What to do? When to intervene?
January 6, 2009 4:37 PM   Subscribe

He's 14 years old and his grades are starting to slip. Does anyone have experience with this?

Seems to have trouble focusing -- easily distracted and a typical procrastinator. Generally good student until the last year. Loves video games and waits for the sound of the garage door to open before running to his books so his mom won't see him on the TV. Likes to take an IPOD to bed so he can listen to tunes while falling off to sleep -- but that's history now as the parents have cracked down. Good kid and otherwise fine -- seems well-adjusted and generally engaged, with normal teenage social awkwardness. But the dropping grades are a concern and teachers tell the parents the child seems often "elsewhere" in class.

What's going on? Should the family pursue medication for a possible ADD issue? Lock away the video games? Establish a TV moratorium?

I realize these are complicated situations and I look back on my own adolescence recalling distractions and how peer pressure and parental expectations wreaked havoc. Any suggestions or experience with this? It has become a growing concern. Thank you.
posted by terrier319 to Human Relations (42 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
He's getting older and a whole lot of stuff is starting up in his life- New social circles, interests, music, and so on. As well, as a former fourteen year old, I remember high school as being one of the most miserable times in my life. I had to deal with so much stupid bullshit drama and loneliness that it was hard to concentrate on things I wasn't very interested in, even though doing so used to be easy.

If my memory serves me, parental moratoriums and crackdowns only make kids more defiant and liable to say 'fuck you' instead of work with you.

And ADD meds? All the kids I knew who got ADD medication either did it in lines or sold it to other kids to do the same.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:49 PM on January 6, 2009

Do not lock away the video games. There is no better way to piss off and alienate a teenage boy.
posted by fearthehat at 4:50 PM on January 6, 2009

True add manifests itself before age 14. Either he was able to coast prior to this because everything was easy to him, or he probably doesn't have it. A true diagnosis of add goes back further to grade school.

ADD is a lifelong inability to focus, not the lack of desire to.

From your description, it sounds more like teenage ennui. I would suggest that instead of taking away the ipod, use it as a motivator. The kid can have the ipod back when his homework is done. Set the kid up with a workspace away from distractions. The workspace is only for schoolwork and nothing else. When schoolwork is done, everything gets packed back up into the book bag for school the next day, and the desk is cleared. When that's done, ipod is given back. Teach him to schedule his work. When a homework assignment is given, write it down in the homework notebook with due dates and so forth. When it's homework time, sit him down and show him how to prioritize the tasks ahead of him.

These are things that just aren't taught, at least not until after bad habits set in.
posted by gjc at 4:51 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

What's going on? Should the family pursue medication for a possible ADD issue?

What the fuck? The kid plays video games and watches television because they're so much better than schoolwork. The family should read some John Taylor Gatto and realise that he doesn't have ADD, it's just that school is unengaging - no, wait, not unengaging, more like boring as shit - and packed full of assholes. But, yeah, go ahead and medicate him into stupefaction until he memorises the periodic table.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:52 PM on January 6, 2009 [30 favorites]

Sounds like me at 14. My problem at that age was that I just wasn't engaged and didn't know where I wanted to go in life, and at that age the school curricula was more independently structured. So I let myself disconnect a lot since it felt like I was expending unnecessary brain energy and did the bare minimum in some areas and A's in areas that interested me. If he's smart and can hold a good, long conversation, then the path might be figuring out his interests or hobbies outside of mainstream media and find ways of connecting that with his classwork (easier said than done, but that would be my game plan; starting small, etc). I think that's what would have worked for me. Also there could be other factors like him staying up late reading or doing other stuff, unbeknownst to the family, and running a chronic sleep deficit. I wouldn't tread the ADD / brain chemistry cocktail road unless I was out of options -- I'd be loathe to let a pro figure it out since there seems to be overprescription and overdiagnosis of ADD/ADHD in the US and it tends to be used as a safe catch-all.
posted by crapmatic at 4:54 PM on January 6, 2009

I find it deeply angering, that this system we've put our children in makes people feel like they need drugs to keep them engaged.

Please try to keep in mind, as you deal with the reality of a competitive world, that young people generally enjoy learning and will do naturally and with pleasure, and that when they do not, it is usually not their fault.

Support, honesty, and communication are paramount. Talk to them, understand why they are dis-engaging from school - hopefully with some sympathy. Explain why you are concerned - hopefully in a non-condescending way. Despite protestations, most teenagers still do care about their grades.

While I agree with the above comments about taking away video games - the other side of the coin is that they are seriously psychologically addictive. In a supportive, communicative way, try to help him make sure that he is not losing the thing he is interested in to video games. The more you can be a supportive ally and not an overlord in this sense, the better.

At this stage, "putting the foot down", is going to be less effective as a daily tool. While you still may need to do it about serious occasional issues, if you try to use authority on a regular basis at this age, it is going to be counter-effective.
posted by mjewkes at 4:58 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sounds like me when I was 14. A lot could've been fixed back then if someone decided to challenge me. My parents (despite both having masters degrees in education) couldn't figure out how to manage things with me 'cept by taking things away and "cracking down", and all it did was make me more resentful and stubborn.

When I was 12, I hit a teacher that made life difficult. She was exacting and had black and white rules, and it was an extreme challenge to meet her requirements and stay in her class -- writing outside of the margins would automatically deduct 50% on a homework assignment. On the other hand, it was interesting and very mentally stimulating and I enjoyed being able to ask questions and have her put thought into the answer. The projects she had us do required a lot of creativity and I put a lot of work into them. After barely squeaking a C my first quarter with her (largely on my projects), she sat me down after class at the beginning of the 2nd quarter and told me to get my ass in gear or she was going to fail me. I got an A the next two semesters.

At the end of my Soph. year in high school (15-16), I had (I think) a 1.7/4.0 GPA. I (barely) graduated high school with a 2.64. Counselor's advice was to put me in the army. I said FU to that, my draft-dodging dad agreed but wasn't going to pay for school unless I proved myself first. I went to community college for my first two years (my parents agreed to not charge me rent as long as I was in school) and left there with a 3.8 GPA while working full time and holding down the editorship on the newspaper staff that paid or school. I got my first 4.0 ever while taking something like 20 credits. My poor time management skills were negated by not having free time to mismanage.

As to how you can accomplish that -- well, I can't tell if you're a sibling, a relative, or an educator. But if you want my totally uneducated opinion, I'd go with more stimulation and lots of positive reinforcement, not less stimulation and negative reinforcement.
posted by SpecialK at 4:58 PM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

IANAP (parent) but I have been 14. He's a teenager. They're (we all were) insane. The only thing I was interested in at 14 was DnD, Punk rock, writing Pascal and catching glimpses of Danielle What-Was-Her-Name in her gym shorts. I damn near failed every class except those that interested me. Talk to him as an adult even if he obviously isnt. No drugs needed. The honest "Big Talk" from my Mom did more good than any drug could have done. Just my two pennies.
posted by elendil71 at 5:03 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Too little information here: how much the grades are "starting" to slip; whether he has started at a new school, or is otherwise in a situation where grade changes are readily explicable in the short term; what rules you have tried to lay down (people here are proposing iPod rules when it seems like that's the one thing you've addressed).

Based solely on what you've said, I would be careful not to overreact to what is a really widespread pattern of behavior among his peers; alienating him over lesser offenses could backfire later. Talk about it with him. If you need to do something, cut off the acquisition of new games until he raises his grades, making it a positive incentive.

And don't assume he has a medical problem, apart from puberty.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 5:08 PM on January 6, 2009

I briefly had this problem, myself, when I first got to junior high. It was a big change, and the homework was different, too. The environment was a million times more laid back than grade school had been for me, and it was.... you know. Weird. Anyway, I bounced back after that year, much to my mom's relief. She'd actually been interrogating me on a regular basis and searching my bedroom for drugs, so convinced was she that my issues were abnormal.

I'm not saying your son definitely *doesn't* have a problem, but it's hard to identify without more info. There could be any number of factors affecting his ability to concentrate. You mentioned his normal teenage social awkwardness, for example... how heavily is that affecting him? I remember my "normal teenage social awkwardness," and it weighed heavily on me. I just didn't like to let it show. There's also the discipline factor. He likes doing fun things more than he likes doing homework. That's just how kids are.

I'd just talk to him about it first and get his ideas on how his homework can be improved. Get the communication going and let him talk, too. I agree with everyone who said "putting the foot down," is a bad idea at this stage. You might have to pull that move out later, but right now, it's better that you understand what's going on in his head.
posted by katillathehun at 5:09 PM on January 6, 2009

What do you mean by "his grades are starting to slip?" A straight A student suddenly brings home a B+ is a lot different than a C student who starts bringing home a bunch of D's and F's.

If he's maintaining a grade level that will allow him to graduate, pay attention but don't interfere. After all, he's getting the work done. If his grades are slipping to the point where his diploma is in jeopardy then there's probably something deeper going on than his iPod or video games.
posted by lekvar at 5:10 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Man, I was a latchkey kid and I always kept the TV on till my parents came home, from age 8 on. So far I've done fine in life. If his grades are slipping then the solution might be to enforce homework time in the evening, which is what my parents did with me whenever my grades slipped.

Also, this is the time when lots of good students start to have issues with procrastination and disorganization. When you're in grade school the assignments are perfectly parceled out, but getting into 7th, 8th, 9th grades there's a lot more independence and less hand-holding. Maybe he could use some help with study skills?
posted by lunasol at 5:15 PM on January 6, 2009

Until he has his problem sorted expect to spend at least as much time helping him, either directly or in support, as he spends doing the work. Gym, bye. Friends, church, bye. Your work may even slip. Many parents spend more time toilet training their kid than they do helping with homework. Invest the time in a strategy that works.
posted by By The Grace of God at 5:20 PM on January 6, 2009

Man, I was a latchkey kid and I always kept the TV on till my parents came home, from age 8 on. So far I've done fine in life. If his grades are slipping then the solution might be to enforce homework time in the evening, which is what my parents did with me whenever my grades slipped.

lunasol were you me?

Honestly, nothing you do to try to combat the grades themselves, including the ADD medication, are going to solve the problem, which is that he's 14 and probably doesn't give a damn about what he's doing in school. Having read about unschooling and alternative schooling as an adult, I wish it had been proposed to me, or that at least any alternative to public education had been proposed to me. I was very independently driven in terms of reading and writing and my own projects, and looking back on middle and most of high school, I can see it for the wasted time that it was. If something outside the drone of public high school isn't an option, find out if there are any extra curriculars he'd be into (you say he's into music--guitar lessons?) so that the next few years won't be a total wash creatively and academically.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:29 PM on January 6, 2009

If my memory serves me, parental moratoriums and crackdowns only make kids more defiant and liable to say 'fuck you' instead of work with you.

100% agree.

Do his homework with him, take an active interest in his study- not just ensuing he sits at his desk, actaully be there as much as possible.

Also, he's 14, and this is pretty natural.
posted by mattoxic at 5:31 PM on January 6, 2009

I didn't read everyone of these responses but I'm going to have a different take.

I'm an adult and have ADD. My parents were not really for me having drugs when I was a kid (I tried Ritalin for a week and hated it). Around 14 my grades slipped and I really struggled through my middle school and high school years.

Fast Forward many, many years later and I still struggle with procrastination, paying attention and focusing. It's also affected my marriage (although that's a whole other can of worms). For the first time ever, I'm considering ADD meds (although I'm not happy about this, but something has got to give)

So while I'm all about trying to read books, found out solutions with the child I wouldn't completely rule out drugs. Some people truly have ADD and could benefit from the use of a drug, this kid could be one of them.

Or it could be that school is completely boring, the teacher is a total tool and he's not challenged.

These are just some random thoughts. I know I've not given you a definitive answer here, but I'd explore all options before pouncing on one.
posted by Hands of Manos at 5:35 PM on January 6, 2009

I've heard it said that the test for ADD is to sit you down, point a gun at you, and tell you that you will be shot if you get up. I'm not sure how accurate that is, but it proves a point: many "attention deficient" people really just lack proper, ahem, motivation. While it doesn't usually require the pointing of guns, it can take drastic measures. But start out simple.
What does he plan on doing in ten years? Does messing around all night get him there, or does he maybe need to graduate high school, learn the skills he needs, and get a decent job before he gets anywhere near his goals? I bet he's never thought about that seriously.
posted by niles at 5:39 PM on January 6, 2009

All those things and they've cracked down on listening to music while he's falling asleep? If there's one thing that kept me from killing myself in high school it was being able to listen to music all the time. Helped me fall asleep, too-- gave me something to concentrate on aside from all the social stress that comes from being institutionalized in a social hellhole.
posted by NoraReed at 5:40 PM on January 6, 2009 [5 favorites]

Sounds like a regular 14 year old. Chill.
posted by azarbayejani at 5:41 PM on January 6, 2009

At 14, he's starting to realize that school has almost no relevance to learning and that it exists mainly to indoctrinate. There're a zillion better things to do with one's time than homework. Is he learning the material, but refusing to put in the time on the busywork? Or is he ignorant, and compounding it?

How do you solve it?

Is he failing out of school, or is he just not getting straight A's anymore? If it's the former, then perhaps some sort of intervention is in order. Not that I can imagine any sort of intervention that would actually change his mind. Perhaps a different school (college prep, private, alternative?), if that's possible.

If it's the latter, maybe ya'll should realize how utterly bogus high school is these days and chill out.

I promise it's worse than when you were in school. Hell, my sister (six years younger) is in her senior year, and it sounds about ten times as bogus now as it was when I was there. I mostly blame hysterically (not funny, hysterical) stupid parents and 9/11. I also blame No Child Left UnfuckedupBehind.

High school, more than ever, has lost relevance. Math class is about the only one left that isn't a steady stream of lies and propaganda; and they've dumbed that down far enough that even the mentally impaired can pass calculus. Add in the arbitrary and demeaning rules, and you've got a downright hostile environment. The kid needs to keep a ~2.5-3.0 GPA so that he can get into college somewhere; anything more than that should be considered gravy.

(Also, you can cut off the video games and the television and such. But, unless you're intending to ground him permanently, he'll just find other non-homework things to do. The school is the problem here.)
posted by Netzapper at 5:44 PM on January 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

and teachers tell the parents the child seems often "elsewhere" in class.

These are probably the same teachers who are lecturing on autopilot from the notes they did six years ago, dreaming about that double-martini they'll have on the way home.

The only important question is whether or not he's learning the skills and knowledge necessary to survive in life.
posted by Netzapper at 5:47 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

You ask if anyone has experience with this.

Everyone has experience with this. Don't medicate the kid, he's just a teenager. Talk to him honestly and enforce time management with not only consequences but also benefits and rewards. Taking away video game/TV/computer/whatever isn't going to help, the kid is just going to waste time trying to figure out ways to get around/into where ever you locked the stuff up.
posted by InsanePenguin at 5:50 PM on January 6, 2009

This is the easiest question I've ever had to answer.

Let him know that you're not sure if his grades are slipping because he's becoming a teenager and is more easily distracted -- which is understandable -- or because there's a more serious problem going on.

Let him know that, rather than punishing him by taking away video games or music, or assuming the worst and considering medication or whatnot, you're going to assume he's the terrific and wonderful kid and just needs some help focusing.

Then, let him know you're going to help him focus by having a set time for doing homework, you're going to sit with him and help him with his homework to make sure it gets done, and by doing this he'll be free to be unfocused and do whatever he wants the rest of the time -- and that if he shows the discipline of getting his homework completed at the scheduled time without you sitting there, even better.

There's nothing wrong with this kid so far. There might be, of course, but this is completely normal behavior, and he just needs a firm hand to help him prioritize his homework. If he gets it done, he'll do some learning despite himself and his distractions, and his test scores will improve, and his grades will go back up.

And if they don't, then start looking for other answers. Just remember, it sucks to be 14, because you can't do the things you're really interested in, and the things you can do (like video games and all) are isolating and distracting. Help him fix the focus without keeping him from doing things that 14 year olds enjoy.
posted by davejay at 6:00 PM on January 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

Oh, and here's an interesting thing to think about: my brother-in-law (who is much younger than me) always struggled in school, and his parents always blamed it on a known medical condition he had. He absolutely had problems and issues, and until a few weeks ago I'd assumed (just like everyone else) that he'd never get past them.

A few weeks ago, he came home from his first semester of college with his first grades -- and he got straight As. None of us could believe it.

Turns out, if he was put in a situation where he could be free to pursue his own schedule and work patterns, and if we was learning things he actually cared about, he was fully capable of doing great. By focusing on his medical issue, nobody was paying attention to his study habits, his school environment, his teachers, anything else.
posted by davejay at 6:03 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

How much of a slip are we talking about? Is it a huge change for the worse, or still good but just not as good as the year before?

My grades went down a little in high school because I was spending more time being with my friends, listening to music, fooling around on the computer, and reading for pleasure than I was on schoolwork.

This was a good decision. Those things were worth my time: 16 years later, I'm still enjoying my friends, music, computers, and books. On the other hand, there's not a single way my adult life would be improved if my high school GPA had been a point higher.

and teachers tell the parents the child seems often "elsewhere" in class.

High school sucks. I'd be more concerned with a kid who really loves that environment than with one who--quite reasonably--quietly wishes he were somewhere else.
posted by lemuria at 6:04 PM on January 6, 2009

Please, please, please do not helicopter-parent him. You've clearly raised an alert, expectant child, one who understands enough to turn off the television when you get home. That's obviously a sign of procrastination, but it's also a marker of intellect.

The grades might seem bad, but as long as they're not totally failing—at school or at life—don't worry too much. The rewards of good parenting, of a smart child, but not come now or even in college, but eventually they will.

A lot of parents would ask for as much as having good grades in the first place. As for everything else, yes—push him, encourage him, be there for him. But still—he's fourteen.
posted by trotter at 6:12 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, seconding lemuria. I have never, ever met someone who loved high school that was even remotely worthwhile. That's personal experience, and therefor limited; it's also bolstered by some pretty terrible personalities I've met that happened to believe high school, by itself, was awesome.
posted by trotter at 6:16 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

He's right not to be interested in high school. That means he's smart. What he's missing is the realization that even though high school is bullshit, doing well there makes it much easier to do interesting things later, so it's worth some effort. How can you get him to realize this? The best way is probably by example: hanging around people whose good grades have enabled them to go to a good college and do interesting stuff. If the people he admires value good grades, then he will come to value them as well.

Maybe you could sign him up for something at the community college. History might be a good idea, since there's a lot less bullshit in college history classes--it's nice to realize that there's a real world out there after high school that actually makes sense. If he's not in the honors/AP classes at school, then maybe you should try those, too.

Cracking down on his stuff will only make him resentful, and rightly so. Why on earth would you not let him listen to music as he falls asleep? What harm could that possibly be doing?

What he's realized is that good grades in high school have no intrinsic value; that they are not good measures of his worth as a person. He is absolutely correct, so don't try to tell him otherwise. The best you can hope for is to point out their practical uses.
posted by equalpants at 6:22 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Everything that needs to be said has mostly already been said - though I'd caution against having the talk of "Is everything okay? Is there something you want to tell us?" because teenagers don't like being psychoanalysed, and especially not by their parents. Give him firm ground rules about work hours and enforce them, keep an eye out for further slips, but for now there's not too much to worry about.

As a datapoint, if you're worried about grades for the sake of grades (and University entrance and all that helicopter-parent-y stuff), I did the whole "watching TVs until right before parents came home then race away from the living room" thing when I was younger, much as many other posters here. And because my other love was reading novels, after my parents came home I just read novels with a textbook and a pad of paper in front of me, and shoved it aside anytime they came near my room. I did homework only for the classes where I knew the teacher would check, and even then often past my bedtime with a flash light or in the morning on the bus. My parents didn't notice much because I didn't keep them in the loop about my grades very much, and thus I was rarely punished for these transgressions.

This went on for several years, until one day I decided I was bored of being lazy (yes, it happens), spent a year catching myself up on everything I should've learned already, and went through the rest of high school sleeping little but getting stellar grades. This early on, your son's lacklustre attitude towards school isn't something to lose too much sleep over.
posted by Phire at 6:24 PM on January 6, 2009

Schoolwork can get more serious/difficult at high school level as well, compared to middle/grade school. Not everyone stays at the top of the pack.
posted by availablelight at 7:19 PM on January 6, 2009

I have experience with being a kid/young adult like this, only to an extreme that placed a great deal of strain on myself and my family from about second grade onwards. In all likelihood, the kid would eventually be fine even if you did absolutely nothing, and the same is true even if everything you try fails.

One specific thing I would suggest is enrolling him in a time management and/or organizational course, preferably geared for college or high school students, or finding the best, least cutesy book on the subject and working through it with him. Then, once he understands various techniques and has had a little experience applying it to his own workload, give him a few days to put together on paper his own system for how he'll approach regular homework, studying for tests, term papers, etc. along with a rough sketch of a schedule for the following few weeks. Let him arrange it exactly how he likes, within reasonable parameters- memorizing French vocab at the local diner at 3am is probably not a good idea until college. Then give him room to try out his plan. Evaluate what worked and what didn't after a set period of time. Adjust, or throw out and start from scratch. The vital thing for anyone who struggles with focus or motivation, whether they have ADHD or not, is for them to be taught how to use organization and time management tools, and then given space and patience while they try out what works for them. Not what Mom and Dad necessarily think or would like to have work, but what actually does. It may take a while, especially with a 14-year-old boy, but it's extremely important.

Issues with focus can certainly be dealt with by medicating. Given that even the right dose of the right meds won't help with every problem he's likely experiencing now unless it's accompanied with training in time management and organization, as well as an evaluation of how, what, and why he's being taught, you/the parents will be much better served by looking at these things first (if necessary, with the help of a good counselor or a psychologist who specializes in attention disorders) before medication is tried.

Talk to him about what works for his attention span during boring classes. Obviously make sure (as much as you can, anyway) that he's well-rested and well-fed. If bathroom breaks during class are allowed, have him save them as much as possible for when his brain starts to fall asleep. A little bit of drawing or creative writing, if successfully camouflaged as note-taking, may save him during the more mind-numbing periods. Concentration can almost always be regained if you're able to give your mind some kind of brief, stimulating problem to work through. Basically, controlled goofing off. I used to write crappy sonnets bit by bit while taking notes because the structure was an ideal challenge which kept me from daydreaming aimlessly. If you're worried that he might not get all the notes, ask if he can possibly carry a tape recorder to class. Advanced classes may not solve the problem (they didn't for me) but they're definitely worth trying. If you can afford alternative education, early college, etc., by all means look into it.
posted by notquitemaryann at 7:40 PM on January 6, 2009

Honestly, I'm coming at this with a bit of a different perspective than most other people in this thread. I can understand the "high school sucks!! everyone hates it!! don't worry about it!!" mentality, but the truth is that there are a lot of great high schools and great high school teachers out there and struggling with the work doesn't necessarily make the kid smarter than everyone else.

I was diagnosed with ADD at 16 after nearly failing out of high school. It would have benefitted me tremendously if my parents had done something about it before then (for my transcript, sure, but also for my general self-esteem), but it was basically treated as unmotivated laziness and willful disobedience until it had really become a crisis.

Sit down with your son and talk to him. Ask HIM if he thinks that ADHD is something that you should be looking into as a family. Ask HIM what you can do to help him to make sure that he gets his work done. Talk to HIM about why it's important to succeed to the best of his abilities in high school (it generally is, despite what some of these answers suggest). A lot of it is jumping through hoops and bullshit busywork, but learning to get stuff like that done so you can move beyond it and do what you want is an important life skill to have (search askme for questions on overcoming procrastination to see the way that this kind of stuff caries over later into life). And if he wants to go on to college, it would behoove him to do as well in high school as he can.

Then, set some ground rules and help him work on study skills--a lot of kids, whether they have ADHD or a learning disability or whatever else or not, have a very hard time making the leap from junior high to high school if they were smart enough to get by on their wits alone previously and need to have some structured help. I like the suggestion of making a designated homework area. Make sure you have a copy of his class syllabi, talk to his teachers about what assignments are due when, and put a big calendar over the desk with all of his due dates. Talk to him about getting a little bit of work done consistently every day, learning to prioritize tasks and break down large assignments into smaller chunks. He's 14--for the time being, you need to hold him accountable if he can't do it himself.

Yeah, he's a teenager and it's normal and blahblahblah--but honestly, these are the things I wish my parents had helped me with at that age. You can't control what he does when you're not home, but he shouldn't be watching TV or playing video games when he still has homework to do, so put your foot down on that front. (Afterward, he can do whatever he wants. And for god's sake, give the kid his ipod back. Listening to it at night isn't the reason his grades are slipping.)
posted by cosmic osmo at 7:43 PM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Likes to take an IPOD to bed so he can listen to tunes while falling off to sleep -- but that's history now as the parents have cracked down.

Some people need background noise/music to get to sleep. It took me until high school to figure out I was one of 'em. Forbidding the iPod in such a case would only lead to restless sleep, groggy mornings, foggy first and second period classes, and slipping grades. Why would you want to deprive a kid that's already got slipping grades the sleep they need each night? That's like forbidding your kid to eat until they've done their daily morning exercises.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:56 PM on January 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

Sounds exactly like my 15 year old stepson last year. :) We had several conversations with him each month for several months. In it, we talked a LOT about personal responsibility, about how this was the ONE area of his life he had TOTAL control over and it was up to him to decide whether or not he wanted to screw it up. And that we wanted him to do well in school not because "the cool kids are doing it" or because "parents say so" but because we wanted him to have the MOST choices available to him at every stage in his life, and getting decent grades in high school is the single best way to give yourself options.

We also talked about money, credit, finances, and the economics of non-college grads versus those who have graduated college.

Finally, we stayed on him - asking him about homework, but not remembering for him nor nagging him, and also sending him to do homework CONSISTENTLY without trying to control what he was working on.

It seemed like a lot of talk about very little results for a long time... but this year, he's doing better. Some of it's age, but I like to think that some of it's the conversations about personal responsibility we had last year. He really understood what we were talking about - didn't always make the right choices, but at least we planted the seed for him.

Hope that helps. Hang in there. Change happens when you least expect it.
posted by twiki at 8:03 PM on January 6, 2009

FWIW, it wouldn't surprise me if taking away use of the iPod at bedtime had hearing-related benefits.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 8:36 PM on January 6, 2009

Listening to music in bed kept me sane at his age. How about instead of taking the iPod away, you offer a CD/iTunes album every week or two for good academic performance? It's a tangible, relaxing, positive reward, and feeds into his interests.

As for the hearing loss, promising him some sweet bassy headphones to replace those awful earbuds at the end of the semester could be another motivator and keep him from pumping up the volume just to hear the kick drum.
posted by Benjy at 8:53 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

High school student here. I'm a lot closer to this kid's stage in life than 98% of the others in this thread.

He doesn't need pills. He needs someone to talk to him.

He might need a role model, some motivation, or an extra challenge. Is he a gifted student not being challenged? Is he a formerly studious student not putting any effort into class? A combination? I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that he prolly doesn't have an older sibling, at least not one to look up to academically.

He needs to know that his grades matter... *now*. Maybe start with some small reward for good grades. I'd recommend keeping it low-key. Maybe dinner out once a week, or once every two weeks, for consistent schoolwork? Don't give him cash. Don't give him lots of stuff. Don't make school too lucrative for him, he needs to develop a motivation to learn, not a motivation to get more CDs.

Please, don't punish him. I wasn't necessarily in his shoes 4 years ago, but if I was, taking away my (anything) would have really upset me, and not had the results you'd like. I'd shell up even more, pay less attention in class, and maybe dress in all black.

You don't need to intervene, just show him that you care about his performance, and that he should, too. It's something that he should take pride in.

Show him you care, and, please, give him back his iPod.
posted by Precision at 10:11 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

My grades crashed often during middle and high school, due to depressive episodes. I got kicked out of honors because of that. My mother refused to believe any explanations that I was having serious mental problems and insisted I was being lazy; this despite teachers and counselors BEGGING her to get me help. Needless to say, I was (and still AM) terrified of ever coming to her about anything for fear of just being PILED upon with such vitriol. My father sided with her at first, until he realized very quickly he was only enabling her behavior, and deeply regret not standing up for me sooner.

(As much as I loathed taking the bus to school because I would be sexually harassed by rowdy neighbor kids, even worse were the days where my mother would drive me to school and in the car, lecture me on how much a horrible person I was, sending me to class a tearful mess. I would have ditched first period so I could collect myself, but my school was really strict about notifying parents if you ditch even ONE class period.)

I cannot say this enough as one of the "worst possible scenarios," PLEASE do not assume that grades slipping is due to laziness. From what I've read, it sounds like laziness is far from being the real issue here. If the kid won't talk to you (most likely the case)... I would find some way to get him preemptive counseling, even if you have to, say, conspire with the school counselor so as to not let the kid think you're behind this (else he'll clam up, I know I would!). Too often I've seen parents just go right to the "must invoke tough love NOW or he'll be a failure forever," do not pass go or collect $200, and think that any signs of depression are just emo-kid things that can be shrugged off or eliminated with punishment... that kind of approach does more harm than anything.

Never, EVER cut off friends access to a depressed person, I don't care how far grades slip. I don't think I need to explain how unbelievably devastating and cruel this is, and it will backfire VERY badly.

As for the iPod thing... oh jeebus, I cannot sleep without any kind of music or background ambience. I've always been like this, and those rare moments in which my laptop or mp3 players break down make it utter TORTURE to sleep at night until I can get them fixed/repaired. Unless the kid is, like, cranking up the volume a lot (then I'd question how he's able to sleep), I would consider this a non-issue.
posted by Yoshi Ayarane at 10:57 PM on January 6, 2009

Get rid of the television. Really. (or at least the cable)
It might be strange at first, but you will not regret it.
posted by mrmarley at 2:10 AM on January 7, 2009

If you've had reward schemes previously linked to grades, this is the time to re-evaluate them. When I was his age, I got paid cash money for good grades. This was great up until I was old enough to get a part time job and realized that working a few hours shelving books at the library got me the same amount of cash as doing well in school.

Talk to him about his classes and his interests. I hated Chemistry and my GPA took a big hit as I was enrolled in Honors Chem. I was much more interested in literature and creative writing, so my folks sat me down and explained that if I wanted to, I could downgrade the level of my science coursework (big hit to my scientist dad's ego), but should understand that may limit my future career choices.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:47 AM on January 7, 2009

Kudos to you for your concern.

Whatever you do, please remember this long-term perspective:

They're only grades.

Help him however you can.

But they're only grades.

He can be an amazing person with or without good grades.
posted by uxo at 8:20 AM on January 7, 2009

And just to add: I don't mean to discount the value of grades.

I just want to warn against placing all emphasis on them (though it doesn't sound like you will.)

He sounds lucky to have you as a parent. Best wishes.
posted by uxo at 8:29 AM on January 7, 2009

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