour. I have requested the teachers help me with the accountability part of getting the work done. It has really made a difference.

I understand how hard it is with the age differences in your home. If it is possible, you or your husband should take the 2 1/2 year old out of the equation for a 1/2 hour to an hour each evening and simply sit at the table with your son and go through each class and homework assignments. Some quiet one on one time might help. I do know that sounds pretty easy on paper, but it has worked at my home. I have four children 13, 11, 5, & 2.

If you want to talk live about other strategies send me a note and I will give you my phone number. We had a very eye opening moment last week with my 13 year old. She likes a lot of nice things and we talked about how her education was really important and the foundation for whatever jobs she may want in the future. I think she gets that you can not shop where she likes if you can only get a minimum wage job.

Good luck,

I would check out Dr. Ray Guarendi's website www.drray.com. He has a book called Discipline that Lasts a Lifetime and I believe a separate book dealing with teenagers. He and his wife have adopted 10 children with their youngest being around 8. He is a psychologist and have seen it all with their children.

I have the same issue with my son, I took away games, time with friends nothing worked .The problem with my son was he never wants to do his homework , i told him he needs to be more responsible so he can graduate
8th grade however he just didn't care. The principal told you to take away things, which might work for some children but not for the willful child. my son was failing math and science, so I decided to call both teachers and asked them why my child was failing and what he can do to pick up his grades and they both told me he doesn't participate in class and of course missing homework assignments. I was very upset because all the times my son lied to my face ,I have no homework mom!! So I told both teachers please keep him after school rest of the year if you have to, we need to do something to teach him responsibility. my sons math teacher didn't care and said don't worry your son will still pass 8th grade, so I told her I don't want him to pass if he doesn't know what he is doing. unbelievable right?? However his science teacher was absolutely wonderful and agreed to keep him after school every tuesday for rest of the year and help him with not only science but math also. my son was livid, but he got over it. Now he turns in all his work and picked his grades up to a B in science and math a C. I also learned a vauable lesson their are teachers who love teaching and really care and some that should not teach at all. It only takes one good teacher to make a difference. I hope this will help you, good luck to you and your son.

Hi K.--I don't have any teenagers yet, but I know what works for my little boys and maybe it will work for you too: POSITIVE reinforcement. I really try very hard to catch my boys being good and I verbally praise them every chance I get--even for seemingly small things. And I also allow them to work toward things they want--through sticker projects or bonus bucks.

Maybe you have to start small and praise him for getting Ds and then Cs, but it can progress from there. Praise him for every good thing he does! And as far as earning things through good behavior, it may seem like bribery, but our view as parents is that our boys learn what are good behaviors and we learn how to be positive people. And of course it isn't all roses--there are lots of days of disappointments and setbacks. But we learn from those too.

I don't know if this helps, but I wish you all the best luck!

K. - I can SO relate to your story! Is this his first year in middle school? If so, maybe there are just too many distractions. If he has a cell phone, I'd use that as one of the first things to take away. And then Xbox time, TV time, etc. if he has any of that. I've just implemented a "if I see any D's or F's on tests or homework, consequences will happen". And they will get worse as time goes. They can earn their privileges back.
The thing you might try is incentive. Think of his school work like a job - the more effort he puts in, the more reward he'll get. Consider paying him for good grades - like he'd get at work. Or set up some sort of non-monetary reward system. Celebrate his successes. Try to turn things to the positive direction by having him reach certain goals - which means you'll have to find out what makes him tick. Be sure to work with teachers and have him go in before or stay after school. I believe teachers will give kids the benefit of the doubt if grades are borderline if they see the effort being put forth. You have a lot of school years left - good for you for nipping this in the bud right now! Do you know if his reading skill is at grade level? If not, he could be struggling. His testing should reveal issues, but you can pursue that further. I've threatened my kids that I will gladly come and sit in their classroom with them. That's pretty embarrassing for kids that age.

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