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Seventh-Grader Stopped Doing His Homework
Q: My 12-year-old son is in the seventh grade. He did fairly well in the first quarter, but "earned" two F's in English and Science in the second quarter. Come to find out, he stopped doing his homework. In his words, "It was too much and too hard."
Instead of coming to me for help, he hid the fact that he was doing poorly by withholding deficiency notices. He even went so far as to intercept his report card in the mail. Unfortunately, the school never followed up, and his grades slid from B's to F's in one quarter.
He's always done very well in school and has never done anything like this before. Why didn't he come to me for help? We have a very close relationship, and I tell him that I'm here to help him and support him. Frankly, I'm at a loss.
He knows he's in a real hole and has shattered the trust of his whole family. But I also told him that he can get out of it with hard work and reiterated my pledge to help him. Is it common for kids to get overwhelmed and just stop functioning academically?
A: It is common for kids -- especially seventh graders -- to get overwhelmed and to quit. The transition to so much responsibility for homework at the middle level is a difficult one. He didn't come to you because he was fulfilling the adolescent task of gaining independence. I give my usual suggestion: Call his school counselor right away and set up a meeting with the counselor, all of his teachers, your son, and you and your partner. It's extremely important that everyone hear exactly the same thing.
In this meeting, the teachers should explain your son's strengths, their expectations about class work and homework, their rules, and what they would suggest your son do to improve his study skills and his performance. (They may not have noticed he isn't using his class time well.) Your son should be given an opportunity to say what he thinks the problem is. The meeting should focus on a plan to help your son. If at any time it becomes a listing of everything he does wrong, firmly bring it back to the point of what everyone can do to help. At the end of the meeting everyone, including your son, should state clearly what they will be doing to help and keep tabs on the situation.
As far as emotional support goes, it appears you have that well in hand. You are setting boundaries and not taking his failures personally. You are still loving him, but not accepting his misbehavior. You have set the goal for him to reestablish trust. Good for you! He will get back on track because you are addressing this challenge quickly.
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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.