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Stepson Is Failing Eighth Grade
Q: My stepson is failing eighth grade. He just doesn't seem to care about school. We have heard every excuse in the world as to why he didn't complete his homework. His teachers say that he is academically capable, but will not do the work. We've been struggling with him since he started middle school. We have done everything we can think of (signing homework, organization systems, taking away privileges, talking endlessly about the importance of school, giving him things that he says will help him study, etc.). Nothing we do seems to work. He asks why can't we leave him alone about it. My husband and I recently decided to lay off. We told him that whether he passed or failed was up to him. We try very hard not to fight with him about it anymore, but I am really afraid we are failing him. All he seems to care about is himself and his social life" Is this normal? Is there something we are missing?
A: In my professional opinion you are doing absolutely the right thing by backing off and expecting him to take responsibility. This is a tremendously difficult thing for parents to do as the guilt of "failing him" presses on us. Teens are very egocentric and social -- they are supposed to be as they are learning who they are and their place in society. At this time, the persons who seem to count the most are their peers. Don't be fooled, however, teens still trust their parents more than anyone else.
That said, I do encourage you to have a family meeting in which you emphasize that you indeed are getting off his back and letting him take charge. Should he choose to not accept responsibility and if he fails any or all subjects, then he will repeat eighth grade, go to summer school, not enroll in football - whatever you decide. You could also throw in a reward, such as, "If you bring your grades up to a C+, we will go to _______ or you will get to ________."
The most important thing is for you to follow through and to do it without anger or revenge. If he should fail, impose the consequences and assure him that you know he can do better next year. Then drop it. Go forward with the expectation that he has learned and will do better.
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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.