My 12 Year Old Son Has Recently Told Me That I Am Too Hard on Him..

Updated on May 09, 2013
N.P. asks from San Diego, CA
23 answers

My son is in the 6th grade, new middle school and the school year is almost over. During this school year he has been receiving a D in both social studies and math. I have had parent, teacher and student conferences, emailed the teachers and required my son to attend after school tutoring with the math teacher. My son is passionate about playing football and because of his last progress report, now realizes that he will not be able to play football because of the 2 D's. My son has just told me that he feels like I want him to be perfect, that I don't give positive feedback on the B's and C's that he gets on his progress report, that he feels sad when he comes home because he is constantly grounded. Based on everything that he told me, he does not like the fact that he is grounded, but grounded because of his grades. Yes, there may have been more focus on the fact that he is not doing good in 2 classes, but I believe that I have tried to challenge him and encourage him to do better.

How do I get him on track with school and his grades? Am I too hard on him, because I want him to at least receive a B in all of his classes? What is appropriate punishment for poor grades? Is this normal for 12 year old boys? What do I do?

My son has always enjoyed math and it was a very strong subject for him He started out the school year ok, but he is very chatty in class, wants to be the social butterfly, the popular kid, the funny guy. I have talked with his teachers and they have suggested after school tutoring and that my son just needs to complete his weekly study guide to prepare for the weekly tests. When I discuss homework with my son, it is usually that he did not have homework and I has been caught on multiple occasions not attending the tutoring, but instead hanging out on campus with his friends.

What can I do next?

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answers from Washington DC on

rather than punishing him (especially by taking away something as positive as a sport) for bad grades, how about incentives for good ones?

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answers from Portland on

Your son is telling you that he feels that you don't recognize when he does well and that your focus is on the negative aspects of his school work. I suggest that you find a way to give him more positive feedback and give more rewards as well as I'm proud of you comments than you give negative comments and attention to how poorly he's doing.

I suggest it's not that you're too hard on him. It's that your focus is more on getting him to improve his grades than it is on praising him for what he does right. When we focus on the negative we cause our children to become depressed with a feeling that they can't do any better.

I also suggest that grounding isn't working and it's time to find other ways to inspire him to do better. The way I think of it, is that the poor grades and the inability to play football. Those are very natural and unpleasant consequences. I suggest he doesn't need any more consequences than those for poor grades.

I suggest that he needs boundaries instead. Perhaps that he has to complete his homework, show it to you before he can do anything else. Teach him study skills. Provide tools for learning. Stop challenging him. He's showing you that this isn't helping.

Praise him for his good grades. Provide space and study skill learning for him as well as a time during which his work is to be done. Tell him that you know he can get better grades in those two classes. Ask him how you can help him. Ask him why he thinks he's not getting better grades. Talk with his teachers and find out what he's missing and how he can do better. Find out what the problem is be proactive instead of negative with punishment.

And you are being too hard when you expect him to get Bs. He's not there now. Expect him to get Cs first and then encourage him to get Bs. Praise him when he passes a class. Ask him what grade he wants to get. Involve him in discussions about what is happening and how he thinks he can make it better.

Give him the responsibility of making better grades. When you ground him he doesn't have an incentive to do better. He's discouraged. He doesn't see a way thru. He feels he has to please you when he needs to please himself. Back off. Decide together on boundaries that will help him focus and do better. Let the natural consequence of feeling bad that he's disappointed himself and that he's unable to play football. Assume he can do better. Praise him, say positive things to him several times a day. Focus on the positive.

I urge you to read Love and Logic by Foster Cline. There is a way to inspire by using positive reinforcement and allowing natural consequences.

10 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I really don't think grounding is the answer to bad grades. I don't think it encourages students to work harder, I think it makes them give up.

Instead, give him small goals he CAN achieve! Allow him to play his sports, but only AFTER he has achieved the small goal. It's small steps that will help him in school, not bringing up a D to a B.

Is he going to tutoring? Is he trying? I think he deserves to be rewarded for his EFFORT, and for the other grades he has that are good. He might just not be as good in math.

I think kids need HELP, not grounding. Kids who don't try are often so lost that they just give up. Most kids want to do well in school, it's only after many failures that they give up.

I would allow him to play football, so long as he's trying, and his homework comes before practice.

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

I don't see why you would punish for bad grades. I also wouldn't gush about them or reward for them. Bribery and punishment are sides of the same coin. And neither is effective in achieving the goal.

The goal of school is NOT (or should not be) to get As. The goal is to learn and to develop a lifelong love of learning - both the material and the skills to organize the material and formulate a well reasoned argument/discussion about it. If your son is getting bad grades then for some reason he is not getting the goal of school You need to find out from him why. Perhaps he does not see why he should learn about math. Perhaps he doesn't really get how math is essential in our world. What does he find fascinating in the world? Space, technology, sports? Take him to your science center so he can SEE how math and engineering play into sports physiology. Let him spend a day with an engineer, physicist or other person who uses math every day. Same for social studies.. He is only in 6th grade. Way way too early to decide that learning about the world is boring and only to be done so he can play football.

What does he want to be when he grows up? I can't imagine anything he aspires to that does not involve math, social studies or both. Even football - it is simply not a career for the vast majority of kids. For those whom it will be it is a career over well before they are 30 (for most) - leaving most of their working lives ahead. Who designs all the technology that enables modern sports training? People who did well in math.

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answers from Kansas City on

i don't think you are being too hard on him - but it's possible he may be right about the lack of positive enforcement for GOOD things he does...everyone is different. i am a gusher. but my child is 6, too. so there's a difference. i always try to praise when he does well. and i also expect him to succeed, so D's would not be acceptable. maybe you can compromise, while still expecting him to get his grades up, by making an effort to praise and reward more? there is always room for compromise - and i think you are very fortunate that your 12 year old can be this honest with you. give him a little credit. it took courage for him to speak up. and it's possible you could give a little on this one.

NOW - having said that- i would ground more for not showing up to tutoring and lying about it, than the grades. for bad grades, the natural consequence would be missing out on football, tutoring, more one-on-one attention during homework time. i'd be up his butt until the grades got up. but not being where he should be, and lying? THAT is cause for grounding. you can't trust him to be where he's supposed to be. so he loses some of that independence.

i always try to reward for good honest effort. if he truly couldn't do it, that'd be different. but not even trying, slacking off - that to me, is the bigger offense, than the D's themselves.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Well, I kind of agree with one point your child makes. He hates coming home because he is always grounded. If he is grounded in his free-time/socializing time he is now using class time as his time to make up for it.

I think you need to hire a tutor to come to your house and work with your son two or three nights a week.
He may have been good at elementary school math, but this could be different concepts (for example, I loved math, but hated proofs and theorems so my grades went down then).

I'd let him experience natural consequences. Poor grades, you repeat, don't get to be on the team, and if it continues can damage possibility to get into college. Lay it out for him. Offer help, not punishment and then let him make his decisions. If he fails, better now in 6th grade than a freshman in college. It is not the end of the world right now.

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answers from Dallas on

ADD: I do agree that he can't just breeze through and not be responsible. But it is also possible that this year is different, that the work is harder and his grades are also down because of a learning curve. I just bring this up because I was the "easy A" kid and my sister got C's. Maybe some B's. She tried, but that's as good as it got. He needs positive feedback on the C's (not a lot, but a "you're making progress") because they are better than D's. The B's need recognition because they are better than C's. Yes, he needs to get his act together, but he needs feedback for the progress as he's doing it, and not as much focus on the "you're not measuring up" side.

ORIGINAL: You may not be hard on him, BUT in his eyes, if he is making progress and it isn't being recognized, that could feel hurtful. Constant grounding may not be the way to go. Is the grounding helpful, or is the tutoring what's working? He may not be getting positive feedback (or hearing it) for what he is doing. You don't want him to loose heart.

Now, skipping tutoring - that's a grounding. Bad grades = less fun, but not no fun at all. Perhaps work with him to come up with something that rewards progress, punishes outright irresponsibility? He needs to balance his desire for fun with the need for work.

Good luck!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

Middle school is a really hard transition for many kids.
It can be really hard to balance the homework and social aspects.

You've had the parent/teacher/student conferences and it's good your son is telling you how he feels.
It's an opportunity to communicate.

The middle/high school's where we are have on online system where homework assignments are posted for each class.
I can look anytime and see what homework has been assigned - so if my son tells me 'there is no homework' it's easy to verify.

You are not expecting straight A's - you just want him to be the best he can be - and you know he can do better than D's.
The D's get the attention because that's where he needs help.
Tell him you know he wants to play football - you WANT him to play foot ball - you WANT him to have fun doing what he loves to do.
You are ON HIS SIDE.
But in order to DO that he has to work on those subjects that are giving him trouble.
Skipping out on the tutor and not completing his weekly study guide are not helping him achieve his goal.
He's shooting himself in the foot and the consequences are that it's HIS OWN FAULT that he won't be playing football next year.
It's the schools rules that are doing this - YOU had nothing to do with that.
He has no one to blame but himself.
The school work comes before EVERYTHING else- before friends, games, tv, sports, etc.
The quickest way to fun is to get the work done.

He needs to figure out what he REALLY wants (football), work out steps to achieve his goal - and the PUT FORTH THE WORK/EFFORT involved in achieving that goal.
His friends are a distraction and are getting in the way of his goal.
If he's not willing to work on this, then he doesn't really want football badly enough.

You are going to have to have this conversation with him more than once.
He has some growing up to do.
Is there any extra credit work he can do to bring those grades up before the end of the year?
Can he take summer school?
Will meeting with the coach help inspire him to get his act together?
He's not the only athlete who has trouble keeping his grades up.
He might still be able to pull a rabbit out of a hat - but it's going to take discipline and work on his part.
You are willing to help him - but he has to own this problem and conquer it.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

Have you asked the teacher what the problem is? has yoru son always struggled in math? or just this year? is he trying his hardest atn just not getting it.. or is he being lazy?

I guess you need to know the root of the problem. If he can do better and he is not .. you should push him.. but if the material is too hard.. the teacher is not really trying with your child.. or there is some other factor going on... then cut him a break.. however.. school is his job.. and he cannot play ball if he is not getting his job done..

for the summer.. maybe sylvan or kumon.. they teach differently..and maybe that will work for him.

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answers from Phoenix on

It is not excessive to expect your son, who otherwise has no learning disabilities that you are aware of, to receive decent grades. Of course he's going to say that you're too hard on him. He's 12. I can tell from your post that you are a loving mom who probably showers him with love and attention. He's complaining about consequences. That's what kids do. No one likes them.

I would stay strong on this. I teach 12-13 year olds. Most boys are "passionate" about sports, skateboarding, art, or video games. Getting grounded to keep his priorities straight is an important lesson, however it will have zero effect if you don't follow through.

Additionally there is something else going on here. Both you and his teachers (the main authority figures in his life) have instructed him to go to after school tutoring and complete his homework. He is currently doing neither and lying about it. If you don't want to ground him for grades, how about grounding him for lack of respect for you and his teachers? At this age, he doesn't get a choice to obey you. He's the kid and you're the parent. What you say goes.

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answers from San Francisco on

Yes, you are too hard on him if you ground him for C's. C is average, and C is fine. Not all kids are scholars.

Your son's motivation needs to come from within. Allow him to get C's, if that's okay with him and he's okay with going to a jr. college or a mediocre college. Only ground him for D's and F's, so that he can make up his schoolwork. He won't want to have to repeat a class because he failed it.

You can't force B's and A's, and taking away a sport for a grade is a bad trade-off. Sports are really important, too.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

Well, to play devil's advocate:
How much time do you spend with him?
Does he come home to an empty house, or stay after school for aftercare?
Any siblings?
How much time does he spend playing electronics (ipod, video games, TV, computer?)
Are there times he is in his room, alone, for no good reason?
Is he spending time with peers at your house, so you can get to know his friends?
Does his father spend time with him?
Is he involved in household chores (getting dinner on the table, cleaning up, laundry?)

All these things are important to his total growth and development. If he only feels interacted with when he's getting in trouble, he is acting out for attention. Do you "catch" him being good? Do you have conversations with him about life, love, friends, college, dreams, ambitions?

It's hard raising teens and preteens. I have 2 of those myself. We have family rules about helping out around the house, spending time with siblings and parents, not "hanging out" at school after school, etc.No electronics during the week (except TV). Sports are important to their social relationships as well as physical health. I'm not sure how I feel about you removing him from the team.

Try having the teacher send you a daily report of homework that needs done. ATTEND the tutoring with him (how is it that he can skip out?!?!), involve him in family life with you and your husband, praise him for the good grades, and take him somewhere fun occasionally to blow off steam, even if its just pizza night, or bowling. He's still a kid, and will enjoy these things.

Not every kid was meant to be a straight A student, but if he can make B's in other classes, his D's are a cry for attention. Figure out what is going on with him, so you can help him through it.

Best of luck!

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answers from Dallas on

It's his job to learn. His only job. Don't let him guilt you.
If he thinks it's bad, now?
Do not wash his football stuff. Do not do the jobs you have always done for him. When he loudly complains, you say, if you are not doing your only job and think its no big deal, I am not doing mine. I couldn't wash your clothes because I was hanging out, talking to my friends. I plan to keep on doing that till you get your priorities straight.
Give me a completed study guide by every Thursday and I will wash for you.
He might wash his clothes on his own and I would let him. But I bet that won't last long!

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answers from Minneapolis on

Middle school is a notoriously difficult transition for many kids and boys seem to generally have a harder time with it than girls. Middle school requires many organizational and other skills that are not required in elementary schools. I have two boys--one breezed through the middle school transition and one is struggling. I've had concerns about this same issue--in our house it's not grounding, but restricting computer and video game time that are issues.

One thing I didn't understand from your post--is he not able to play football because you are telling him he can't because of the bad grades or does the school have minimum requirements and won't allow him to play with Ds? Based on my experiences with my boys and some of their friends, I don't think taking sports away is usually very helpful. But often schools have minimum academic requirements so that is out of the parents' hands. If you have control over it, sports participation can often be a good motivator and helps them learn to manage time.

It sounds like you are already doing this, but I would continue to work with the school and his teachers. Is this a sudden change? Do they know it's attitude/effort as opposed to something else interfering with his learning and performance? In my younger son's case it was determined that he is significantly behind in developing the organization skills that middle schoolers need and fortunately our school actually offers a class/elective to help him with this. I am struggling with this too so I understand your plight, but I am learning (with the school's help) that punishing kids for bad grades doesn't really teach them how to improve their grades and that what you need to do is less punishment and more working on what steps he can take to do better. Can you sit down with him and work out a plan for completing the weekly study guide? Does he use the planner that most middle schools provide? Do you check his missing homework and assignments on line? Is there an incentive you can use to get him to attend the tutoring? Our school doesn't really allow "hanging out" after school unless you are in an organized activity or study group so I would think the administration could discourage that. Sometimes when my son and I discuss these things it can get very frustrating for both of us. I've found it helpful to engage the help of another party--sometimes a teacher, sometimes my husband. Good luck! And yes, I think this kind of stuff is pretty common with 12-year-old boys. Maybe not "normal," but common.

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answers from Houston on

In Texas, if your child has a D on the progress report, they are not allowed to participate in extra curricular activities. This is so they will go home and study and get their grade up for report card time. This is not a punishment from the parents but from the school system. If they get the D on the report card, they don't participate until progress reports come home in the next grading cycle. Its called "No pass, No play".

Of course you punish for bad grades. I'm at a loss for those that don't think you should. School is his JOB. What is also a concern is that he is skipping tutoring and lying about that. BIG NO NO! Do you have other problems besides the grades? Has his friends changed? Any other new and negative behaviors?

Also, from our experience, school tutoring was a joke. We hired private tutors for our kids when they were struggling. Our daughter went to Sylvan in the 4th grade. What I suggest is contacting Huntington, Sylvan or any other type of tutoring company and see what they have available or find a college student who is a math/education major looking to make extra money this summer.

Talk to your son. Ask him what he thinks the problem is. I always found it fascinating when I asked my kids that question. Sometimes, they are very informative and sometimes they have no clue.

I'm sure he is sad when he comes home. There are consequences to his actions. I love my kids and they knew that but sometimes tough love is necessary.

What we told our kids was there are negative and positive consequences to every choice. Our son had a very difficult time transitioning to middle school. It was so hard. He wasn't used to being responsible for himself. I think our grade schools need to have more structure with the kids.

I worked with the teachers and our son. It was a struggle. He was grounded ALOT as well. Our thought was, if you don't care about grades, I don't care about your social life. Were we hard on him? YES! Its called parenting! I'm not a Mom to win popularity contests, I'm here to make sure that he got an education and became a productive member of society. That is MY job.

His Freshman and Sophomore years were tough. He finally realized that his grades ARE important.

Its not easy. Talk to him and see what he has to say about why he is doing what he is doing. Doesn't mean he doesn't have consequences but you might find out something worth knowing. Good luck!!!

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answers from Philadelphia on

Well you are not asking him to be perfect, you are asking him to get B's. I also would not gush over the good grades unless he worked really hard for them. I praise good work ethics (studying skills) and hard work, not good grades. Good grades will follow if they are doing what they are suppose to do. School is there job and it is expected that they will do their best. I would not specifically ground him for bad grades. It is a natural consequence that he can't participate in football until his grades are raised.
Your son's comment sounds typical of a 12 yo who wants to make you feel guilty. Let his comments go in one ear and out the other. Don't let him change the subject...his grades must improve.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I think it's time he be told that life is what you make of it and his life is what he's making of it.

If he wants you to back off, he must step up. You don't want him to be perfect, but you're not going to sit by while he's being lazy.

I think this is fairly typical for 12 year old boys. My grandson, like your son, got great grades in elementary school. Middle school not so much. But he's finally back on track, thank heavens!

I would start "study time." That is a time that you set and every day he is doing school work for that time. Say from 4:00 - 5:00. If he says he has no homework, then you give him some work. Keep some worksheets or other things on hand for these times. This way, there is no up side to saying he's finished his homework because he'll be doing work anyway. One of my favorite things to have them do is to go through the dictionary and find one word that begins with each letter of the alphabet. Has to be 5 letters or more; write the word, what it means, and use it in a sentence.

Good luck mom. You are not being too hard on him.

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answers from Miami on

You are not too hard on him. You are asking him to maintain passing grades. Unless he has some kind of learning disability (which doesn't "appear" in middle school) then he's goofing off and not taking his job seriously. Football is not his job... it's an after school activity.

The teachers have hit it right on the head. He needs to do his work and prepare for tests. Until he can prove that he is capable of doing so, then the extracurriculars are not an option.

Grounding is an appropriate consequence, as long as he is spending that time getting caught up on his work (not playing video games or watching t.v.). Just my opinion, but I would leave him on "restriction" until his grade improve. Email the teachers weekly and get feedback on:
1. Completed/ Incomplete assignments
2. Grades
3. Attitude/ Participation

When all of the above are consistently positive... then he's off the hook. If he's capable and WANTS to have his free time back, he'll buckle down and start working.

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answers from Seattle on

":Hey buddy, you don't like being grounded? Bring home better grades. Stop playing video games and do your homework. Stop talking in class and listen to what your teacher is teaching you. Go to your tutor and stop talking to your friends. If you do all of these things and are STILL getting D's then we will discuss whether the best you can do is a "D". I highly doubt it. Quit complaining about how life isn't fair and being "sad" and do something about it."

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answers from Los Angeles on

If your child is telling you he feels you are too hard on him, believe him. That is how he feels. You have no right to tell him how he feels, he knows how he feels, and you are making a mistake by not believing him. We all need validation, praise, and encouragement, children especially. It's already been said that middle school is a difficult transition, and it's very common for grades to fluctuate. Insisting that he get B's in all classes sounds like it's too much pressure on him, easing up and allowing C's will take some of that pressure off.

You said that you've met with his teachers, what do they suggest other than tutoring? Does he have a planner to write all of his homework in? Arrange with his teacher that they sign off on his planner daily, then you'll know if he really doesnt' have any homework that day. Same goes for his tutors. Sit down and make a plan with your son. Set up a reward system.

My kids get paid for grades. School is their work and learning is their job, and they get paid for going to work and doing their job, just like their dad does. They work their butts off, and while achievement is it's own reward, money is a bonus.

Both my sons are GATE/honors students. Both went through a transition period when they started middle school; grades dropped, and went up, they struggled, and finally things settled. But it took all of 7th grade for this adjustment. My youngest is still figuring this out, but (I hope) the worst has passed. With my oldest, now finishing his sophomore year in high school, come to find out, I was VERY hard on him. He is extremely smart, things come easily for him, and he tends to skate by. I know his capabilities and have always pushed him to excel, encouraging him to push himself a little more because he was only a couple point away from a higher grade. Well, it seems that my "encouraging" was not taken as such, and has driven a wedge between us. I didnt' realize that what I saw as a mother's desire for her son to do his best, was taken as a mother who didn't think her son was good enough. I am trying to do better with my younger son.

Talk to your son. Work WITH him and his teachers. Praise him, hug him, love him. Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

While I wouldn't let a kid get off scott free, it might be time to talk to him.

I would ask him what his goals are. Does he want to play football? The school requires x grades for football. So if he doesn't bring up his grades, he cannot play because the SCHOOL will not let him.

You have tried tutoring and he isn't attending. So that tells you that he's not being trustworthy and not taking his grades seriously. If he did, then he would take the help offered. Is he not doing tutoring at school because it's "nerdy" or "uncool"? If so, would he go to a different tutor? Maybe someone you hire? But if you hire someone, you have to take the money from somewhere else in the budget, so would he be willing to take a cut in his allowance? Etc.

Basically, brainstorm with him. Write down every possible suggestion and then at the end go back and cross off things that won't work.

I would also explain to him that school is his job. I would take his comments to heart (even though I often got As I still wanted to hear I was doing a good job) and praise him for his improved grades. But you still need to see improvement in those other classes.

Something we had to do with my sks were take away social outlets or video games. They could earn those things back when improvements were made. Being up til 12 AM because she put off a project because she wanted to play is Not Acceptable.

If a child in our home tries his or her best and gets a C, then we don't complain about the C. Sometimes things are hard. But the effort matters. If that child doesn't put in any effort or is getting a C because s/he never turned in HW, then we have a problem.

If football motivates him, then use that. If he brings up his grades, he can do football, per the school's rules. If he doesn't, he can't. If he does really well, maybe look into a summer camp for football.

If you have Edline or similar, look up the homework and ask to see it. No homework, no TV or whatever. You know he should have it every night/week.

Is this his first year in middle school? It's a big transition. Some kids need more help than others getting organized and staying focused. My sks were big social butterflies, too, and we had to work on "time and place".

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answers from New York on

Well, you'd think that not being able to play football due to his grades would be a motivation to get back on track.
He is too young for you not to have control of where he is. Are you able to show up on campus, make sure that he's at the tutoring, and if not, take him home? He shouldn't be cutting out of extra help to hang out with his friends.
School should be his top priority, BUT he does need to have time for a social life as well. He needs to be taught balance.
I never demanded that my kids (now finishing 8th and 12th grades) bring home all A's. I expected them to perform to the best of their ability. They needed to put their best effort into their school work. It sounds like your son is not doing that. My younger teen knows that if he doesn't go to extra help in the classes that he needs it with, he won't be taking part in any scout or social activities on the weekend. Good luck


answers from Washington DC on

First of all, you are NOT being too hard on him. He may be trying to be manipulative to get what he wants from you - please do not give in. He is a CHILD and doing what he can to get you on his side. If any of my kids brought home a C, they wouldn't be playing anything - and that's my rule. Forget what the school says.

My daughter is 9 and has had straight A's for all of the seven quarters she has received grades so far. She has to work for them. She also dances competitively and knows if she wants to dance, her grades have to be up. Anything less than a B, and all extra's go away until the grades come up. But I know my kid and I know what she is capable of.

Maybe your son is capable of getting B's, so those should be rewarded with praise. A "C" should never be rewarded. That's not average or acceptable. To me a C says the student didn't try. The parents and teachers weren't working together to get that grade up. No way would my kid get ANY slack for a grade lower than a B...ever.

Would I ground my kids for their bad grades? Nope. I don't think the punishment fits the crime. And it's not working for you. You aren't getting the desired results. Take away football for a week. Tell him when his teacher says she seems more effort from him, then he can go back to practice.

I have been all over the place, but you are NOT being too hard on him. I'd tell him nice try and he can go back to football when his grades are up to B's. He has to give his best effort to school, not sports.

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