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Eighth-Grader Is Not Working at Her Potential

Middle School Expert Advice from Connie Collins

Q: My eighth-grade daughter doesn't work up to her potential. She's capable of being at least a B or even an A student (her teachers agree). Right now she earns C's, D's, and F's. She gets angry at her bad grades, but doesn't seem to remember that she feels good when her grades are good. Some work she doesn't complete, some she completes and doesn't turn in. Sometimes she just doesn't want to do it and doesn't think of the consequences. She has been tested and doesn't have LD or ADD. She came to live with me as a foster child when she was in fourth grade, and the adoption was finalized in sixth grade. I realize I may be fighting whatever habits and influences she had for the first 10 years of her life. I've tried everything. I've met with her teachers and school counselors. We've done daily and weekly reports. Teachers check her assignment book. I check her homework. I've given her consequences, taken away privileges -- everything. We've tried therapy, but she doesn't want to be there, and doesn't participate. Questions to her about what would help her elicit a shoulder shrug or an "I don't know." She doesn't seem to learn from her mistakes. At this point, I'm torn between continuing to micro-manage her and just letting her do it her way. I feel like I'm losing my sanity. Help!

A: Your daughter is exhibiting typical eighth-grade behavior -- shrugging, "I don't know," angry one minute, and seemingly unconcerned the next. From what you have written I doubt if it has much to do with adoption or even previous genetic and familial influences. It's just being an eighth grader.

The answers to your concerns are contained in your message. You are intuiting that you need to let her do it her own way even if that means squeaking by or failing. I would encourage you to do just that. When you stop paying attention to her misbehavior and only respond when she does do well, you will throw her out of kilter! My guess is she will try hard to get you involved again, but if you just remind her that it is her choice, she will most likely do what she needs to do to pass. Better that she fail now than in high school, where she loses credit.

You have reason to fear that if she continues in her study patterns she will have difficulty in high school. She will. But you've already realized that for your own emotional and mental health, and for her growth, you can't micro manage her.

This will be your greatest difficulty -- to let go and to expect her to succeed without you. You can do it.

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Connie Collins, professional school counselor, worked for 35 years in public education as a teacher and counselor at the middle school and secondary levels. Collins worked daily with the parents of the students in her various schools, and has facilitated several parenting groups.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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