We have a highly intelligent but unmotivated fifteen year old boy, and getting him to take school seriously is damn near impossible. No matter how many times we try to sit him down and explain the far reaching consequences of not taking school seriously, he just won’t hear it. The sad part, as I mentioned before, is he is highly intelligent and if he were to just buckle down and try he would be pulling in straight A’s. I think if I knew he was not all that bright I could handle the grades he is bringing home now. The question is how do we motivate him, and get him to see that his actions now will affect him many years down the road?

We have asked him several times what he wants to do when he gets older, and he has said since the age of seven he wants to be in the military, beyond that he has no real career goals.  I am sure this is normal, but you would think he could at least throw out a few different ideas. He seems to only be interested in football, working out, video games, and television/movies. I do consider us lucky that he is into these things, and not doing the horrible things I was doing at his age, but I know he can accomplish so much more than his mom and I ever could have.

We have talked to him about joining the ROTC program, where he goes to boot camp over the summer and is officially enlisted at the age of sixteen. This way he is already two years in before he even graduates. Apparently the way the program works he is able to go to college without ever being deployed. If he enjoys the service he could become a lifer and retire with full military pension and benefits. I think this could be his best road to success. If it were up to me all my kids would join the service before they head off to college.

I want the best for my children, and the last thing I want for them is to endure the struggle and stress that we have to go through due to our poor decision making. I do not want them to be thirty years old living with regrets of missed opportunities. He is only fifteen and completely unable to see the big picture which I am sure is very normal. We have tried almost everything to punish him for his poor grades, but he just adapts to the punishment and waits it out. When his grades in math and science began to slip in 7th grade, we took his games away it motivated him the first few times but after awhile it didn’t do anything. What seems to light a fire under his ass is when we do not allow him to go to weight training. We hate to use this because this is one of his healthy activities. Like most parents I just wish our words would get through to him. You always want your kids to learn from your mistakes, to take your words of wisdom to heart and believe and trust you enough that they listen so intently and perfectly. Getting a teenage boy to see how his Algebra 2 and science grades now, can affect his status and financial life in ten years is not possible.

My wife and I disagree on what steps we should take to try and rectify this problem. I believe if he continues to bring home bad grades, and continues to show an “I don’t give an F” attitude towards school, we need to bring the hammer down on him. I remember reading or listening to a show one time on parenting. The speaker was saying when you run into major issues with your children you need to “show” them all the things they have that they do not need. When you take these things away such as TV, internet, and video game privileges they will be motivated to rectify the problem so they can get their privileges back. As I mentioned earlier we have taken away his games, and this motivated him, but he quickly learned if we take the video games away he still has the television, iPod Touch, and internet. He uses these as substitutes when one is taken away. In my opinion the only way to drive the message home is to cut him off from all of these things, until he is able to right the ship. Our goal is to get him to spend more time studying so his grades can improve, but if he is allowed to continue to have these distracters in his life, he will never make it a priority to do these things.

My wife on the other hand believes that if we resort to such tactics, it will set off a chain reaction of rebellion. She also feels that even if we took these things away, because of his stubbornness he will accept the punishment, and still refuse to do the work needed. I sure I did not properly convey her exact feelings, which I hope she will clarify in the comments section.

Nicole has always taught him since a very young age, to be proud of whom you are, to not worry about pleasing others, but to stick to what you believe to be right and wrong, and to stand true to yourself. These are all wonderful lessons, but this has backfired on us, as he sure does stand true to what he believes in, “I will never use any of this stupid stuff anyway so what’s the point” damn kid.

  1. Rachael says:

    It sounds like your kid is very smart and confident in all of the right ways. When you describe his attitude and brightness, I picture you to be very similar. I understand your desire to have your child succeed and reach his potential, but I agree with your wife that your son may rebel with whatever you try to do.
    Maybe you can talk to ROTC and see if they have any incentives for getting good grades through their programs. Maybe they will be able to get him to think about school more seriously and that would make you not the bad guy.
    I tend to be reactant and when someone tells me to do something, even if the intentions are good, I am less likely to partake. I would have been more likely to succeed is I was told that school was bad for me and tried to convince me not to go. I don’t know how to go about getting your child more self motivated.
    I hope you can be comforted by the fact that education can be accessible at anytime, even if you have to start at a Junior College.
    Good Luck!

    • Rachael,

      Yes I am now on the same page that he could possibly rebel which I have heard from many people. We just received a letter on Sat. saying he was in danger of being held back. It was not clear whether they were talking about just the two classes he is failing or the entire grade. He was so upset, and it was the first time we have seen real anger from him in many years. I feel so bad, and I wish I remembered algerbra 2 so I could help. I dont know spanish so I am useless to him. We did take all video games and internet away from him, but as I said he will just play his iPod touch and watch shows/movies. I just want him to “get it” I was able to get a few extra job ideas from him this weekend so that was good. All these ideas require him to enter the service for experience. I hope he doesnt end up in junior college

  2. Lydia says:

    Do you think your son would be interested in the trades? Sometimes people who don’t like school can have their attention snagged by learning how to more physically active work.

  3. I want the best for my children, and the last thing I want for them is to endure the struggle and stress that we have to go through due to our poor decision making. I do not want them to be thirty years old living with regrets of missed opportunities.

    I’ve got some news for you, every single one of us goes through this! It is called growing up. Quality decision-making is a gradual process. We learn more from our missteps than anything else.

    Listen to Nicole. She is wise beyond her years!

    The other thing you wrote that absolutely boggles my mind is “If it were up to me all my kids would join the service before they head off to college.”

    You want all your children to be trained to kill before venturing off to adult life? I realize the military instills other skills and knowledge, but, at the end of the day, the armed forces exist to kill other people.

    It’s even worse in this country because the oligarchs use soldiers to further their imperialistic designs. Do you want your kids on the front lines in Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iran or North Korea?

    Why not say you’d like them to join the Peace Corps or Americorp VISTA instead?

    • Trey,

      I want my children to join the Navy and serve on a ship. I really wouldnt want them to join the army or marines, but if this is what they chose I wouldnt talk them out of it. I like you am not a fan of what are leaders use our service men and woman four, BUT I have seen what the military (navy) has done for people. It taught them discipline and respect. They were able to travel the world, go to college and earn great experience and benefits. This is what I want for them, but as I said I agree with everything you said 100%. My oldest son wants to join the army or marines regardless of the possibility of being deployed. The things he wants to do as a career can best be achieved with service experience

  4. I used to feel terrible about trying to figure out what my kids liked best so I could take it away when they were bad.
    As a teacher I found that using both the carrot and the stick were often necessary. Most kids will do things for money, if nothing else works!
    Sometimes if you let teens set their own rewards and punishments it works. I was usually shocked to find that they were harder on themselves than I was.
    Make sure you have concrete goals that can be measured. “This happens if you get a B on your midterm in Math” is better than “Get better marks.” You may even want to make up a contract that all of you can agree on and sign it.
    On the other hand, your son is at “that age.” Most kids, even good kids, take a dive in their marks at the beginning of high school. They find out that they have more freedom and more distractions there. Usually they come out of it some time late in Grade Ten. Usually.
    I do think that the discipline of the ROTC will have an effect on his efforts in other areas. It tends to work that way.

  5. terri0729 says:

    Teens and tweens are difficult and I don’t know if there is any sure fire solution. If you find one let me know. My 13 yr. old’s dad, whom I am not with, in encouraging her to cuss around him which is causing me difficulty when she is here. She knows that I don’t do it and I correct Mark when he uses profanity around either of us but what am I to do when she “slips”? I can’t bring the hammer down too hard on her when it is what she lives with on a daily basis where she lives most of her time. Life is not easy nor are the answers to parenting. Best of luck to us both! Blessings upon you and yours, Teresa

  6. renxkyoko says:

    Tim, I;m Asian. I’m sure you’ve heard of the way Asian parents motivate their children to excel. In the Philippinesm for example, parents sell their farmland, mortgage their homes, sell their cows, borrow, etc to send their children to school. And the children know this. It’s somewhat a culture thing.

  7. I had to laugh reading this. My son is now 17 and up until this past Christmas was the same way. Honestly, I believed and still do that school just wasn’t stimulating or interesting enough to hold his attention, because he is so bright. This last few months the solution just ‘presented’ itself. ‘It’ is a brunette!
    My son now has a good reason to want to go to school. He’s happy, so he’s applying himself more and getting good grades. This may sound like a pretty shallow answer, but whatever…I don’t care how or why it happens, only that it does.
    Rest assured, sometimes these things just have a way of working themselves out. Anyway, good luck with that. Kids!

  8. jennirey says:

    My son is also 15, we suffer from the same problem. My son did join ROTC, btw the Enlisted thing is only if he chooses, its not automatic. Plus you as parents would need to sign his enlistment papers with him. My son has a serious idea of what he wants to do in life. We got him in Band in 6th grade and he has been in it ever since. He wants to be a band director one day. I think I shocked him one day when I asked him if he really thought he would get there by sloughing off. The High School where I live has a program called AVID, and it is a program that gears “b” students to college, includes Notetaking, Trips to universities, word power, SAT studing..All that it takes to get to college for the kids who just earn a B, or the Kids that wont push themselves to make A’s I lucked out with my daughter, she got angry with herself when she got anything less than perfect (but that has other side effects).. Good luck

  9. Dee says:

    My son is at that age too… 15. First D in his life. His father did take away all the amenities of modern life though and gave him a choice to either do better or not get them back. Considering his love for sending text messages, I see some improvement in his future.

    I think what works for us is that he talks to me a lot. What he said is that the class he received the D in, he struggled a little, but thought he could bring the grade up. I sometimes wonder if telling him he’s intelligent and can do it puts added pressure (and increases belligerence) about doing better in school.

    • Dee and others,

      I started responding to each comment individually but it was taking some time. I want to thank everyone for their feedback and personal experience. I love and have complete faith in my son. I know he will figure it out

  10. Michael says:

    why should he take school seriously? if he is paying attention, he will be aware that the world is poised on the edge of a nuclear disaster, that the economic system is crashing around us, and that global warming is going to change the whole game.

    what use is school with that information? what use is a school system which fails to recognize the inanity of asking people to remember things they can look up online that have nothing to do with living?

    I think the better question is, ‘why have I not sought to help create a schooling system which supports my teenager’s needs?’

    school, for a smart kid, is often a huge waste of time. teachers require you to repeat and demonstrate the same problem over and over again, even if you got it the first time. they require you to memorize dates and names that you will never use. meanwhile, they restrict your movement and sociability at what is one of the highest energy phases of life.

    the mistake we keep making is thinking that the world our children are going to grow up in is going to look ANYTHING like the one we did, and that the strategies for success in our world will continue to be relevant. if the strategies for success in this modern world continue to be effective, then most of us are doomed anyway, because, barring a major reform in all aspects of society, we will be unable to change our infrastructures, clean greedy parasites out of our economic and political systems, and thus be unable to offset the ecological damage we’ve done to the biosphere.

    what I would do is ask him what his interests are, and help him cultivate those. I would get him books for his own learning process (I could have learned everything I did in school in 2/3 the time if they’d just given me the books and let me go home…the remainder I could have used to learn social skills which I did not learn in the easily stratified and competitive environments which school purposefully cultivate) I would send him on a survival course where he can learn how to live in hard times. I would encourage him to question everything, especially you.

    as for the military, I am a veteran. it taught me a lot, but it wasn’t worth the cost. the knowingness in my heart that the work I did supported the movement of weapons and troops to the middle east and aided in the destruction and murder of innocent people in an unprovoked act of aggression…well, it hurts my heart. what is sad is that any person is willing to kill anyone else, let alone that we send our sons and daughters out there with the delusion that they are doing anything other than supporting the resource and money interests of the top 5% of the wealthy. we lie to them, and keep them in the dark about the fact that the US has committed more acts of terrorism (assassination, forced regime change, unprovoked attacks, etc.) against foreign nations than any other nation currently on the planet. most of these have been illegally waged ‘non-wars’ which have been committed by a criminal regime which wages war on concepts in order to avoid the constitutional necessity of bringing congress into the decision making process…and hence the will of the people.

    I highly reccommend looking at some of the amazing information out there on self-guided learning. the models we created in the industrial era no longer are relevant in the information age…and even if the students are too young to express that, they feel it in their bones.

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