Smart Kid, Bad Grades, Too Social

Updated on October 09, 2014
N.Y. asks from Saint Paul, MN
14 answers

My 12-year-old son is a social butterfly. He is well liked by everyone and he has the biggest heart. He loves to make people laugh; however, he does this at the wrong times. He tends to focus on being the class clown rather than paying attention in class. His need to be the "funny guy" has caused his grades to slip in some classes. He gets As and Bs in some, but right now he also has a D and a F. He admits he is social in class and doesn't pay attention sometimes. He is also lazy and super unorganized. (typical teenage boy I'm sure) He is constantly missing homework. I have tried everything to help him stay on track and be organized. It started with me asking him what I can do to help him, to me making post-it notes with a check list of things he needed to ask his teachers so he can get caught up, and also organizing and creating a good system for his folders. Then it graduated to taking away his privileges. Last week he had all electronics taken away. On Friday he told me all his missing work had been turned in. I believed him and returned his iPhone to him. Today I found out he lied. As of now he has no freedom. I wouldn't even let him sit in the front seat with me. He is grounded from EVERYTHING! I took his phone, disabled the TV in his room, told him no friends, and I have arranged for him to do some manual labor at his grandmother's house this weekend. All he was able to do tonight was the dishes, take out the trash and read. I don't think I'm doing the right thing. I've just taken everything away, so he has nothing else to lose. But I am at my wits end. I'm hurt and scared that he has a D and a F. I've contacted his teachers and I also have conferences with them this week. What else can I do to support his learning and discourage his need to be the center of attention all the time? His father and I have already spoken to him about how that is a wonderful characteristic to have, but he needs to learn when it is ok and when it is not ok. I have been angry and battling with him everyday for almost two weeks now. This can't continue. I would love to hear other thoughts.

What can I do next?

  • Add yourAnswer own comment
  • Ask your own question Add Question
  • Join the Mamapedia community Mamapedia
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

Featured Answers



answers from Dallas on

Probably the unpopular opinion, but I think you should calm down a bit. Grades aren't everything. Just being an adolescent is incredibly distracting, and more of a challenge for some kids. Social acceptance trumps everything.

Thinking long term, getting a couple bad grades and needing to repeat classes (possibly in summer school) are just life lessons that he M. go through. Have you considered letting him fail (literally) and deal with the consequences as a life lesson? It doesn't mean you need to put the TV back in his room, but you don't need to battle with him everyday either.

5 moms found this helpful

More Answers



answers from Las Vegas on

Hi N.,

While I agree that "grades aren't everything," your son is showing problematic behaviors and is developing some misguided and maladaptive coping strategies that, left unaddressed, may likely backfire and leave him falling further behind with the passing of time and the increasing demands of each successive grade.

Lying is a breach of trust and should be addressed as such with a related consequence. A smart kid getting failing grades is another matter and needs to be addressed on different level. (Taking away his electronics isn't going to teach him the skills he is lacking, as you've noticed).

Check out the book, "Smart but Scattered" by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare. This book describes the executive function deficits that kids like your son demonstrate (forgetting homework, inattention, disorganization, not completing things, etc.). Executive functions are brain-based skills that some kids seem to learn rather naturally and easily, while other kids, whose brains are wired differently, seem to struggle with developing these important and necessary skills.

Some of the skills that might seem very basic and that some people tend to take for granted (e.g., the ability to attend to a task, to initiate and organize work, manage time, work toward a goal, etc ), are extremely difficult for kids with these deficits. You have to identify the specific deficits and then work toward building and strengthening those skills.

The work of these authors is research and clinically based, but the book is written in a clear, easy to follow manner. The information can help you to identify your child's strengths and weaknesses and come up with practical plans to address the weaknesses.

These authors have written several books on the subject. Another favorite of mine is "Coaching Students with Executive Skills Deficits." They also have one geared specifically for teens. If you do a google search of the authors, all of the titles will pop up.

I attended a workshop with Dr. Dawson last year as part of on-going continuing education for my license, and I was particularly impressed with her level of experience and expertise. She is a school psychologist with children of her own, and she really gets it. She is very supportive of parents and presents this information to give them every possible tool to help their children.

(FYI---I don't have any relationship, personal or professional, with Dr. Dawson other than attending one of her course presentations. I receive no compensation for suggesting these books. Just find them very useful).

If your son shows no improvement and is still having problems after you've read the material and tried the strategies, it is probably time to ask for a referral for an neuropsychological evaluation.

Wishing you and your son the best.

J. F.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Is he unorganized or does he have a problem being organized and paying attention? I would communicate with his teachers re: work. Do you any communication system like Edline? I think that not only does he need a consequence, he needs to be sat down. Dump out that bookbag that looks like rats nested in it. Get all the folders, workbooks, etc. Make a system. Work with him on that system. Follow up with him on that system. Talk to him about what's going on in class and why it's important to pay attention and not fail. One reason not to fail is he won't stay with his friends. He will have to redo that class, or be held behind. If he ends up in summer school, then I would make him earn some of the fee. Sometimes it is not just what not to do that we need to teach them, but also what TO do. So see if helping him see your POV and get organized helps any. And I would also break down the issues. Lying would be one consequence. Not doing HW would be another. See if you can fit the time with the crime.

I also agree with Veruca that you should revisit things like electronics all the time, TVs in bedrooms, and letting him choose how much screen time he gets. He earns it when he's done what he needs to do - be it homework or chores.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Have you considered he may have a learning disability and the clowning and not paying attention is a cover up. What classes is he failing? He may have difficulty in those classes because of the subject matter and a disability. I'd ask the school for an evaluation.

Your description of your son fits my 13 yo grandaughter. She is very social but doesn't clown around. She pays attention in class and doesn't follow thru on homework. She has been on an IEP because of an ADD diagnosis for several years now. She gets extra help. She doesn't see school as important.

She is now living with me. This week she has agreed to show me her homework every night. I will look at her planner and biology work sheet every Friday. Our district has a web site that shows work completed and grades. There are 0s in spaces for work not done. If she lacks any work she will have to do it before she can do anything else.

Her parents tried taking every thing away expecting her to earn things back. It didn't work not only because she seemed to not care but also her parents couldn't be consistent. They live in a small apartment with four children including a 3 and 1yo. Life is too chaotic for them. It was harder on her parents than her.

I suggest, since you've already taken everything away that you continue for a couple of weeks to see if it might work. I suggest you involve him in listing how he can earn something back. Write it down. Decide which thing he wants back first and what he needs to do to get it back. Give things back one thing at a time. Be specific. For example he can watch TV each night after he cleans out his backpack and has a plan for doing homework. Then add something else such as he shows you his completed homework each night. once he's successful with that add the other class and give something back. He doesn't watch TV or use electronics until he shows you his completed homework.A global you must do your homework or bring your grades up is too vague as well as overwhelming.

Praise him for trying. Focus on his successes instead of his failures. Say nothing except "no TV" when he hasn't completed his homework.

Remember that school is his responsibility. You are not a failure if he fails. Be sure he understands that whether or not he fails is up to him. You are there only to help if he asks for help.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

First, no one is liked by everybody. Not everyone likes someone who needs to be the center of attention.

I have a young co-worker in his early 20s who is the workplace clown. I am not amused by him or his jokes. I can see that it is a cover for something.

Get your son talking. There is something deeper there.

ETA: I am glad that you are not blaming the teacher for anything. That is a great start. You know this is all about your son's actions. The teacher should welcome your approach--it is refreshing!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

when my son was right at this age, in middle school, he was behaving in a similar fashion. he'd always been a great student, and the teachers loved him. he was helpful and nice to the other kids and always got comments like 'a joy to be around.'
but in middle school he just quit turning in his homework. it baffled me. he'd spend the time, sometimes hours, getting it done, and then just not turn it in. at first i thought he was just being absent-minded (which he is, gets it from his mom) but then it became clear that it was deliberate. his teachers were equally baffled. when we'd all sit down and talk he'd appear appropriately remorseful, but logic, and consequences, and discussion, and me losing it finally, did nothing.
that was around the time i realized that my nice, intelligent, basically normal son was not thriving in public school, and i could either force him to conform (which would have worked to some degree) or figure out how to rekindle a true love of learning. and that led to a year of private school (epic failure) and finally homeschooling. i sure wish i'd started earlier!
i don't know if that's what's at the heart of your son's issues or if homeschooling would help. but i do suggest that you look outside 'how can i punish him better to get him to wake up' and find new and creative ways to help your son figure out what's going on, and how best to address it. at some point just taking away privileges is counter-productive, and you don't want to squelch his natural enthusiasm and joy.
one thing that might do the trick is a daddy weekend. maybe if he and your husband can just go on an overnight autumn camping trip, something where the pressure will be off, but there will be quiet and space for talking. it often can't happen in the few minutes or even an hour that we carve out after school or in the evenings. and kids can rarely articulate why they're acting the way they do.
remember when you're feeling 'hurt' that these are his actions, and your emotions are your own, not for him to manage. you need to be a source a calmness and strength for him, not a liability he has to tiptoe around. don't operate from a place of hurt and fear, and decline the battle. this is his to own, but he's only 12 and doesn't yet have the introspection to examine and understand his deep impulses.
but i'm betting this is fixable. take the pressure off both of you, and find innovative ways of helping your son take charge of himself.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

OMG! He is my husband at that age. I have known my husband since we were 13 and in middle school. Remember he has a million hormones raging through him. Is he active physically? Make sure he is getting enough exercise. Cross Country, swimming, biking.. People talk about girls being emotional, but teen boys can be flaky.. And since they are male, they do not ask for help and are not very self aware.

My husband was so cute, charming smart! He looked just like Cary Elwes in Princess Bride. I am not kidding. But homework, classwork,, It was really hard for him to have to sit there and be still.
Here is the deal, he would fly through the tests. He can look at anything and explain how and why it works, but make him sit down and write it out, like torture.

If someone sat with him while he did the homework, he could get the work done. Not helping him, but just being there doing their own work (paying bills, sewing, reading, folding clothes. ) But the next day.. would not turn in the homework. No matter how organized it ended up at the bottom of his bag or lost in his locker. Time to take the test? He would pass it. Took the SAT, did great.. Got to college, could not get to class, could not get the homework done and turned in. he has no sense of time. It is just not there for him.

With technology he has been able to set alarms, and calendars to remind him about work stuff and I help him with our family life and calendar.

Yep, he has ADHD. Still does they do not grow out of it, it actually becomes worse as they age.
His parents refused to let him take medication..

Please please, have him tested. Also have a meeting with his teachers, ask them if your son can be allowed to sit up front in all of the classes. See if his homework can be done online and emailed in. Do not take his friends away. Let him still be able to do things, maybe not everything, but understand that the social part is the only thing at this point that he is being successful at.

You need to study him and figure out what are best practices for HIM. What is he good at and let that be a way to get work out of him and in a timely manner. It may mean post it notes on the toilet in the mornings to remind him of the day and another post it note on his back pack and another one attached to his math book,. Yes, this is the type of thing I have to do for my husband many times.

Perfect example. Trash day all of his life has been on Fridays. ALL of his life. He still cannot remember on Thursday nights to put the trash out. Even if I remind him... Do you think he likes realizing he has forgotten again? No he hates it. Embarrasses him every time. If I suggest we start getting the trash ready on Thursday, he sees it as an insult and insists he will remember. Friday mornings he hears that truck coming. You should see his face.

My husband was and always has been a whiz on the computer. He was in charge of one of the largest budgets for the city of Austin and did it all on the computer. He always saved the city money, because he is also a whiz at finding the best deals and making deals with very highly regarded vendors. He is charming funny and very knowledgeable about all sorts of things. He can read something and retain it. Even better if he listens to information he has it down.

What my husband is not good at is, being barked at or yelled at. It shuts him down. He cannot explain why he does things. He responds best to compliments rather than negative comments. Example, Bill, you are so great at writing up budgets, will you help me with my book keeping for this month. My numbers are not making sense. Then I will help you organize the garage for a couple of hours this afternoon.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

you should remove the tv from his room now. along with all electronics. and start a homework system where you are in contact with the teacher. you can't tell him to find out the missing homework you need to do that and then get him back on track. also make him earn back the privilege of having the phone, games etc. as far as the social thing. maybe stop making such a big deal about it being a good thing. it is apparently not a good thing in his case. why are you scared and hurt that he has a d and f? those are his grades not yours. his homework needs to be his priority. not just yours. don't give in and don't give him his stuff back until he is back on track and then when you do give it back it with with the understanding that he keep up. and an fyi manual labor won't hurt him.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

When my grandson was messing up around 9th grade, my daughter put him on independent study and he started going to work with my hubby every day. We told him he had two choices - he could put in effort at school and end up working using his mind or he could continue to mess up and end up working with his back. We showed him what it was like working with your back. Didn't take him but one semester to decide that school was better. He's now got enough credits to graduate and he just started his senior year. Unfortunately, people don't always heed a verbal warning; they need to feel/experience the consequence to really understand it.

I would double whatever manual labor you have planned for him because I'm sure it's not enough. Let him FEEL the weight of his choices!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I'd be a lot more concerned about the lying than the D, even the F. I'd discipline heavily for the lying. But really - you're "scared" about a D and an F?? Why? He's twelve! What scares you? Is it possible that you are overreacting and he's freaking out as a result?

I'd get the TV out of his room, period. No good can come from that.

I'd also check the school's website for the homework, and make your son SHOW you what he's done and hasn't done.

But I agree with Marda that your son exhibits all the signs of a kid with learning issues - social, entertaining, likable, class clown, poor organizational skills, lack of follow-through. Has anyone suggested this before? If not, it may be that it just didn't catch up to him until this age when the work gets harder and the teachers expect the kids to show more responsibility with fewer reminders. My guess is that this behavior didn't just appear this year - it's been evident for several years and either you were not informed about it, or somehow it was written off or downplayed as being charming and Mr. Big Heart just entertaining the crowd.

I'd have a conference with the teacher (or teaching team) within the next few weeks, which it sounds like you have set up already. I'd recognize that these teachers don't know him very well since it's only early October. I'd go back over the files from last year to see what teachers wrote about him then, as well as standardized testing. Get the guidance counselor or school psychologist to look at the files and sit in on the conferences. I'd also sit down with him in the most supportive way possible and go over what's problematic for him. He can start with extra help 2 days a week after school with the teachers in the problem subjects. Start with the "F" class first. Then the next week add the "D" class.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Miami on

It sounds like to me that he has an undiagnosed learning disability. I urge you to put your mind there and start investigating. He needs testing - if there's a children's hospital in your vicinity, take him there.

You can also write the school district a letter asking for testing, but schools have to go by private testing results if they differ from the school's testing.

I know it might throw you for me to bring up the possibility of learning disabilities, but for his sake, you must consider it.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

Hi N., I'm in St. Paul too! I feel for you. My girls are giving me big anxiety with middle and high school work. What works depends on your child. For my 12 year old, her electronics and some of her friend time is suspended until her missing work is turned in. She gets quite addicted to instagram and minecraft. To get her devices back, the ONLY thing I will accept is from her is her coming to me to show me an updated parent portal with the work shown as completed or and an email or note from the teacher. She still does sports and activities and spends time with the friends I know will actually do homework together with her while she still has missing work. We still do fun family activities. I also let the anger go and show her plenty of love and attention during the time she has her privileges removed. I used to check portals all the time and it literally drove me insane and my relationship with my older DD in the toilet a few years ago when she was this age. Now I only check once a week, unless the kids come to me to show me. My DH has become a lot more involved this year, which makes a huge difference, that it is not just me all alone figuring out what to do about school woes. This is SO hard, but my advice is to take a break and back off, because the more you make it YOUR responsibility to fix this, the more he is not going to accept it as HIS responsibility. You cannot control his grades. YOU are not a bad parent if HE fails to make good grades. Once you start being angry, it's hard to stop. I know. Above all, don't make your entire relationship about grades.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

I agree wholeheartedly with what Julie F has to say. I will probably look into the book she recommends myself, for my own son (he's older and has managed to improve some over time, but the book might help further).

I suggest to you that his "need to be a class clown" isn't a need at all, except as far as it helps deflect from his poor academic standing in those classes. He is managing, coping, with his problems of inattention, forgotten or incomplete or lost homework, etc, by making himself funny. It's easier to be laughed at when you join in or seem to ask for it. Not so much when it is because you are failing. It's his cover. Address the lying, HELP with the other. But please don't confuse his coping with BEING the problem.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

So as a retired middle school special needs teacher...I can tell you I have seen this many times before. And sorry wasn't always in my classes.

Class clowns are usually the smartest kids in the class - who else listens so closely and has a come back for EVERYTHING that was said and done in the class?? That makes that person the keenest, most observant in the room.

As for the grades, what classes is he "failing"? Talk with that teacher, ask THEM what THEY are doing to teach to his learning style. Ask them what his learning style is, some times they don't even know. Usually by this age, kids pick up their strengths and struggle with their weaknesses. And the ONLY PLACE IN THE WORLD that this is a problem is in school. Schools still believe that a child must excel in everything...and that is simply not the case. I am sure there are things you are good at and things you are not. And you would never go out and get a job or think about a career in something that you were not good in...yet we force that on our students everyday of their school career. Figure out his strengths and work on those. His teachers will have to figure out how to teach to his weaknesses...that is their job.

As for taking things away...that doesn't seem to bother him much. It sure won't encourage him. Think about it, at work if you boss were to withhold your pay, you would quit or even sue, you would never allow that kind of behaviour...yet you are expecting that negative reinforcement should work with your child. Start focusing on the GOOD stuff that he does. See if there is a drama club he can join. Create a study group where he and his friends can get together to study AND have fun. Find out what he likes and do more of that. He will find his niche, he really will.

Stop battling and start parenting (I say that will love and deep understanding for what you are going through) Your job as a parent is unconditional love - when you fight with him when he gets bad tells him you only love him when his grades are "worthy" of your love...even if you tell him you love him, your actions are speaking WAY more loudly)

And as for ADHD...did you know that MANY wonderful people throughout history have been "labeled" and they are doing just fine...Richard Branson, Jim Carrey, Michael Phelps, Will.I.Am.... honey love him for his quirks and work with the teachers to get him through school so when he gets into the real world he can SHINE like the brilliant star he is meant to be.

But that is simply my humble opinion...i only taught for years...

Retired Teacher
MomPreneur (top 20% of my company)
"labeled" ADHD - class clown - noisiest - more disruptive student in class

For Updates and Special Promotions
Follow Us

Related Questions