Intelligent, but Academically Lazy Child

Updated on June 17, 2011
S.H. asks from Chicago Heights, IL
26 answers

My 14 year old freshman has proven through standardized testing that he is very intelligent. However, his grades reflect another story as he is failing all subjects. The idea of being retained as a freshman does not seem to put fear in him. If it does my husband and i can't tell. This is a child who could name every dinosaur at age two and scored as a highschool senior in vocabulary when he was 11 years old. We've tried counseling, therapy, study skills training and much more to no avail.
Very disstraught mother

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I'd like to thank everyone for the tremedous outpouring of responses. You all have let me know i am not alone. My notepad next to my computer is full of ideas as i have read each and every entry personally. Thank you all again and may god bless you all for helping us.

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A.M.

answers from Chicago on

It sounds like he is bored and disinterested in what he is being presented with. You might read "unconditional parenting" by alfie cohen and "einstein didn't use flash cards" and then talk to him about what he wants out of life. Is he interested in some subjects? or is this a rebellion because he feels pushed? Definitely there are some psychological issues at work here and pushing or punishment are unlikely to be very successful. Perhaps he needs a new school with a different pedagogic style - one where there is more flexibility to choose what you learn and follow ones own interests. I would avoid using labels eg."lazy" as they aren't really constructive. He definitely needs to have his interest piqued so that he will actually want to learn. Good luck - this sounds like it is very challenging.

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S.O.

answers from Champaign on

If none of those techniques are convincing, I'd say it sounds like he needs a break. Hopefully school will end soon for him.

What interests him? After a break, see if you can find something he wants to learn about. I second the home school recommendation if the summer is not long enough.

Good luck.

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G.H.

answers from Chicago on

Keep him in counseling and keep a positive attitude. He needs that. Have him take summer school and repeat freshman year. He needs to learn the consequences of his lack of action. Counceling works if you get the right person. Someone young that he can relate to and is more likely to open up to.

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A.H.

answers from Chicago on

I did not read the other responses so forgive me if I am repeating something someone else said. My son sounds exactly like yours. He was so smart, his testing had trouble finding the exact score of his IQ. That did not mean he did well in school. The prospect of flunking 9th grade did not faze him, and he did just that. He flunked. However, he did rebound and finished in the next 4 years. He hated 9th grade English and took that course FIVE TIMES before he passed. In fact, one of his teachers said he could haved taught the class better than him...but it made no difference. We were absolutely stumped as to what to do. We finally realized that there was nothing we could do except try to encourage him to do his best. It was really discouraging however. He always attended every class but would do his homework in the 5 minutes before class (most of the time getting it all correct) and refused to discuss his assignments with us at any time. There is hope here though. This same child,,,who never did well in high school, went on to do fantastic things in college. I truly believe it was related to the challenge of the courses. So please try to realize that dealing with an exceptional child is very trying and that they frequently need time to find their own way. They are so smart that they "plot their own course" so to speak, and just need us to help guide them and force (did I just say that?) them to get through each class. My thoughts are with you.

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B.W.

answers from Springfield on

I'm wondering if he's bored? Could you perhaps consider homeschooling or a private school that would challenge him more?

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E.S.

answers from Chicago on

I have to agree with NW.. your son is me 20 years ago. I scored a 35 on the ACT, but failed most every class except physics. Why physics? Because it was the only subject that was somewhat challenging for me. I was completely and absolutely bored with high school. High school seemed to move at the snail's pace of the slowest person in the room. They give you a book, the lesson plan just explained the book. Sometimes for days on end on the same topic. If I understood the topic from reading the book, I don't need to hear about it for a week. Would you want to hear someone drone on for a week straight about how to change a diaper? Of course not, and after the first 5 minutes you would tune them out. That's how I felt and with me, I treated high school like college. I ditched just about every subject every day except I would show up on test days. I would get an A on the test but fail the class because I had too many unexcused absences. Thinking back, I definitely would have benefited from a change in school. I would have had a fit at the same time, not wanting to leave my friends, etc. but I think that if my parents pushed the issue and got me out of there, I would have been much more successful in high school. Look into other schools.. that teach in a different way, or look into home schooling. Therapy won't help, it certainly didn't do anything for me except make me angry that my parents thought I was "crazy".

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J.B.

answers from Chicago on

I have the same problem. I started him in counseling but he seems to have no fear aout being held back. It is extremely frustrating. Where are you located, maybe we could meet and brainstorm how to help both of our children.
I am on the northwest side of the city around harlem and the kennedy expressway. I have my own business - self-employed providing bookkeeping/acocunting services for start-up businesses and small to mid-size businesses. I also tutor quickbooks and quicken software.
###-###-####.

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N.W.

answers from Chicago on

When I read your post it was like reading about myself. I was an extremely bright kid who scored high on standardized tests but they wouldn't move me up because I got bad grades.

I can tell you why. I was BORED BORED BORED!

It's hard to sit in a class that moves soooo slloooowwwly when your brain moves twice as fast. I was always in trouble for playing, not paying attention and not wanting to do the work. I used to read the entire textbooks the day we received them and then be bored to tears during class.

Usually what would happen is the teacher would explain something and I'd turn my ears off because I already understood it. THEN, while I wasn't paying attention, she'd tell us something I needed to know that I didn't already know. BUT, since I wasn't paying attention, I'd miss that important detail.

Also, I didn't have a full understanding of WHY I needed to know stuff at school. To me, school was a boring place that moved way too slow and I didn't see a point in even trying.

You'll be happy to know I did make it to college on scholarship (based on my ACT scores) and I graduated from college with honors. College was great, I could move and learn at my own pace.

If I were you, I'd first have a talk with your son. What does he want out of life? What does he want to do as a career? What subjects interest him? Where might he want to go to college?

Then, help him map out a plan to get there that excites HIM. You may need to look to alternative forms of education. I would have thrived in a study at home kind of setup. When I was growing up there wasn't that option. Now they have many study at home options, he can study at his own pace and earn a high school diploma (not a GED).

Check out http://www.k12.com/
They have public and private options. The public school option is a study at home option that doesn't cost you anything (because it's a public school). Or you may want to look into a private option.

He doesn't need therapy. He needs positive motivation and a challenging curriculum. If I had had that as a child I would have flourished. Instead it took me until college to finally get where I enjoyed learning. (Even now I do best in an atmosphere where I learn and move forward at my own pace.)

Good luck, and I'd actually direct you to my mom if you have any questions. She'll tell you herself I was very challenging to raise and you two can commiserate. LOL!

(The good news is your son is smart and he WILL make it in this world! He just has to find what works for him. Gifted children can't be forced to learn in a box. We wilt like flowers with no sunlight.)

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J.C.

answers from Chicago on

S.
I came upon your request somewhat late, but I thought I would give you anothr aspect to consider. My son sounds just like yours. He fell apart as your son did and is still not getting grades he is capable of, but is doing better in many aspects of his life, not just academic. Did you do any testing for a learning problem, medical issue, or ADD? It took us almost 2 years to finally get an acurate diagnosis of ADD for our son. Some kids who do not have the "hyperactivity" part of ADHD, can go undiagnosed until they are much older. The same with some learning problems. When the school work becomes more complex and all the other changes that happen in Jr. High or High School, they can no longer fully compensate for the problem, and things start to fall apart. You owe it to your son to check out all possibilities, so if he needs help, he can get it. He is not lazy ( I hate that word too, he needs some kind of help he is not getting right now, and the hard part is figuring out what he needs) Don't give up! Other than that, I agree with most or all of the other advice. He may be bored and needs more challenge if he might be gifted. He may just be having a really rough transition to being a teenager in high school. 2 different teachers thought my son might be gifted in the earlier grades, and now he struggles to do well in High School. My son probably IS gifted, but not in a way that equates to success in school. Many kids do not fit into the round holes that public education want to make every kid fit into. The world is full of really smart people, even gifted and genius level, creative people who never did well in school. Your love and support is Golden. Just keep giving it to him. I am a teacher, and have sent under-performing kids to higher level classes where they did great! Just keep trying and he will find his way. Best of luck to you

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J.C.

answers from Chicago on

Home school option try Chicago Virtual Charter School. Go on line for information K12.com follow directions Hope things turn out well for your family

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C.T.

answers from Chicago on

I recently learned that gifted children often do bad in school. I took a seminar for work and the teacher had a gifted child (now grown) so he referred to him often and said he was just a horrible student but they knew he was very smart so they started having him tested and his IQ was through the roof and proved that he was highly intellegent and so they were able to coarse correct. Anyway the teacher gave me this website www.gifteddevelopment.com and the name Dr. Linda Silverman because I also have a "gifted" son. My son actually does well in school but I think he has struggled being labeled "gifted" ever since we moved here when he started junior high. Often times these kids not only are incredibly bored but also feel very alone. They also feel a lot of pressure if they are at the top so that's why many of them choose not to do the work and fail, they don't want the attention, the pressure or the label. I think it's probably pretty common for a teenager to act like they don't care as your son is with the threat of being "held back" so that's not at all uncommon.
Start with that website and see if there is something there that it reasonable to follow up with. I'm not sure but maybe it'll be a new starting point for you. Good luck.

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M.B.

answers from Chicago on

First don't beat yourself up.

Most teenagers will not tell parents exactly whats going on in their lives. I am sure you and your husband have spoken to him about his grades. Could it be that your son feels that he must live up to high standards placed on him. I am not saying he should not get good grades, he should, but he may feel that to much is placed on him.

Also, you cannot threaten a teenager it doesn't work, they just rebel even more. (If you don't improve your grades, I'm taking away _____) You must be able to ease up a little, continue to praise him for all his "little accomplishments" he does around the house and for others.

A little praise does wonders and I hope that everything improves for you and your son.

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D.J.

answers from Chicago on

YOu have a tough problem but it can get better...I raised 3 doing very well all degreed...I am a reading specialist with a masters in counseling...Sounds like this young man has other issues and needs an INTEREST...Often physical activity can encourage him and relieve anxiety to help him feel more whole..Sports, photography, a drum set, art classes??? What is he interested in other than academics? Does your family have FUN and laugh or is everyone too busy working...He could feel lonely and not have developed a peer group yet. Is he overweight or have a teen acne complexion that needs to see a dermatologist?
If necessary, then maybe he needs to fail to prove to himself that you will all love him anyway...High school is a less drastic time than later in life...Sometimes if a parent wants something too much then a child has the power to frustrate the parents by not giving them what they want...even if it sabotages himself in the process...Let him suffer thru summer school and he will get his act together next year...and get a new peer group too...Seems like he is getting lots of attention for not trying ...it would not be the first case I have seen of a child who is too smart to bother with the dull, rote lessons of mundane school...Does he need a gifted program to challenge him?
This is your flesh and blood ...but HIS LIFE...At 15 get him a work permit and a job...Being in the real world work force will be a reality check...MY son worked then and is very wealthy now in his chosen field of computer design engineering...Believe in him and he will believe in himself..Have fun with him and he will lighten up...Good luck! MOM J

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C.J.

answers from Chicago on

S.,

Thank you so much for asking and sharing your despair. Many of us are living the situation and by you asking, you have helped get information across which has shed some light. What I have learned is to listen and appreciate the child for they may be the next Einstein. Remember, Einstein had not time for school and move along with Fs. Such children are so bored they want to jump out of their skin. We have to find the proper learning environment for them to move on to open their identity and allow them to share what they have to offer something that maybe nobody else has ever mentioned. Please do not despair and live the mystery your child will eventually disclose. He will thank you later. Give him a hug everyday! Thanks again, for I will be moving on to find another learning avenue for my bored child.

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E.B.

answers from Springfield on

This may sound funny, but could you request the school to try and place your son in an honors or upper level course? This may challenge him and he may turn around academically. I currently teach high school and I have seen this with a few students. Once I requested for them to be moved to the honors section, their grade immediately turned around. Sometimes students are just really bored and not challenged enough! Its worth a try.

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L.T.

answers from Chicago on

Hi,

First I am not a fan of the word lazy and prefer unmotivated. It sounds like you have done everyting right, but figure out what is not motivating him. Maybe, you need new doctors? I would keep saying we love you and stay interested in what the child is interested in and help them with the child's homework. What may have been easy at four is not necessarily easy now...as you may know already.

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B.A.

answers from Chicago on

I see your education so I will not assume that you have not thought of these but sometimes it takes someone else to point it out. Has HE been highly motivated in school or have you always had the control before to motivate him. Does he have friends, actual friends that he is really bonded with or is he fringe person who is left out alot or simply doesn't hang with a group. If he does what type of group is it? Is it possible for him to have started doing anything such as drinking(very secretively), doing drugs(including misc. parental prescription drugs) not even from your house, smoking. Being in with the wrong crowd? Or is he hard to settle down to do the work, perhaps he would if his body was working to, doing homework on a exercise ball will help some kids focus better. Put him back on a schedule, some kids get removed from structure before they are mature enough to handle it. Remove any apartment like things from his room. No video games, computers, TV's, nothing but bed, clothes, alarm clock and books. The rest should be in the family area to make sure you can moniter both use and prevent your child from caving alone and not knowing about it. Is your child over activitied too much sports, music, other activity or are there any?

Evaluate those and if all seems okay it may be time to talk to the counselors at school to see it they think he is depressed, or needs a change of venue with home schooling. One of my friends just pulled her daughter out 2 weeks before the end of the year to avoid having the F's go one the transcript and to start her sophmore year over right now. So she is homeschooling her over the summer for an entire years worth of school and will decide on a return back to physical school in fall. Good luck, what carefully for depression and make sure that it is not a pediatrician but a behavoiral specialist that helps to decide if he needs help with drug therapy or not. Pediatricians might know kids but psych is not their specialty. Suicide is an easy out at this age to and they don't see the long range picture. So keep close tabs. Good luck.

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S.F.

answers from Chicago on

Hi, S.,

I hear you and think you must ask yourselves two essential questions: What at school is not working for this child? and also: What at home is not working for this child? My elder of 2 sons did the same thing for about six years and it was agonizing. After his freshman year in CPS, disastrous, I moved us to Evanston so he could attend ETHS. His angry years coincided with the worst of his father's and my divorce, age 10 through about 17, so that was a big cause but not the only one. Anyway, his love of learning kicked in around junior year and the summer between junior and senior years, I sent him to Northwestern for a philosophy class that he loved. This sealed his return to academic glory, right up to his excellent full ride in grad school at UCSB in medieval history of all things!
So I say to you, dear S., because I know how you feel, that he may be working out things for himself that you are not aware of. Rebellion leads kids to do all sorts of self-destructive behavior, so count your blessings if he is not doing anything violent or taking it out on the relationship between him and you as parents. Otherwise maybe you have to let him have his space. Many parents have horror stories of kids who spent years in the wilderness, emerging ready to be who they were meant to be and amazingly successful. See if you can back off and see what happens.'
Good luck and remember to let him know you still love him!
S. F.
mom to 2 great guys!

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N.A.

answers from Chicago on

If it's at all possible, I would withdraw him and homeschool him, or more accurately, send him to college! He sounds under-challenged. I have a son who is also a freshman and 15, and also did very will on standardized tests, but with similar issues, and he is now doing VERY well (all A's and B's) at our local communtiy collge. He's currently getting college credit towards an engineering degree. I have a number of great resources and the number of an amazing tutor that has been such a help to us. If you'd like more info, just e-mail me privately, and I'll help in any way I can. I know this is a really difficult time, but it's a hard stage of life he's going through, and I guarantee that no matter which route you take, it WILL get better!

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M.K.

answers from Chicago on

Hi my son was is advanced and gifted classes this helped to keep his interest but when he started middle school he started having trouble he said the SWAS program was to hard and he was giving up we had a meeting with all his teachers and the nurse and social worker it was very helpful we had him tested for ADD he has a low level of ADD anf mrdication has helped he is not a zombie on the med. he is just a little more focused he still is not getting great grades but much better and best of all he is not giving up we went to Dr.Blair in Aurora he was reccomended by the nurse at my sons school good luck dont let him get down on himself

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J.C.

answers from Los Angeles on

There's more going on than what's at the surface. A child may be feeling unloved or unwanted even though appearances say otherwise. Some bright children "feel" dumb because they may have been treated that way in a neurotic family dynamic.
Nothing the child can do academically seems worth doing if they can't feel loved first. The child her/himself simply cannot perform academically no matter how hard they try because of this. Some children are more oriented to be "creative."
They would rather be immersed in music and art with formal academics secondary to their preferences. It takes an insightful adult, either parent or teacher to see what's going on with such a child.

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D.T.

answers from Chicago on

I would have to agree with the last post and think that your child is bored. I believe that is the problem that my husband had in school and he was never steered in any direction or even given a direction. He hated school so much that he didn't even go to college, until a few years ago (after me pushing him). He is very smart and knows so much about everything, that it was hard for me to believe he never wanted to go to college. You have to give your son support and encouragement and just be there for him. I would also suggest doing some research just to see if he possibly has any of the symptoms of ADD/ADHD. I say this because my husband has it and now that he is on meds, it's made a world of difference. The biggest clue is...he doesn't finish projects and moves from one thing to the next and can't stay focused. I noticed this in my husband, after I went to a session on ADD/ADHD and sent him to see someone right away. Glad I did, it has changed our lives for the better :) Good luck and hang in there.

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K.W.

answers from Chicago on

S.,

We had the same issue with our now 16 yr old son. It started in 6th grade. He was scoring 12th grade on all standarized test, but he began failing all his classses. We tried many avenues and nothing seemed to motivate him to move forward. Trust me when I say, our next move suprised even us. As we had never considered the option. We took our son out of school and home schooled him. After 3 weeks of home schooling, he began to "come out of his funk". He completed 3 years of schooling with my husband & I. It was not as hard as I anticipated. I had just signed a contract to provide therapy to a school district 2 days a week and I had 3 year old at home. He's now completed 2 years of highschool successfully, thriving academically & socially.
He'll tell you it was the best thing that ever happened to him. He says he felt lost, just wasn't happy. However, he did not depict that at the time. GOOD LUCK

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M.H.

answers from Chicago on

Hi S.,

Wow that sounds like it been really ruff in your house. Sounds like there is something more going on in his life. Is he being picked on (bully), abused, are things ok with life at home? Does he have a girlfriend? Was he like this in 7 or 8th grade? Can you ask his friends how he acts, likes/dislikes try to get them to share what they know about your son. I pray things get better for you and your family.

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K.P.

answers from Chicago on

Having now 3 grown children of my own and them all being different. The one thing that I can offer is that all children, like adults, need a purpose. They need a dream or goal that is going to motivate them to some kind of action. It is different for every person. You have to just keep asking questions to your son about things that have to do with him and his desires. What are the kind of things that he is interested in? What, if any, are his hobbies, talents, things he might spend a lot of time with? Get to know him at the core. Then look for things that he can get involved with that pertain to that interest. Help him see what is out there to expand what he is already interested or gifted in. Everyone wants to be "known". As you ask these questions and truely desire to know him , it will also better your relationship with him. I hope this is of some help. It will take time. But never stop! Pray!

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O.M.

answers from Chicago on

I am sorry your son is struggling.
A couple things came to mind as I read your request...
It is common for kids to experience a significant drop in their grades during a big transition year (like 9th grade). Sometimes the social/emotional adjustment causes them to lose focus with in academics and they find it too daunting to catch up. Often they perceive it as being too late to fix it, so they give up on the rest of the year. If you think this is the issue, I'd suggest helping him to set realistic goals for the rest of the year/summer, and encourage him to take steps to make it easier to start fresh next year.

I'd be careful to label him as lazy. There are lots of things that can disguise themselves as laziness.

Does he think there is a problem? What does HE say it is? What does he think he needs to do? What does he tell you (not during arguments but in calm conversation)?

Adolescence and self esteem issues always go hand in hand. Nobody truly wants to fail or feels good about failing. If he is not succeeding right now in his academics, help him find something else that he enjoys and in which he can feel a sense of success. Often we can use our strengths to bolster us in our weak areas. (one thing that pops into my head as an example is CircEsteem -they use clowning and circus arts to build adolescent self esteem and teamwork skills http://www.circesteem.com/about.html)

There are lots of ways to be intelligent...perhaps he is just not as interested in nurturing/displaying the traditional academic intelligences right now, but that doesn't mean that he won't come back to it. Backing off and playing it cool sometimes goes a long way with teenagers. Perhaps if you take the pressure off and show enthusiasm for his other interests, it might help.

good luck!

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