17 Year Old Genius Son Unmotivated in School

Updated on April 01, 2010
D.C. asks from Rockwall, TX
28 answers

Here's the deal: Talented and gifted kid. Typical. Straight A's til Jr High. Takes advanced placement classes. Loves school. Plays sports. Has Friends. Involved in church. Very outgoing. All good. In Jr High, he started having trouble with organization and remembering things and getting easily distracted. His grades were affected. We've kept good communication open with him. He tells us sometimes he just doesn't care and then sometimes he tells us he knows he can't recover his GPA so he is discouraged with trying hard for nothing. Sometimes he tells us he cares very much and he just doesnt know why he is slacking. He says honestly he'd just rather do other things besides homework. He has a very positive attitude about it but it's just bothering me so much that he was an A student and now its mostly low C's and occasionally failing up until report card time. We have punished appropriately week to week for efforts made but I am at my wits end. We are in touch with his counselor and I just feel like we have tried everything with only minor improvement. Do I just need to accept that he is not going to reach his potential in his last two years of high school and look forward to him figuring things out in a different environment in college? Should I come down harder on him? What did you do if you've been in this situation? I really am looking forward for parents who have already been through this. Thanks so much in advance.

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So What Happened?

Thank you to everyone. It just really helps to know that I am not the only one who is trying desperately to be a good parent. We are going to discuss alternative options for classes such as dual credit courses and have him write down his goals for the next few years to help keep him focused and really try to hear what he wants in his life. Thanks again to everyone. I am encouraged.

Featured Answers

J.L.

answers from Dallas on

Great advice from others, but what popped into my mind is,
have you ruled out drug use? Statistically, a sudden change like this can mean drug use. Just another avenue to rule out.

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E.C.

answers from Dallas on

Have him tested for ADD/ADHD now, before it gets worse. If that is not the problem, it may be depression that he just doesn't realize. Don't wait around for advice.

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A.S.

answers from Lubbock on

This same thing happened to me I would have him test for add.I didnt want to be tested when I was that agw but I was and I had it and when i got on the medicine my grades went right back up.i eended up graduating in the top ten percent of my class.If you have any questions send me a message

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M.G.

answers from Dallas on

I taught in the public schools for 6 years, and I saw this every year, and it was all for different reasons. First, even your AP classes in public school are nowhere near coming close to comparison to the regular classes you remember. Everything is so dumbed down, which is why so many professors have been complaining each year that students are coming in without the necessary knowledge for college courses. Now, that's another thread, though. My point is no matter how "challenging" his classes are, it's probably not a truly challenging class. Lately AP has become another name for a class involving more work -- not more learning, just more work unfortunately.

Also, it could be that he doesn't feel like he fits in like everyone else fits it. He's involved, which is very typical of the regular teenager of course, but it's also something that those who feel "different" do. They involve themselves in a lot of different things so they have to be placed in with those groups. That doesn't mean that he is treated the same as everyone else. More and more I saw students failing tests because their friends thought it was funny. If they aced it, they were teased. I had students tell me after class at the beginning of the year that I not let anyone know how well they did. Some students beg to not even have the possibility of others seeing.

Keep in mind I'm not saying that he fits into any particular one of these, but this is what I've seen through the years in grades 8-12.

It's definitely something to sit down and have a heart to heart. Don't make him feel bad for it, but try to find out why he's thinking the way he is. Affirm him at all times (but not necessarily around his friends as that may make things worse if he fits into that particular category).

It doesn't at all sound like depression to me. There's a difference with students who are depressed, but it's hard to explain. I saw where someone mentioned counseling, but I think honestly that it might make it worse unless you feel that there is a dire need for it.

It sounds like he knows who he is but can't see who he can be or who he might not allow himself to be. If you or someone close to him made poor choices in school similar to his and struggled later on, it might be beneficial for that person to just lay all of that out there for him to see the difficulties ahead for him if he continues to not care.

I hope things change, but remember that you have raised him to be a strong young man. It is now in his hands how he handles it. Sometimes we mothers have to stand by and watch our children fall in order for them to realize what they need to do. It's so hard because we want to catch them before they hit hard, but sometimes it takes that to open ones eyes. Good luck to you, Mama, and I pray that fall doesn't even happen with him!! :o)

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J.H.

answers from Amarillo on

You are being too hard on him. After years of stressing out on getting A's , homework, studying, and it sounds llike not doing anything fun, your mind finally breaks. I think it is you that wants the prestage of straight A's insttead of thinking he is smart and going to be fine. Let up on the pressure, and he will probably go up in grades. My sister-in-law was teacher of the year, and has taught for years, and says sometimes the b and c students do better out in the world than the A ones do, and I could give you reasons, but anyway, my best advice, is it sounds like you have a good kid. let up.

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A.C.

answers from Dallas on

My 17 yr old daughter has chosen to get out of public school and try different things. She was really tired of the emotional drama in high school and tired of all the wasted time spent in class (we had home-schooled earlier in her life and she realized how much material we covered and how much playtime there was when we weren't doing schoolwork)

She took some classes through Texas Tech ISD. It's a good route to go, but she has decided that she wants to study the remaining material on her own and graduate as a homeschooler ASAP. Then she wants to start jr college and is super excited about it. She has a part time job, is taking piano lessons (she chose to do so and is paying half the cost) and is excited about her life. Plus, she goes with a neighbor to a poetry workshop every other week and loves that too.

Contrast that with her depression and tears at this point last year when she was begging to get out of school. It's scary to let her do her own thing - to let her opt out of public high school!!! - that was very scary for me - but she is such a happy, productive, energetic kid now and her boss and her coworkers all love her. She still spends time with friends, but just doesn't have contact with as many people her own age now, and doesn't have to get sucked into their overwhelming angst-ridden problems!

I just glanced up at the "Respond with: Advice (public)"
Oops! I'm not sure if this response qualifies as "advice"! I guess what I'm trying to communicate is people are different. Not everyone is going to fit the standard mold. I was glad to read in your response that you were going to sit down and talk it out together. It is quite possible that the other responders are right and that you need to see a doctor and rule out other reasons for a change in behavior (need for meds, diet changes, drugs, emotional issues, etc), but you might just need to figure out that not everybody needs to be the same! (A very hard lesson for this cautious mother to accept)

A.

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T.S.

answers from Albany on

My son was just the opposite. Genius yet never did homework and hates school. Will actually argue and debate why homework is useless and senseless. Has been like this since kindergarten. The one thing I have learned as a parent is the more i crack down the more he rebels. You need to be concerned but don't put too much pressure. They instinctively will just rebel. Show concern and assertiveness with comfort. Act like you understand or show you understand without sounding condescending. They can pick up on that right away. Give them room to make mistakes and figure out out to fix them on their own. Very important factor to figuring out who and what they want to be.

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M.H.

answers from Dallas on

Well Dee Dee... I have 8 kids and have been through what you are going through. All of our kids are very smart and have gotten all As pretty much through Jr High. Even with the most diligent ones there was an occasional B. I'm not sure where you live, but where we live the PAP and AP classes are not easy. They really have to pay attention, take notes, do their homework, and study. My oldest, was in sports throughout high school, in all the AP classes, is very smart, and pretty much was flunking a lot of the classes until right before grades where she would pull them up and pass with a low C. She had a horse, we sold it. She wanted a cell phone (we tell them they can get one in 9th grade if they have good grades and attitude) and didn't get one until second semester 10th grade, we had a car for her to drive at 16, we sold it. We didn't nag her every week. We just always told her what was expected of her and what God expected of her. We are all given talents, and as such we are expected to use them well. We tell them they are all very blessed and therefore God expects a lot from them. She also had a bad attitude about rules, lied to us a lot, the list goes on. In other words, she was probably worse than your son. At the end of 11th grade she went on the Church mission trip to Mexico (to build houses). This changed her life. She realized how petty she was being and how blessed her life was. Don't get me wrong, her grades were still not that good but she tried harder to read the material AND do the homework. She took an SAT prep class. Her GPA was probably like a 2.5 may be even lower. Her class rank was above the 50% because the AP classes count as two grades higher for class rank calculations. Until the day of Graduation we were still sweating whether she was going to graduate or not. We had to make sure her books were turned in, any fines paid, pick up her gown, etc. but she did graduate AND she was accepted into Baylor. Her SAT was in the 1900s and she wrote a great essay about her mission trips. Really God gave her grace and she was accepted. We still didn't know if she was going to go or go to work (she loves spending money on clothes) or go to UNT and hang out with friends who had very little motivation and had flunked classes in HS. She did go to Baylor and loves it. We wanted her to believe she could have great grades. We told her she was not allowed to work the first year AT ALL. We also told her each semester of good grades buys her one more. She knew we meant it. She really applied herself and got a 3.5 first semester, 3.2 2nd after taking Honors classes which are harder. THERE is HOPE! Keep talking to him and talk to him about the big picture. He is a good kid just probably lazy and maybe eating poorly too which makes them tired (my daughter ate very poorly too). God is key, and there is still time to improve his GPA. Focus on the big things, the weekly punishments don't work. Build him up and ask him if he wants you to micromanage him to do better in the school work, i.e. ensuring he is studying, doing his hoework, reviewing his Math homework, etc. You are a team. Talk to the teachers in each class, stay involved. Don't let him think about not going to college, have him shoot for the stars. Stay involved in Church and keep him involved too. Find out what is really going on and then address the issues. Best wishes and God bless!

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C.B.

answers from Dallas on

The previous advice was excellent. I think the only thing I can add is that I'm just going to say a prayer for you. Let us know what happens.

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M.R.

answers from Dallas on

Misty gave you some great advice. The only thing I would add is that he may be under enormous pressure being "the smart kid". My gifted daughter developed this perfectionist all or nothing mentality. If it wasn't going to the best or perfect, why bother even trying. She was putting way more pressure on herself than anyone. It's hard to find balance and make sure they are getting the education they need.

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M.B.

answers from Dallas on

I t pains my heart that no one has yet mentioned the spiritual aspects of your situation. You are a Christian, so it seems obvious to me that there is something lacking in your son's priorities. I'm not saying that this is some big salvational crisis; just a matter of unrepentant sin. Doesn't Proverbs talk about doing things with all your might? Aren't we supposed to do all things for the glory of God? Does your son view his efforts in the light of God's expectations. If a C were his best, then there is no question, but obviously with effort and caring he can do better. Often in life, we lead our hearts and don't follow it blindly. Our hearts can lead us astray unless they are focused totally on God. This is such a hard age to be at, especially for boys. However if you don't get a handle on his attitude towards work and God's requirements for the former, this will follow him throughout his life. Pray with your son and memorize verses on this topic. Focus on the root of this problem, not the symptoms. His heart is more important than grades. God bless your family.

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J.O.

answers from Dallas on

Have you checked into concurrent enrollment where he would start college now and get credit for the classes? That is what we did with our daughter. TCC has this program. Talk to the school counselor after you talk to your son.

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C.C.

answers from Dallas on

Possibly depressed? Possibly ADHD or some other behavioral disorder in that genre? The school counselor sounds like a dead end, so you may want to consider outside help. And, too, the gifted ones often thrive in a different, more open learning environment, and the "standard" learning in public schools just may not fit his learning strengths.

My 13 year old daughter is very similar. She is very bright and in the gifted classes, but her grades are often brought down by disorganization and lack of caring. She excels in music and art, so I'm pretty sure her brain just accepts concepts differently, which is why she sometimes struggles with the routine learning methods. But I still keep on top of her about her grades and dole out the punishments because of course she'll only get into a decent college if her grades are good (she's already gunning for UNT which we hear has an excellent college of music).

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B.H.

answers from Dallas on

Hi D., I have been in the same situation with my step son who is now 19 yrs. old. He was suffering from peer pressure. A lot of the kids at school were really being mean to him beacuse he WAS very intelligent. What he did was start stooping to their level just to fit in and have friends. Most kids with high intellectual abilities lack friends or are eing pressured everyday to do things they are not willing to do just fit in. What helped us was to listen to him and provide suggestions that would help overcome the pressure. Eventually, he went back to himself. So my advice is to lend an ear and make suggestions that may help him at school.

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D.B.

answers from Dallas on

I've known some kids who were just ready to move on before the calendar said it was time. Several kiddoes I've known have dropped out of school and finished high school online OR enrolled in the Community College for dual credit (both high school and college credit). This was great for them because they were "over" the high school stuff and just couldn't get motivated to do that any more.

The other questions I'd be wondering about is his diet. There is a great book called "The Gut and Psychology Syndrome" that could be good information for you.

Having never met him, it would be impossible to say for sure, but those are two things to consider.

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K.H.

answers from Dallas on

as weird as this sounds be glad he is doing it now and not when is in college. my brother was a boy genius.. smartest kid in school his whole life. he graduated #1 in his class too... which was predicted since kindergarten. he got a scholarship to UT and completely blew it. he just stopped carind and no one at college knew he was the smart kid so he didnt have that reputation and just became a party animal. (he was really quiet in school.. he didnt do sports but was on the yearbook committee). he ended up failing out of college and he is 28 years old and has 12 hours left to graduate. however, he isnt even in school anymore. it's actaully pretty sad but he says he will go back and finish one day.

honestly, he is probably sick of being the smart kid and is rebelling. i would just let him do it and only really get concerned if he starts failing.

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J.D.

answers from Dallas on

Does he understand the importance of getting his diploma? I know it sounds rediculous, but if he doesn't care about that - it's a whole different story. If he does, it may just be that he's sick of the "school" thing. School didn't work for my son - we brought him home for his Junior year and he's completing his diploma through Texas Tech ISD. He does the work at home - but he sends his lessons to a teacher at Texas Tech for being graded. He takes a final exam at a proctors office. It's worked MUCH better for him. It's a tough way to go because he actually has to do all the work and he has to teach himself. He is doing so much better though and it's actually helped his GPA.
If you decide to go that way and have any questions, feel free to e-mail me - [email protected]____.com.

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S.S.

answers from Wichita Falls on

How about a kid who's been through it?

I didn't make all C's - but my first C was in Algebra II - which I was taking as a Freshman in High School. Until then, I had never made anything less than a 98. I let my grades spiral down to a 3.0 - my school had no extra points for honors or AP. My Junior year, I pulled it up. I even qualified for a National Merit Scholarship my senior year because - among other reasons - Junior and Senior year were straight A's. Prozac helped me immensely.

It's not about recovering a GPA - it's about getting back your dream. I graduated from college with a B.S. in Education, and I'm now (10 years later) going to nursing school - first step in CRNA. Give me a yell if there's anything I can do.

S.

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N.H.

answers from Dallas on

Talk to your doctor as well. He could having med. Problems like adhd etc... Also if your church offers counsceling that woudl be great. There is usually a deeper issue. So trust your gut. He may be feeling the pressure of the future and it is starting to shake his confidence and rattle him. Think back...have they been talking about college or careers at school lately? He coud lbe stressing himself out. Maybe some of his teacher have been praising him and telling him they can't wait until he does this or that or they want him to try something. The fear of pushing it sohard may have him retreating. Get to the bottom and find the real issue. You sound like you are giving him great ground, so stick to it. Good luck!!

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S.W.

answers from Dallas on

It may not be too late to recover his grades/GPA, especially since AP classes are often weighted heavier than regular ones. Sounds to me like he's ready for a break from school. Here's the deal I suggest you offer him - if he can get his grades up (even just to a B average) by the time he graduates, you won't pester him about college for a year or two. Let him finish high school and then find a job to take a couple of years off of school. Then, he can start into college slowly at a community college and then work his way up to a full 4-year degree program. Does he know what he wants to do or major in in college? High schools these days put TONS of pressure on students to decide what they want to do for the rest of their life in order to pick the best college and maybe he just doesn't know yet (especially if he was always the smart kid and is good at a lot of things). Not knowing what he wants to study in college could be what's upsetting/distracting him. I changed my mind about career paths 2-3 times between high school and my 3 year of college! Remind him that it's okay to not know yet and maybe that's just another reason why he should take a year or two off of school - to work and explore his interests.

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T.M.

answers from Dallas on

Have you thought about letting him move on to college? I hated high school and loved college. I was 17 and didn't even have enough credits to be a sophomore, took the entrance exam for community college, then got my GED, while already taking college classes. I was able to take classes I liked and tolerated classes I didn't in the less juvenile atmosphere. I seriously suggest at least considering letting your son leave the high school hum-drum behind. As you stated it won't get him any scholarships by staying. However, He may find real motivation in working toward a degree. JMTC :)

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L.W.

answers from Dallas on

maybe you should allow him to quit school, get a ged, and go to junior college. no one would know if he quit school or not... talk to the school counselor.

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N.S.

answers from Abilene on

My niece went through this when she was 16-17. I took her to the Dr and he prescribed a very mild anti depressant. He said sometimes the pressures on kids at that age plus their hormonal changes going into adulthood was too much and changed the chemical balance in their brain. My niece only had to take it a couple of months and things went back to normal and she ended up making the honor society. Since then she has gone on to become a nurse and occasionally she can tell her chemical imbalance is starting up again and she'll take the meds about a month and she will be fine for sometimes as long as 2 yrs. It is something you might think about. I know it helped her tremendously. Good Luck and God Bless.

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M.C.

answers from Wichita Falls on

I believe that when the time is right, he will fulfill his potential. Right now, he has to have the grades to get into college. I'll bet he will figure it out when he is in college. If not, he can work a few years, and then decide to go back.
My son got average grades in HS, and then got motivated in college and graduated in 3 years in finance. He is also very bright and can do anything. So, I say, if he is 17, he must keep the grades to get into a local college, and I'll bet then he will find his niche. Good luck and God bless,
M.

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G.S.

answers from Dallas on

What are his friends like? Do they make good grades? Do you think he may be wanting to fit in with the crowd? What motivates him? Are they intrinsic or extrinsic things (grades, recognition, awards vs. personal satisfaction)?

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K.C.

answers from Dallas on

I know this might seem a little strange, but seriously consider changing his diet. Teenagers never eat well, even when they eat a lot they choose nutritionally poor foods, fast foods, chips, sodas, candy, items containing white flour & sugar, etc. If he's at public school & buys lunch from school, one look at the menu, plus the things he might buy on the side probably contains all these ingredients. The book Potatoes Not Prozac by Kathleen DesMaisons is a must read. When our bodies do not get enough nutritionally dense whole foods, we suffer, sometimes even feel depressed and a lack of motivation. Teach him now to care for his body & his health and you will see a vast improvement. Also try Omega 3 DHA fish oil. Omega 3's are brain food, that's why formula companies have been adding it to baby formula in the past few years.

One great way for teens to get their green leafy vegetables is green smoothies. I know it sounds bizarre, but it's easy. Google these websites as I don't know the exact urls:
green smoothie girl
the raw family

If you haven't already seen it, consider renting Super Size Me by Morgan Spurlock. It's on DVD and is documentary. Also consider Foodmatters a video about our current state of health and wellness. I got a free copy when I purchased from www.drnatura.com but I'm pretty sure it's available elsewhere, www.foodmatters.com.

K.
SAHM to 3, ages 7, 5 & 3, heavily active at church with children's ministries.

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K.G.

answers from Dallas on

sounds depressed maybe more indepth counseling is needed?

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H.R.

answers from Dallas on

Okay I have the same problem with my teenage daughter. She's very outgoing and really smart, but she's getting low grades. She's told me that she's bored with school that it's not fun anymore. She doesn't apply herself like she used to. Her goal is to become a vet and graduate with that degree from ATM, but if she doesn't get good grades then how is she going to get into any college? I also homeschool, and I think she's tired of that she's been homeschooling all her life and I think she's bored with that routine everyday. She wants to go into public school where she thinks she'll get a bit more of a challenge so next year I will probably let her go into public school to see if it does help her. If you ask your son what he would like to do different like maybe putting him in homeschool or something different than his regular routine everyday I personally think that will help.

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