Helping the Underachiever
relatives are going through a very tough time in their marriage, and I think
their teenager is self-destructing. She just barely got "D's" in two courses
and appears to be doing the absolute minimum to pass. It isn't likely that she
will get into a four-year college like everyone else in her family has. She
doesn't have a career direction, or any kind of a plan for after high school.
And she's missing curfews, having fights with her parents, hanging out with
some questionable friends who are basically "slackers," possibly drinking . . .
what should the caring adults in her life be doing to help her get on track?
You're describing the classic
underachiever: declining grades, poor time management, conflicts with parents, high-risk
antisocial behavior, and an overall lack of motivation that's very perplexing, since these
students are often very smart.
Usually, an underachieving
student will be disorganized, disinterested in school, irresponsible, lazy, have
poor study skills, blame everyone else for their problems, and either be
constantly socializing when he or she should be studying, or appear to be
socially isolated when other young people are out having appropriate fun.
A heavy influence is the culture: someone of your child's
race or gender isn't "expected" to do well in school, for example, or the peer
group might threaten social isolation if the student is a high-achiever.
Some underachievers "escape" to
their own choices for learning, becoming immersed in a hobby, spending an
inordinate amount of time reading, or wasting countless hours on video games.
They have plenty of energy for those nondevelopmental activities, but refuse to
do their homework or even show up, physically or mentally, for school.
Consider underachievement a problem
if the work is well below grade level, has lasted more than a year, or is
causing the student distress with visible symptoms of anxiety and depression.
If there's a big gap between high standardized test scores in the past and low
grades today, that's a clue. So are predictions of academic success by teachers
in grade school vs. poor grades by the high school years. Sometimes, the youth
is just trying to avoid the "real-world" consequences of responsibility and
maturity, and stubbornly making the parents miserable because they can't "make"
them be responsible, either. Sometimes, a student won't try because of a fear
of failure; these students would rather abstain from academic effort than try
and risk failure.
Sometimes, the problem is at
school, not home: boring assignments, negative peer pressure, teacher
conflicts, a move to a more or less challenging school, or just a feeling that
nobody at school cares, so why try?
But more often, the cause of
underachievement is in the home:
between parents, including divorce and separation.
by over-competitive parents who "live" through their child.
of children, denying them the security of rules and authority.
by performance-based, workaholic parents on the importance of doing well in
school, to the detriment of the balance of the rest of the child's life and
because of a significant parental health or work problem, or problem with a
sibling or other relative.
or emotional health problems and poor nutrition.
rivalry and a feeling that it's futile to try to "compete" with a "star."
depression and futility caused by a lack of skill by the parents in helping the
child navigate through school, making smart course selections, getting extra
help from teachers when needed, making career plans and so forth.
often, when a child underachieves, parents let their concerns get out of
control. They turn up the "heat." They set more and more rigid house rules that
ignite still more conflicts and rebellion by the student. Or they try to use
bribes, rewards and threats, when what the student really needs is
self-motivation, not pressure imposed from the outside.
parents can do:
nagging. Underachievers usually have low self-esteem. Harping makes it worse!
your child set do-able, small goals that aren't so overwhelming. Remember the
adage: "One day at a time!"
honest praise, and give it often, as much for effort as for achievement.
compare one child's academic achievements to another's, and certainly don't
compare your child's performance to your own.
up your own act so that you'll have authority when you talk to your child about
personal responsibility, neatness, maintaining a daily schedule, sitting still
long enough to read and concentrate, getting along with authority figures,
remaining free of chemical dependency, trying to be the best person you can be,
your child is already the worried, over-anxious, perfectionistic type, and
there are major stresses introduced in your child's life (a divorce, a business
failure, parental unemployment, etc.), that you predict may lead to academic
distress because of your child's personality, seek counseling to discover ways
to help your child feel supported and secure, and less self-critical.
your child is by nature challenging, negative, angry and rebellious, stay warm
and calm yourself, but gently point out how self-defeating the underachievement
is, hurting no one other than the child.
your child have an undiagnosed learning disability? It's not uncommon to have a
mental "difference" covered up in K-12 schooling. The child might be leaning on
friends for homework and perhaps copying answers on tests, but once the child
gets to college, the true disability could surface without that ready-made
support network to prevent a "crash." Seek help from educators on whether a reading or vision problem
might be a problem.
it be that your child is not capable of making better grades? If you think your
child really is trying, then have him or her evaluated by a learning
specialist. Maybe you're the one with the unrealistic expectations.
with your child's doctor. You may need to adjust your child's nutrition, exercise
and sleep patterns. Few children and teenagers today are getting A's in those
three important "subjects."
regularly with your child's teachers and follow their advice. Use their
experience to your benefit!
educators suggest it, obtain a mentor or tutor for your child, but never
complain about the cost to your child.
parent support group and exchange ideas and experiences.
suspect underlying emotional problems, arrange for an evaluation by a school or
private psychologist if educators deem it necessary.
like Up From Underachievement and Why Bright Kids Get Poor Grades and What You
Can Do About It.
show your child how poor time management, procrastination, manipulation and
blame-shifting all are self-defeating behaviors. Show how self-control, better
organization and more positive attitudes will reward the child with better
grades and a happier outlook.
to encourage your child's interests, regardless of the level of school success.
Hug that child often, always tell your child how much you love him or
her, and never give up on that child!
the website www.about-underachieving-teens.com