High School Son Has Failing Grades

Updated on May 25, 2013
D.B. asks from Wichita, KS
17 answers

Hi Moms. This is my first time asking for advice here. My 16 year old son (Junior in HS) has not been turning in homework or studying for his tests and his grades are slipping to D's and F's. He does have a long history of blowing off his schoolwork even though he's extremely smart and makes college level scores on the state assessment tests. He would rather talk/text on the cell, play video games, watch tv and hang with friends. When I got his first quarter grades, I restricted his cell to emergency #'s only and no texting, grounded him from hanging out with friends. He hasn't done any better so now I've taken away all his video games and tv privileges. It seems he's so caught up friend drama that his schoolwork is at the bottom of the priority list. My sister thinks he is "too grounded" and that I'm being too strict. He was supposed to take his driving test next week but the rule has always been, if his grades are bad, he doesn't drive. I don't see the point of him paying for car insurance and all of that, if the car is just going to be parked. I just feel that if he's not responsible enough to do simple homework and turn it in, I don't think I should hand him keys to an automobile which takes a huge amount of responsibility in order to be safe and not hurt himself or others. When his grades are good, he has all the freedom in the world and I rarely tell him he can't go do stuff (within reason). He has a 9:00 pm curfew on school nights and 12:00 on weekends when he's not grounded. I know this is a lot of info but I need to know what you think of my approach so far.

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So What Happened?

Hi Moms. Thanks for your input to the problems with my son so far. This past summer when he was done with Sophomore year, I told him that he no longer was receiving an allowance and he WOULD go get a job, period. He hum/hawed (as my country mom would put it) but after a month of no money to spend, he got the point and started putting in applications. I had to ride his back the whole time but he did get it done. I had to make him go back and go back to these places and finally he was hired at Subway. He LOVES his job. After that first $100 plus paycheck for one week of working he was hooked! I have to say, this is the only area of his life that he is motivated. He does a great job at work (I asked his manager). He was able to buy all of his own school clothes over the summer and his own school supplies. He paid for everything. I told him that we only shop at walmart so if he wanted the Mall clothes, etc then he had to pay for it because I can't afford it. He actually wanted to do it and refused to take my money. It was a proud moment. When school started, he asked me to give him a chance to make the grades on his own without me checking them online all the time and I thought I would give him that chance to show the responsibility. Unfortunately, he blew it and now is in the hole with grades as I told you all earlier. He just hates classwork and homework. He only loves school for the social aspect. Yesterday, I told him to enjoy his lunch "off campus" with his friends for the last time and to break the news to them that he no longer gets to leave campus for lunch until his grades are back up. That one really stung. I am basically taking the Dr. Phil approach and stripping him of all things he loves. It really sucks. It makes me feel terrible but I don't believe in free rides. I sure hope he applies some of his job work ethic to his school work soon. He's missing the "New Moon" movie this weekend too and that's a tough one to handle for him. He loves that series.
I appreciate all the responses so far and it makes me feel like I'm taking the right approach. I feel that if we don't coach our kids in the right way, we'll be left with a new generation of adults that feel they are entitled to everything. OH, no more MTV or VH1 ever for all my kids! That show, Sweet 16 is oneexample of highly spoiled kids and it makes mine think they deserve to have P-Diddy sing at their parties, lol.
Thanks momma's!

In response to Carrie B. Thanks Carrie. He was only working more hours (17-20) during the summer. He now only works about 10 hours a week at the most and most of the time it's on the weekends. I also had that concern of him working too much to focus on homework so we cut back his hours once school started. Thanks so much and keep the advice coming!

More Answers



answers from Joplin on

Wow our sons seem to have the same problem, mine is in Junior High, but same thing...D's Fs and total lack of concern for school more interested in all the drama. You are not being too hard by grounding him! ( My mother feels the same way that I am being Too hard on him) I took away EVERYTHING....he is Slowly earning back some computer time but it is all based on attitude, his assignments being current ( we have a parent portal we can look online and see whether they have missing assignments) Also talk to his teachers, make sure they know this is not acceptable for your son, find out if there is anything they can do to help him get back on track. My sons school offers what they call "tutoring" but it is really set up more like a study hall after school, but it gets him to get the work done. And I totally know where you are coming from, my son took his SATs this past year, he tests brilliantly...but they have to learn that even if it is Boring or they don't feel challanged this is practice for life! I mean how many of us are excited to get up each morning to go to work? Talk to him and make an agreement so that he knows if i have my assignments turned in these are the priviledges I EARN , if I have these kind of grades these are the priviledges I lose. It seems very silly to have to put things in such an elementary format for an older child, but Trust me, it is far better than having them feel like they are "entitled" to priviledges and also not being aware of how the consequences of the actions will change what oppertuniteis are available to them. I wish you the best of luck, I say better to be tough now and have him suceed than to go easy on him and have him fail.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

my older son is 22 & just- in the past year - reached a more mature & responsible approach to life.

The high school years were a nightmare. He was disengaged, made little effort to comply with school rules (& ours), & just wanted "out" of school. In hindsight, we should have not pushed for the full 4 years of H.S. We should have recognized that this was beyond his ability/desires, & we should have allowed him to GED. By insisting on a standard diploma, we held him back - he rebeled - & we all paid the price.

In the end, he was disenrolled from the H.S., placed in the Alternative School, & ....there he excelled....completing all modules in <one month! (a full semester's worth of work!). But then the attendance fell off again, because he was BORED. Again, we should have allowed him to GED. & honestly, he was old enough to make this decision independently according to state laws. But we kept hounding him, we were all miserable....& we did not get the green light for graduation until the last 24 hours of the school year. I cannot believe how stupid we were for forcing him to remain "mainstream"...when he seriously needed to be out of the box. Shame on us.

That said, just as background, our son has battled a degenerative hip disease since age 6. This has placed physical limitations on him, & at age 22, he is waiting for a hip replacement. I would have to say that the emotional issues are even worse than the physical. The chip on his shoulder is quite heavy at times, he has used this disability to distance himself from love/opening up to most people, & only in this last year has been able to show love & affection to our family. He recently joined Facebook & his first photo album was "Family"! We rejoice that he's bouncing out of his malaise from teen years!

Through those miserable years, we used all of the methods you are attempting. Nothing worked for us. Our son even attended anger management thru the school, regularly consulted with the school counselors, & even tried a private therapist Nothing worked...zip/zero/zilch. Removing privileges, grounding, we tried it all. In the end, we finally realized that no matter what we did...it was totally & completely up to him to choose to succeed in life. A very hard concept for us to grasp.

Our rules for driving/owning a car were simple: he had to work, he had to help buy the car, & it was titled in our name....so it was ours. AND we did confiscate the car as needed....even going to the extent of removing it from our home & hiding it. If he was out past curfew, hanging with undesirable friends (as in the potheads & teenage drinkers)....then we were known to pick up the car & bring it home. AND it was not given back to him until we received some token compliance with our lifestyle.....and token is all that it was....who were we fooling?

I know this all sounds horrible, & it was. I have no idea how we survived & absolutely NO idea how he survived his teen years. We live in a small town, all the cops knew him by name before age 16. How terrible is that? BUT, he is now functioning within our family...he does attend family events with us....he does travel occasionally with us... & is almost always with us on holidays! AND he does have a few college credits under his belt....so he's finally on the mend! Hooray!

As for your situation, try it all...stand firm...& pray like heck that your child will see the light! & I think most importantly, get him off those games & into a job. Make him work for his privileges & that car. Make sure he understands that everything in his life is a privilege which he must earn! AND most importantly praise him for all of the good choices/moves he makes....boost the self-esteem....& try to avoid focusing on the negative. Make each milestone a goal to be achieved, not to be given!

I wish you Luck, Fortitude, & Peace....it's a long road to adulthood!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Atlanta on

I have the same problem and am interested in hearing the responses you received. I cannot access them - do you know how I can? Did you get some help?



answers from Kansas City on

I also have a 16 yr. old son and could have signed my name to your note because the scenario is so much the same! We also have tried grounding, taking away privileges, etc. He has a permit but have not let him get his license because he will have to pay at least part of his ins. and so far he has no job. Nothing seems to motivate him except the video game area. He isn't even as in to his friends as you said, he is content to sit and play those games all the time. He has brought his grades up some but is really capable of so much more. He has no interest in sports anymore and doesn't do anything physical. I thought he would be anxious to try to find a job so he could have the chance to start driving but it's more like me dragging him out to get applications and staying on him about getting them turned in. I have no clue how to get him to grow up. If you have any suggestions what else to do, let me know! It seems like it is fairly common, although it is very disheartening!



answers from St. Louis on

It sounds to me like you are doing everything right. You could try turning into a reward thing. "You get something back if you turn it you homwork and class work for one week" so on. Let me know how if you find anything that works. I have a Sophomore with the same problem. Great test scores but D's because he doesn't turn in homework.



answers from St. Louis on

This is goingto be short....sorry. first of all, your son sounds like my daughter, intelligent but no effort.

First of all, my suggestion is to let him get his drivers license but to TAKE the license fight after the test. Let him drive hom & tell him that you really wanted to let him have the car with his friends the day of his test but that you are forced to not allow that privelige. Make him pay insurance for the car he is not allowed to drive. Don't sound angry when you tell him this, just state it in a conversational tone.

Take his phone from him & keep it until his homework/ studing is done.

Basically explain why you are micro-managing him and that when he acts like an adult you will treat him like one. But until then it is your job to get him ready for the outside world and responsibility is one of the most important traits to have in the adult world.

If you notice him obeying you without complainint (or TELLING you every five minutes what he has obeyed that day)give him a little treat like taking the car to the store for an errand for you.

OH, I almost forgot. CALL his teachers individually. Find out exactly what is due that he has not turned. Make/help him complete everything due even if he won't get credit for turning it in late. Even though he is intelligent, not completing his work is getting him behind. Find out EVERYTHING that is due in the future and study with him. Check off each assignment on your chart. Find out if the teachers will give extra credit for anything. Send notes or emails to teachers weekly to find out how he is doing. If you can afford it, get a tudor for the hardest subjects. Remember, just because he is intelligent doesn't mean he doesn't have to study!

Anyway, it sounds like you are doing all the right things. I feel for you. My daughter is in college now and I wish I had done the things I suggested above. She feels a little overwhelmed but we will get through it.

Hang in there mama!



answers from Wichita on

Hi D.,

I haven't had the chance to read the other responses, I just want to let you know about one thing. I've talked about it before, it's something I highly recommend if you can afford it. Really it's something you can't afford NOT to have. It's called, "The Total Transformation". It covers a lot of issues, but what I found in it for you, was that it teaches kids to take responsibility for their own actions. Please check it out at www.thetotaltransformation.com.

God bless, ls



answers from St. Louis on

Being a teenager is hard, and being a good mom is even harder. I feel you are handling it appropriately. 'What you did not say is whether you or his father, and him, can talk openly. He may be depressed or overly worried about a peer. I have very caring children and at least 2 of them have gotten so wrapped up in the problems of others that they forgot to take care of themselves; emotionally and physically. Do not stop the discipline but do see if counseling would be appropriate. God Bless you my prayers are with you. He will appreciate the strict guidelines later.


answers from Kansas City on

D., i haven't read all the responses but i've read your update and just wanted to say i think you're doing the right thing. i do think taking away all "toys", no matter the age, is a good route.

but, school should come first, i think....maybe you should cut back on his work hours because the problem may be his focus is on the wrong thing. it sounds like he has discovered the joy of having money to spend - if he doesn't graduate high school he'll never be able have that extra money once he's out on his own. anyway, just my two cents...good luck and stick to your guns!!



answers from St. Louis on

I just wanted to let you know that I was the same way. My grades were not very good, but my test scores were always great. Frankly, I was bored out of my mind, I already knew all the information I was being asked to write, and I felt like I didn't need to prove it to anyone. I know now that it was wrong, but that's where my head was at the time. I wonder if your son feels the same... almost offended that he's even being required to prove what he knows.

I hope everything goes well for you and your family!



answers from Springfield on

I'm glad some of your approaches are working as teenagers need consistent boundaries.

As for the school work issue, it could be the method of teaching the teacher's are using(their are main ways of learning and not all teachers teach all these methods), and your son may be having a difficult time relating to the material/subject matter or he's bored with their teaching methods. What I'm saying is that perhaps the teachers are not engaging his attention to the subject matter. If a student doesn't understand the subject (or can relate to it), then learning becomes more difficult and the student becomes bored.

In addition, teachers also may not be teaching their students WHY he/she has to learn the subject and how it WILL apply to them outside of school. Furthermore, many schools only teach certain subjects to meet standardized testings to get government assistance as opposed to stuff the student will ACTUALLY use after graduation). Students are either told this by some of the teachers or students get this feeling (either way, they are not engaged in the subject matter). I know...I am the mom of 3 girls...and this was my take-away after a conversation with my daughter(s).

Have you talked to your son about this? Have you had a conference with your son's teacher's and counselors about this?


answers from Kansas City on

My kids are way younger than yours, so I haven't been in your shoes, yet. But, I just wanted to chime in and let you know that I don't think you're being unreasonable at all. Sounds to me like you're being a pretty responsible parent. You're teaching him responsibility. Driving isn't a right, it's a privilege, same goes for tv, games, & hanging out with friends. Hang in there, keep doing what you're doing! You're a good mama!



answers from St. Louis on

Why is it that there is soooo much drama in Middle School and High School??? My dau. would much rather talk on her cell than complete her homework.
I think taking away privileges is a good thing. Try taking the cell, putting within your eyesite and telling him that after he finishes _______ homework, he can have it back. He must show you his finished work.
Also, all of the Zumwalt schools have the Parent Portal where you can access his grades and daily assignments. You can also email his teachers directly. You may want to contact a counselor at his school and ask for their input. They may be aware of other problems that your son has at school, ie: tardies, behavior issues.
Your son may be feeling "pushed out" since you have a new baby on the way. Is his dad in the picture? Could you get him involved in this? Don't you love teenagers? Good luck!


answers from Kansas City on

I didn't read all the responses you got but I would just like to say that if, and when, you let him drive I would strongly suggest that he be responsible for paying his own insurance and learn to be responsible that way first. When he sees it takes money to have priviledges he may be more willing to work at learning so he can get a good job later in life. Again he may not being a teenager and thinking only of now and not future, but it's a teaching lesson I think. What does your husband think on the whole situation? I hope you talk it over together.



answers from Topeka on

Well since this is a history thing with him and not something new I am less concerned about his choice of friends and the drug issue but thats one of the first and simple signs of using. kids will be kids but by this time he should already know your boundries and how far he can push them. I think your doing the right things and since my oldest is only a fifth grader I can offer no real advice. Just support!! Keep up the good work the world needs better kids these days.



answers from Los Angeles on

I agree with everything you are doing - but it is what I'm doing too and it is NOT working. Hubby and I are ready to let him fail.


answers from St. Louis on

Hello D.,

Honestly, I think you have been doing the right thing. You stated your rules and he knows the consequences when he does not follow them. You also reward him when he is making right choices. He is the one to choose what to do and so far, he is choosing the wrong, but I am sure it will change. You have to stick to your rules and keep them there. Good discipline is a matter of repetition and consistency, ones learn faster than others. You are really doing a great job..Just stick to it..consistency no matter what. He knows what he is doing.
With the passing of time, he will realize and learn that you are doing the best for him.
Keep going!

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