How do you deal with a slacker kid?

The history thread here, made me think about my son. He is going into his junior year in high school. He is in an IB (International Baccalaureate) program. He is very intelligent, but is a B/C student. He took AP US History last year as a sophomore and got a C as his overall grade for the class. A few weeks ago, we got the score on his AP history exam and he got a 5. (That’s the highest score you can receive on the test, which only about 10% of students that take the test, including juniors and seniors, get). He has historically always been a good test taker, especially standardized tests. Where he falls down, is completing and turning in homework assignments. He is a huge procastinator. He normally will do the bare minimum as required on projects and assignments.

My biggest challenge as a parent has been trying to find ways for him to motivate himself. His long range goal setting is only about 2-3 months out, and normally involves the next new release on some PS3 game he wants. He’s moderately involved in extra-cirricular activities, but not overly so.

He seems clueless as to even beginning to think about what colleges he might be interested in applying to. This is the year that he needs to start thinking about that, and for us to start planning visits, etc.

I have told him that he’s responsible for his actions and that regardless I will always love him, but it is disappointing to see him sqander various opportunities that he has in front of him.

It’s frustrating to see all of the potential that he has and him not make good use of it. What successful experiences have any of you had in getting your kids to become self motivated?

High school teacher here, so I see a lot of this.

I think you need to decide is what you really want here. Is it higher grades? Is it more actively involved in planning for college? Because you can get those things. Is it for him to be a different person, to be the sort who is internally motivated to get the good grades and start planning for college? Because that’s probably not going to happen, or at least isn’t going to happen in response to anything you do.

I’d seriously consider doing nothing. It’s too late for him to make the sort of grades that will get him into a Very Good School (if that’s what you want) and there are plenty of Perfectly Good Schools that he can get into with Bs and Cs and good test scores. He’ll do no permanent damage to his prospects if he keeps down this path.

As far as being interested in college goes, it’s really a little early. He has 18 months until applications are due. A good set of applications take about 20 hours of work to complete, start to finish, so he doesn’t even need to start working on them until say mid-September of his senior year. That’s forever away in kid time. He doesn’t even know who he will be then–how can he start thinking about specifics? The only exception to this is if he wants to get into some highly competitive program and needs to start developing his resume now, but it’s probably too late for that.

Boys mature a lot their junior year. If he’s interested enough in school to get good AP scores (so he is at least paying attention), making passing grades and staying out of serious trouble, I’d just give him time to grow up into whomever he is going to be. He’s really not “squandering” much.

Now, what do you mean by the procrastinating and doing the bare minimum on assignments? Does he pretty much get things done on his own and more or less turned in (given his own understanding of various teacher’s tolerances for late work and such) but when you happen to see it you’re dismayed by the half-assed nature of it? Or, is life at home a constant battleground of you nagging him to get stuff done and him dragging his feet and basically yes, it goes in at the last minute but it wouldn’t go in at all if you didn’t stand over him every minute? Because if it’s the former, I am going to tell you to chill out and count your blessings, because that’s a kid who will be able to get stuff done and done well once he figures out what he cares about. If it’s the latter, you need to make some serious changes in your strategy, because that’s a kid who isn’t going to make it through the first year of college if something doesn’t change.

I was a bit like this, only I actually did turn in homework assignments, and I wasn’t involved in extracurriculars.

I got much better once I got into some classes that actually interested me. Chemistry, physics, astronomy, comparative religion, art, and creative writing were the classes I was interested in, and those were the ones I put in more effort than the minimum for. Bear in mind, his interests might not be the same as yours. I did a lot better in college, because there were fewer classes I was required to take regardless of my interest or lack thereof in them. I went to a big state university (Maryland) where the required core courses were mostly picked from a list of approved courses in several categories. That approach suited me to a T, because it meant I didn’t have to take many classes I had no interest in.

Applying to college is scary, at least for some of us. We’re facing the prospect of life being totally different from everything we have known up until now, and you don’t really know what it’s going to be like. I don’t know if this is true of your son, but it certainly was for me. Let him ease his way into it. Maybe find a college student he can talk to about what it’s like, and about what to look for in a college.

I’m a similar slacker, and I can tell you what worked best for ME: realizing that if I buckle down and show up and do the work right away in the class, I’ll bring my gradebook average up high enough so that I can slack off the second half of the semester. Thing is, once I’m in the habit of doing the work, I keep on doing it anyway, and don’t actually end up slacking off. Still, it’s nice knowing that if a major medical crisis or something happens, I’ll still pass the class.

I didn’t figure this out until my mid thirties in nursing school, though. So I don’t honestly think a 14/15 year old will really “get it” until he figures it out for himself, sadly. I don’t really think you can teach motivation.

What you can do, though, is set him **small **goals and require that he follow through on them. “Pick a college” is way too big a goal for him, obviously, as it is for many kids his age. “Go online and get information on three colleges this week before I take you to GameStop,” might be more realistic. Then, perhaps, “Write a list of the the things you want in a college,” which is easier to do once you’ve gone through the promotional materials for a few schools. Next, “Write a list of the requirements for several colleges,” which may illuminate to him exactly what GPA he needs, what extra-curriculars would be a good idea and what ACT/SAT scores he should be shooting for. And, as MandaJo says, he may already be doing what he needs to do for that; not every college requires a 4.5 GPA and 200 hours of extra-curriculars. Make sure you’re supporting him in his goals (once he figures out what those are), not trying to make him live *your *goals, y’know?

Or, you could try my grandfather’s technique: help him find a job that doesn’t require a college degree. My grandfather got my dad a job with some housepainters - cleaning paintbrushes in a boiling vat of turpentine while wearing a rubber suit. In Chicago in August. The boy enrolled in college before January! :smiley:

It really depends if he’s coasting along on talent and test-taking skills or actually paying attention. I would go so far as to wager he’s probably actually paying attention if he got a 5 (you can’t bullshit the AP history exam, I took it 9 years ago and got… well, less than a 5).

My guess is that he will turn out okay. He might get more motivated to apply around once his friends start talking about college in fall of his senior year. Obviously he won’t be able to fall back on his grades, but he’ll likely do well in classes that don’t care about attendance or homework as long as you pass the exams. With C grades, he might have to start at a CC and transfer to a 4 year, though. Unless he pulled off a perfect SAT score.

You also might want to start laying out ultimatums as time passes. “If you’re still living here and not enrolled in college in September of what would have been your freshman year, you’re getting a job and paying rent.”

I was sort of like that growing up. I probably still am to a certain extent. It’s sort of the standard “smart gifted underachiever” scenario. The problem is that smart people (like I have been told that I am, and as your son seems to test) tend to find mundane stuff like regular school work tedious and pointless. Plus if they grow up in some comfy middle-class house in the suburbs, there isn’t really much to drive them to succeed. Other than maybe some vague desire to “get the heck out of here” until they move to some other comfy middle-class house in some other suburb.
OTOH, people like that can work extremely hard if we happen to find something that interests us. For me it was mostly art and architecture in high school. Also, I got an A in physics to spite this annoying Lisa Simpsonish girl who said I was dumb. That was enough to get into a top 50 engineering college.

Let’s face it. Unless your kid has been driven to succeed his entire life, tests perfect SATs and has a million extraciricular activities, he’s not getting into Harvard or Stanford. Not everyone

You might want to look at the criteria for being diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. The lack of motivation and the procrastination sound familiar to me.

Eh, never mind. I was going to be “that guy,” but decided against it.

This is a time-honored strategy that John Adams’ father also used. Young John didn’t want to learn Latin at his grammar school, so his father said that was fine and put him to work digging ditches on the farm. After a few days, young John decided he liked Latin OK after all, and thus our second president started on his career. :smiley:

You can get an International Baccalaureate in high school? Where I live you have to graduate high school and attend a university to get a baccalaureate degree. I’ve never heard of this before, where do you live? Is it a special high school in some way? Where does a kid with a baccalaureate degree go next, college? Why? He’s already got the degree? University? Straight into a master’s program?

I have so many questions! Can anyone fill me in?

Actually, I quite liked it.

It’s a high school degree, not the same as a university bacalaureate degree. It is pretty much a universially accepted high school diploma. It’s aimed at international students here (in Australia) so our American High School offers one, for example, as do many of our high level private schools.

They’ll probably sound familiar to a lot of other people too. Especially, I would expect, teenagers and people of high intelligence.

It works brilliantly, too. When I was 16, my mother got me a job as an inventory picker at the warehouse she managed, having decided I was too old to slack off during summer vacations. I always made sure I had a job lined up well before final exams in the years after that.

For me, it was just a process I needed to go through.

All my life, people had fretted and fussed about my “potential” to the point that it felt like somehing that was not mine. Everyone seemed to have their hands in it, planning a future for me that seemed nice enough, but not really about me. Eventually I got resentful of all of it- everyone’s expectations, this “potential” that was more of a burden than anything else, how invested everyone was in something that fundamentally was not theirs to decide how to use.

Once you hit that resentment, the most obvious reaction- your only chance to regain conrol- is to say “no.” If everyone is all up in your potential, the most powerful thing you can do is refuse to play. The day I learned that I didn’t HAVE to succeed, that there was more to me than that, was the most powerful day in my life.

I skated through high schol and whent to a medicre state university. This school didn’t have grades and I refused to show my evaluation to my family. I kicked ass, worked my butt off, and graduated with multiple honors. The difference? I finally owned my education. It was something I was doing for myself, for the future I wanted.

The path after wasn’t 100% smooth. I hit a wall after school as I hit the real world. But eventually I found my passion. I’m now doing fulfilling work and getting excellent grades in a top graduate program.

You may need to let him work it out and find his path. If he’s not seeking out the future you are imagining or him, he’s probably not mature enough or invested enough to make good use of it anyway. People generally get exactly what they are ready to make good use of. A couple of years of community college is much better than dropping out of college.

Think about it this way. Fundamentally, he is NOT wasting potential or mssing opportunity. Academically, being smart is just a handy talent that makes things easier. It is diligence, planning, motivation and hard work that make someone capable of succeeding at a good school. The average but dedicated student beats the bright but lazy student every time. And this is a trait, just like smarts, that some people have more capacity for more than others.

Anyway, what is the worst that can happen? Even for kids with other options, community college has some advantages. Or maybe he gets a job and spends his twenties playing video games and having fun. What is so bad about that? You’ve probably dodged him becomeing homeless, a gangbanger or a heroin addict. He’s a bright and presumeably good kid. He’ll be okay. He’ll have a valuable and fulfilling life, even if he does so as a janitor.

But bright people tend to eventually find their way. They don’t tend to stagnate long. So what if he finds his way a bit later? I’m maybe two or three years behind my peers because of the time it took to find my way after college. So my classmates are 27 and 28 while I’m 30. It’s nothing at all, and I’m sure as I get older that gap will matter even less. He’s young and has plenty of time to make a few mistakes and waste some time before it starts to matter in the long run.

Huh? I’m still a little confused. Is it just a fancy name for a high school diploma? The American High school and high level private schools offer it, so, like, what do the other high schools offer? Some sort of ‘lesser’ high school diploma? And, if it’s just a high school diploma, where’s the advantage in dressing it up as a baccalaureate? Who is it designed to impress, anyway? Are colleges and university, internationally, impressed by what it’s called, knowing it’s just a high school diploma? The website makes it seem like it’s a company name, as in IB schools.

I thought if you graduated with an IB, it was equivalent to two years of college credits. Or is that something else?

An IB diploma from the American School in Harare is about a million times more credible than a diploma from Robert Mugabe Public High School #76. Internationally, IB degrees are good for securing US college admissions from countries without credible or well-understood education systems. It makes it so that the children of diplomats, expats and elites can have a relatively normal college admissions process without the office at Sacramento State University having to know off hand that Miss Violet’s Country Day Is the best school in Lusaka.

In the US, it is used mostly by magnet and charter schools offering a rigourous, standardized program. It isn’t a huge advantage in college admissions on its own, but good grades from an IB program holds more weight than an anonymous high school. It is a few points in your favor, and suggest that you are a hard worker who is up for the challenge. It isn’t a dealbreaker, but it is a nice thing to have.

As for the name, baccalaureate doesn’t mean anything special in the States. It’s a meaningless word for us. We have our own terminology, and feel perfectly free to interchange “college” and “university” and consider an IB to mean “a specific kind of high school diploma.” And we are hardly alone- hgh school diplomas in Francophone Africa, for example, are often called bacs.

Tell him to get a job in the private sector.

You could be almost exactly describing my son 4 years ago Omar. One difference was that my son was very into one sport and there was no slackerness there. That was an example I could point to and say, “see what happens when you put your mind to it.” Otherwise, the IB classes, lack of interest in college - exactly the same. He really struggled … no, actually he failed to struggle, in college at first.

At one year of college he changed his major, and we reworked some living arrangements. Still slacking though.

At two years of college we told him no more, get a job. We negotiated until he agreed to some work combined with cashing in some money he had in mutual funds, to pay for another year. Another chance.

Now, in his 3rd year of college, I am finally seeing a little spark of interest in a degree and the reward that comes with one. He seems to finally “get it” but it has been a long road.

I don’t think you can take the slacker out of a person. Certainly my parents never got it out of me. But a slacker can learn that the best way to slack is to get the necessary work out of the way first and that means school work in particular. A crappy job is a valuable life lesson. A year of work can focus the mind on school in an amazing way.