Q: Our son has stopped being interested in school and homework. He is 17 and has always done well, until recently. We have always had high academic expectations; however, of late he seems to have little concern for his grade-point average. What can we do to help him get back on track?
A: Teens have a lot going on, between managing their social life, keeping up with the demands of school, trying to live up to parental and personal expectations, and discovering what they want to do with their lives.
Plus, they are doing all of this at a time of rapid brain growth and development. Remember that the logical/thinking brain does not fully mature until age 24 or 25. What may have been of high interest before adolescence may be less interesting compared to social distractions like budding romantic feelings or the pressures of fitting in with peers.
Discovering the feelings and thoughts behind your son’s behavior will go a long way toward guiding him back to his academic accountabilities. There can be many reasons why a teen loses interest in school. Here are some possibilities to consider:
- Keeping up with the Einsteins — Teens discover that excelling in school is not so unique when they are in an advanced placement class. Being bright and capable may lose some of its luster when there are others around just as bright and capable. Suddenly “grading on the curve” gets more competitive.
- Mental health issues — Teen stress, depression or ADHD could be impacting your son’s life. Having him evaluated by a mental health professional may be needed if you suspect any of the above.
- Substance abuse — Drug or alcohol abuse may also be a factor when a teen loses interest in school. If you suspect your son has drug or alcohol issues, consult with a substance abuse treatment counselor.
I encourage you to take the “ally” stance with your son. Let him know you are there for him: there to talk, there to brainstorm new interests, and there to show him you love him unconditionally, which is a message he probably needs right now more than ever.
Finally, remember that when your son is ready to apply for college, he will.
Jennifer Watanabe is the parent coach at Youth Eastside Services (YES). She teaches Positive Discipline classes and provides individual parent coaching. As a Certified Parent Coach, she has vast experience teaching parenting classes, using research-based information on child development, temperament, discipline, and emotion management. She specializes in helping parents who are longing for a better relationship with their children and who need a more effective way to discipline. Perhaps most importantly, Jennifer understands first-hand the issues parents face in our community.