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11-year-old Musician Suddenly Ignoring Academics
Q: My son made straight A's in elementary school, but now in sixth grade, he's making all B's. Teachers and doctors say that his intelligence level is 13, and his emotional level is 11. I'm very concerned that he wants to be popular. He has a quick wit, can play the piano, compose his own music, and sing. He's doing exceptionally well in band, but made B's in math, science, English, and reading. All these subjects have gone by the wayside in junior high. I need help. What's the problem?
A: It sounds as if the problem is right under your nose: Your son has entered junior high! It is not unusual for any student's grades to slip initially upon entry into junior high. The work is more complicated, the day is more fragmented into class periods and time slots, and the distraction level is high. A student who easily got A's before now has to work harder for them and may not have the self-discipline or study skills to go about it.
You also mention his musical skill. Young adolescents begin to develop strong areas of interest about this time. Your son, who wants to be popular, has realized that musical skills are fun and also valued by peers.
I would recommend you first determine why he received the grades he did by checking with his teachers. If the reasons are study skills or disorganization, he may need guidance from you on how to improve in these areas. The middle grades are also a time when kids become more vocal in criticizing each other. I wonder if your son's classmates criticize A-students as being "brainiacs" (or some other negative term), and he wants to avoid this label.
It's important to acknowledge that peer acceptance can be a real concern for him, but equally important to remind him of what your family expectations are for school performance. Actually, a lot of high-achieving students can be found in band and orchestra, and you may want to encourage your son in keeping those friendships.
I would like to recommend the following three books to you:
1. Why Bright Kids Get Poor Grades, and What You Can Do To Help by Dr. Sylvia Rimm
2. The Roller-Coaster Years by C. Giannetti & M. Sagarese
3. Too Old For This, Too Young For That! (a middle-school survival guide for your son) by Dr. S. Mosatche & K. Unger.
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Noreen Joslyn is a licensed independent social worker in the state of Ohio and is a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers. She has a master's degree in Social Work, specializing in family and children, from the University of Pittsburgh. She is a psychiatric social worker in private practice with Ken DeLuca, Ph.D. & Associates, where she counsels parents and children.