What's a good way to motivate a kid to do better in school.

My youngest is driving us nuts. I can’t get him motivated to do better in school. He doesn’t seem to give a shit if he get’s D’s or F’s. I’ve done everything I can think of: Tried to reason with him about how important his grades are, grounded him, made him quit all after school activities, including his job, took away every privilege he had, no t.v., no guitar, no friends over, nothing. I’ve even tried bribing him. I promised him I’d give him $10K for a car if he got a c average. A c folks, a lousy stinking C!:mad:. And he wouldn’t do that! This kid isn’t dumb. But he is lazy! He turns assignments in late, fails tests because he doesn’t study, does a shit job on projects and reports. Drugs/alcohol are not involved here, I tested him. (I really did!) He’s just *&^ing lazy. He never was like this until he hit high school. I’m getting exhausted being over his shoulder every minute. What’s worse, he goes to private school that costs a lot of money. What are some ways to motivate a lazy kid? He’s not otherwise a disipline problem.

Hers the debate:
Is punishment the answer? What kind of punishment? Smacking him doesn’t seem to work anymore at his age?

What about rewards for good grades? What can I use if 10 grand didn’t work?

Some things I remember my psychiatrist telling me while I was in high school (meaning that this isn’t can’t be backed up by an official source, bt I believe it):

As teenagers grow, they will rebel against their parents. This has been realtively constant throughout our society for generations. However, the means by which teenagers express their rebellion change over time. Many of the parents living today could be accurately described as ‘overprotective’ or ‘overinvolved’. There is far to much effort by today’s parents to micromanage their teenagers’ lives, without recognizing the fact that teenagers need to develop independence. In one way or another, teenagers will assert their independence. Many times, when kids feel that they are being stiffled, they turn to their academic performance as a method by which to defy their parents. In short, by either deliberately or subconsciously failing in school, they think that they can show their parents that they are ‘in charge’.

Simply put, the answer is to leave him alone. At this point in his life, you should start giving him more responsibility, and most especially, don’t interfere with social life or free-time activities more than is necessary.

Question: Who decided that he should go to private school, parents or child? My parents decided to send me to an expensive prep school (for middle school, that is), and it was a source of simmering hatred for a long time.

My hometown newspaper used to have a column by a child psychologist named John Rosenthal or Rosenburg or something like that, who wrote about this topic all the time. Maybe someone else has information about him.

Above all, don’t worry about this ruining your son’s life. Many of the people who I know in college faced a crisis of some sort during their high school years and managed to recover from it. Many children who are academically talented might become depressed by the lack of attention payed to their achievement and disregard from other kids their age and become depressed, which can also lead to lower grades.

Out of curiosity, how old is your son and what grade is he in?

16 in June, sophomore.

I don’t have kids.

But I was once a lazy high school student. This had many factors:

  1. Summer before 9th grade – my parents split up. I realized that my father worked really hard his whole life, only to be screwed over by a woman. That didn’t result in a withdrawal from reality so much as this sacked my motivation. I’d always been a straight A kid, but the life track of good grades = good college = good job = true love and happiness ever after seemed a fantasy.

  2. School had long since ceased to be challenging. I didn’t feel the need to pander to some system which was beyond my control (my how things have changed ;)). I got no grade above a C freshman year and had to retake Geometry in summer school. I largely recovered enough of my senses to coast through with minimum effort for the next three years at that point, getting mostly A’s and B’s. I aced the SATs and went to a good-for-the-money university.

  3. My father has two PhDs and was completely overbearing such that in part I finally snapped from that too. His moving halfway across the country before my freshman year was over probably helped. I regained my sense of being my own man and not being just some serf whose goal of his existence was to please an overly demanding smarter-than-thou dad.

So ultimately I pulled through. I was in Junior ROTC, much to my hippie father’s displeasure, but that at least gave me some self-disciple and Sergeant ended up being a substitute father figure and the core a substitute family when I needed it. Perhaps some of your son’s activities were like that for him?

So, anyway, maybe you should back off and let him live his own life. I know this is the last one to leave the nest and that is hard, but you should respect a kid who is so strong willed – it will probably serve him well in the long run if you don’t quash his spirit. Don’t give him something so ever present to rebel against and he’ll start sanely following his own path, and rage against something else, probably for the better.

*Originally posted by ITR champion *
**Simply put, the answer is to leave him alone.

Oh? So when he comes home with a report card with 4 F’s and a D- I should leave him alone? Can anyone back up this idea? If you can convince me that it’ll work, I’ll try it. I’ll try anything right now. But the “leave him alone” method doesn’t seem logical to me. Because I equate it to this: I drive past a State Trooper going 105 mph and he doesn’t pull me over. Guess what? I’ll continue to drive 105 until he does something about it. I’m certain the boy will not improve on his own, but I haven’t come up with anything to motivate him.

pkbites – driving at 105 isn’t a rational act, we are working under the presumption your goal is to piss off the State Trooper. State Trooper ceases getting pissed off, then there is no good reason for you to drive 105 to piss him off.

That analogy might be flawed. Your kid may have decided the whole world is a bad deal period, and be rebeling against absolutely everything. In which case, your course of action would make no difference anyway, so you might as well not waste your effort. Either way, our advice, as “zen” as it might sound, is the sane course of action, as you seem to have exhausted every other course.

It’s risky, as in that it can go both ways. If you’re speeding along at 105mph, hopefully you will eventually realize that what you are doing is dangerous. But if you’re constantly being nagged by someone beside you, you’re only going to get more irritated and it most likely it would not help things - unless you slow down just so that they shut up. That being said, “[leaving] him alone” should probably be a last resort. It’s risky and even if it does succeed it will most likely take a while for it to hit him, and by then it might be too late.

And regarding what jmullaney said, it might very well be the sad truth. I recall a Star Trek: Voyager episode where the crew is stuck in some blah blah blah, and as Tuvok says (paraphrased), “as it seems we have exhausted all possible logical solutions and that all attempts have only made things worse, it would seem that the most logical course of action would be to do nothing at all.”

Well, the first option in any given set of alternatives is to do nothing. I’m not saying I think it would work, but if nothing else is working, what have you got to lose? For what it’s worth, he’s probably going through a tough time; urine samples and punishments are likely to foster little but resentment (which I’m sure you’d like to avoid if possible).

Have you considered that he might have a learning disability? I personally have a mild case of ADD – I hit the wall in 7th Grade, before that I was fine. Has your son always had problems in school? For me, it comes in cycles, so to speak. Sometimes I can function scholastically more or less like a normal person, other times it is quite literally impossible for me to read a textbook or write a paper without help (i.e. medication). Needless to say, motivation is always a problem. Anyway, your son’s situation, from what you’ve written, doesn’t sound entirely dissimilar from mine (I believe my father also said, “he’s just lazy!”). It’s something you may want to look into, and I’m sure his guidance counselor could help you out in this respect. There are also a few threads archived on these boards that deal with the subject; the one’s I lurked in had some valuable information.

I hope everything works out for you two.


Hope I can help as I’m speaking from relatively recent experience here. It doesn’t seem like any action you take is affecting him so you could just leave him alone and tell him it’s his life to screw up . . . or, and this is probably a better idea, get someone older that he looks up to and have them talk to them. An older brother, or a cousin or something like that. Have them tell him how they wish they’d tried harder in high school, wish they had a chance to do it again so they wouldn’t make the same mistakes, stuff like that. My step mom and dad would constantly bitch at me to do better, make threats, etc. My mom said it’s your life do your own thing, it won’t be my problem if you screw up. I reacted much more positively to my mom’s treatment. The advice from my step mom and dad was good, but it wasn’t given to me the right way, and it wasn’t coming from the “right” people. I personally think that if I’d had any older brother or sister or cousin or friend tell me from their experience it would have given me a totally different perspective.

Oh, and from a teenager’s perspective (maybe your son thinks like this): you don’t know shit. It doesn’t matter what you’ve accomplished, or how many degrees you have, you don’t know anything.

All of my advice could be totally off, but I hope it’s not and that it helps.

A couple more things, a $10k car for “C’s”??!?! WOW! That’s a good deal. Let him have his friends and activity priveleges back. It doesn’t seem like they’re the problem, but by not letting him do things he wants it makes you even more of a villain.

The psychologist mentioned is John Rosemond. I’ve read some of his stuff and he seems fairly sensible – although I don’t think I’ve read any teen-specific stuff, mostly what I’ve read dealt with younger kids. He has one book in particular that might help you (something like Ending the Homework Hassle). Good luck.

pk, it looks as if you’ve done everything a parent should do. It could be a battle of wills where he is deliberately trying to antagonize you. Teenagers will do that.

Or perhaps it’s a matter where he is so far lost that he has given up.

I was a very good student all my life. A’s with occasional B’s. Then I took Trigonometry. For whatever reason, that part of my brain simply didn’t function. My brain still siezes up at the mere mention of the word “cosine.” And it got to the point where I just gave up. I ended up with a “d” (which was a gift from the teacher) and I felt a huge sense of relief that I never had to take another math elective. Had this been algebra, I don’t know what I would have done because I would have had to go on and spent another year feeling like an idiot.

My point is that perhaps your son is drowning in frustration. You say he is going to a private school that costs a lot of money. Surely he knows how much money you’ve spent on him, and if he’s screwing up it may be adding MORE fuel to his frustration.

Have you checked out the curriculum and tried to figure out if the workload is too intense for your son? Some kids thrive at prep schools where they really push the kids. Other kids flounder because it is just too much work – either in terms of time spent doing homework or brain power spent trying to “get it.”

Instead of offering $10k for a new car, maybe you should offer $10k for a tutor…? Or perhaps you might re-think where he goes to school. If he goes to a public school, what’s the downside? He could still fail, but at least you won’t go broke in the process. And public schools sometimes have resources (e.g. testing for dislexia, tutoring, after school science classes) that private schools do not offer.

A third scenario is social. Maybe he’s distracted by some personal problem – a girl, a bully. And by forcing him to give up his job, etc., you’ve isolated him further.

My advice is to talk to his teachers. Get their input. Talk to counselors. Or maybe ask another adult who he is close to to try and talk to him.

Good luck, pk! I can tell you love your son.

You could also look into alternative schooling. I’m thinking here of a technical school (we call them Vo-techs in Florida), where he can go to learn a trade. Don’t consider this an insult either – the Technical Center in Lake County (where I teach) only accepts serious students.

The advantage of this is that the Tech school offers a wider variety of instruction than a typical college-prep school. No matter what you may want for your son, he might not want to go to college, and might not want to study the standard high-school stuff. So he could possibly find something he does like, if he checks out the Tech school. In our county, the school is free for any HS students who are 16 or older.

Quite a lot of the courses at our Tech school lead directly into career work upon graduation – giving the student a head start on being a grown-up. These schools are not for drop-outs, rather, they are for differently-motivated kids. Maybe your son is one such kid.

Good luck.

God…I know this is opening myself up for a whole buttload of nasty retorts.

However, I feel compelled to ask: Have you considered that the smacking you did in the first place potentially created the problem? Perhaps therein lies the answer.

Who was “smacked” a few too many times herself.

I am in high school, and i am the laziest guy there is. I never study, I never go to classes unless they are required, I never do homework. It’s great… tehre is only one problem. Even though I never study, I still manage to do well on tests, and I bring home good grades, so Ic an’t help ya in that field…

I don’t think there can be a single motivator which would work. I’m not sure that leaving him alone will work either, as I got that way specifically BECAUSE I was left alone. The next year I got my act together (in 11th grade, coincidentally) but this was for multiple reasons.

  1. I finally found some subjects interesting. Earlier high school courses were always such a bore.
  2. I got a job and found responsibility and a sense of accomplishment can come from a job well done. Yes, I had been told this before. No, I wasn’t listening then.
  3. I got into drugs. As funny as this one sounds, it became my mission in life to be a semi-regular user of cigarettes, alcohol, and other stuff and still be somewhat successful in life. I have accomplished that so far, and I continue to be proud that I can control myself and show judgement in moderation.

I’m afraid there is probably not much to do here. Stronger punishments will probably not work. Talking it out probably won’t work either (unless you’ve always had a close relationship with him, in which case you might gain some insight into better actions to take). I highly doubt a flat-out cash settlement will help, either. Until he learns the value of money first-hand I don’t think it would have the same impact that it would have on you or I.

My advice? Give him one quick, one-sided talk. Ease up on any punishments, but don’t flat-out remove them. Make your case clear (15 yr-olds aren’t stupid) that your interest is in him getting a good education; no, grades are not the best indicator of intelligence, but they are an indicator of responsibility which is what is necessary for modern living. Tell him you are sorry that you can’t do more for him. DO NOT tell him you understand, as most kids don’t think that parents understand anything. Just make your point clear, and give reasons for everything. Then walk out after you tell him you love him.

Might I enquire what music he listens to? That is probably a decent indicator of what’s going on in his head.

I disagree. It can be some kind of indicator in certain cases, I suppose, but in my experience one’s taste in music tends to be completely separate from one’s work ethic and/or psychosis. I’ve known several perfectly good screw-ups who loved perfectly wholesome music, and I’ve known straight-A students who listen to music that would make Pat Robertson turn into fucking ash.

Well, there are a couple of things to consider…

  1. As someone else mentioned, he may have a learning disability - dislexia, for example. Dislexia certainly doesn’t preclude someone from being very smart, so its a possibility - consider getting him tested.

  2. His learning style may not jive with the highschool’s teaching style. A high cost doesn’t necessarily reflect the best style for every student. You could consider one of those learning specialists (Sylvan learning center is the only one that springs to mind).

  3. He may be depressed. Its a very common ailment in highschool aged children. Consider exploring this option.

  4. Finally, there was an article in the Globe and Mail (a Canadian Newspaper, fyi) yesterday, about children and grades and parents and what not.

Children that feel pressured by their parents to do well in school do worse than those who feel supported. Any chance that you’ve been a bit to forceful in your admonishments? Try to focus on the things that he does well (if you don’t already).

Just some suggestions - they may or may not be effective - good luck!

I would suggest trying to get to know him better. He is not “just lazy” there is no such thing. He could be not interested in the classes he has or the social setting at school maybe prevents him from doing better. He could be trying to fail because you pushed him too hard. It could be any number of things, the only thing that wont work is considering him lazy:) You also can’t reason with him that good grades are good for him if he: is depressed, knows better(or thinks he does), or if things outside your influence (namely other kids) tease him or whatever making school too unbearable to do well.

Sending him to a public school might help.

While I was reading this three things occurred to me.

  1. He may be suffering from depression. I did a few years ago, and while my grades didn’t suffer, the rest of my world fell apart. Get him checked out.
  2. School may be too easy for him or
  3. School may be too difficult.
    Since it’s a private school, it’s probably #3. He may simply be frustrated. Freshman year is a breeze but Sophomore year, all of a sudden you are expected to do well. I know most colleges don’t look at Freshman yr grades, only Sophomore-Senior. He may not know this, but his teachers do, and are probably putting a lot of pressure on their students.
    Have their been any changes in his life? Has a friend of his moved? Have their been problems at home? Does he have issues with teachers or administrators?
    Is he the type of person who questions authority just for the sake of causing problems? He is obviously in the middle of a power struggle with you, does he also go through this with his teachers?

I guess if I were you, I’d first have him examined for deprssion and any learning disabilities. Than I would reevaluate where he should go to school. Some teenagers just don’t do well when they have all kinds of pressure put on them.
Also, maybe you should hire a tutor. Not a stuffy old woman, but someone close to his age. Someone who is not a “stupid” adult, or a know-it-all teacher. In all my experience as a tutor, I have found that children and teens are more willing to learn from someone closer to their own age.
Check through the HS to see if they have a tutor program set up like that.

When I was in late middle school/early high school, I went through an I’m-going-to-get-bad-grades phase. Why? All my life I had felt pushed by my mother to suceed. She was buying me how-to-get-into-college books when I was in seventh grade. After a while, I felt that all the work I did in school was not being done for me, and not under my control. I did the most logical thing I could think of, which was to start doing bad in my classes. When I did poorly in my classes, I though “Finally, I am doing something for myself, not other people”.

Left to my own devices, I finally realized that simply failing wasn’t going to get me anywhere, so I started to work again. But my attitude towards school changed completely. I began to have a personal stake in it.

When I moved to a university with no grades, my academics improved even more. I learn a lot better when I am learning for the sake of learning, not competeing for an arbitrary grade.

I really do recommend that you look into alternative schools. I have seen people who didn’t care at all about school suddenly turned into empassioned learners simply by changeing schools. Sure, they may seem like a step “down” the prestige ladder, but in the end, what is more important?