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Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Teens, Preteens, & Young Adults > How Much to Demand of Teens?
Re: Unmotivated high school freshman - Help!
I read the epilogue and it got me thinking. Is there something wrong with kids who are average? and just kids? I read through these posts about tutors and activity after activity and I am beginning to wonder if I am too loose? I am a single parent with full custody of my two teenagers so I don't have the resources that a two parent family would have. However my kids have structure and love and nurturing.
Still, I wonder if I am doing them a disservice by not being more pushy about their grades or activities or ?? I am totally fine with my kids' grades (b's mostly) as they study hard and seem to be doing their best. I encourage their friendships and drive them to and fro their activities. My daughter, age 15, is mostly into her friends and school activities (i.e. attending football games) She does not have any hobbies. (unless text messaging counts) She is not athletic and so far has not found anything 'extracurricular' that she loves. My son, age 13, is mostly into playing sports and friends and funny television shows. They are both generally happy and generally typical teenagers but well behaved and not causing big problems at home or in school.
I have not, thus far, pushed them to earn straight A's and I have not been worried that they don't have enough 'activities' that might look good on a college application. I was raised by a high achieving family and I felt a lot of pressure to be 'perfect' growing up. I did not want my kids to feel the same way. Sometimes as I read these posts I wonder if I 'should' be doing more? getting them tutors, micro managing their homework, pushing them into activities just so they will have all the right stuff to put on their college applications? Looking for advice advice from those whose kids are already in college or out of the house?
beginning to wonder
You also have to think realistically about where they might want to go to college. If they want to go to a college other than a Cal State or community college, they will need to show some outside interests or activities. Sophomore year in high school would be a good time to get involved if your daughter hasn't already. Consider: music, dance, video production, writing, volunteering to work with young kids, being in a school club, etc.
So the idea is not to be pushy, but to show them interesting activities, encourage them to develop who they are, and let them know that there are many opportunities outside of school for them to learn and grow. Anonymous
That said, maybe I am just lucky that my daughter does go along with ''active participation in life.'' I guess outside help is needed when kids refuse to do anything. -- hope this works
My 12 year old daughter is in the 7th grade, her father & I are divorced and share custody (which we have done all of her life). We have a major disagreement on how to handle a particular issue. Our daughter is a bright, lovely girl, with a good head on her shoulders. She does okay academically, however, her dad is not satisfied. He believes that she is not working to her ability, and that she is overall lazy and unmotivated to perform better at school. She currently has 3 A's (easy classes)B's in math, English & science, and a C in History. He yells at her frequently about her poor grades/effort, and threatens to take away her one & only extracurricular activity - an all girl's chorus. This is her 4th year in this group, and she absolutely loves it. It's a wholesome group with an outstanding reputation, she loves music, and she gets so much out of it. She performs in concerts for the community several times a year.
I think she is a smart girl, yes, she could probably do better, but even when she had straight As last year, her dad still yelled, threatened, and hounded her regularly. I know how difficult a person he can be, he is very rigid and controlling. She gets frequent migraines, I think from all the pressure he puts on her. He wants to punish her for her lack of effort/motivation by having her quit her choral group, which will also mean she can't go on their annual 4-day tour. She is heartbroken by this, and is tired of his threats. She cries frequently at my house at the slightest mention of grades, and does not want to talk about it, because that's all she talks about at her dad's house.
I don't think punishment is the way to motivate a child, and I'm afraid she will become rebelious and her grades will really go down. Also, I'm worried about breaking her spirit, and having her go in the wrong direction.
What is the best way to motivate a child to perform better academically? Do you parents that have kids with straight A's demand that from their kids? Her grades are important to me, but I also want a well-rounded, happy child. I think it would be a big mistake to punish her by taking away this activity. Has anybody else gone through something like this? What's the best way to ensure academic success? Have other parents taken activities away from B students, and have them become better students?? Discussing this issue with her dad is pretty much impossible, last month he made a unilateral decision to have her miss her Christmas concert because she got a D in History.
BTW, we have not had any help handling any disagreements regarding our daughter for 6 years now, he previously fired two different Special Masters we had (because they sided with me on several major issues). Any advice would be appreciated. sad & worried mom
You have to be your daughter's advocate, if you think what he's doing is breaking her spirit, which is abusive behavior then you have to stick up for her no matter what. That will also include helping her to deal with help her to learn to fend him off and to stick up for herself. Sounds like you are letting him rule your roost even though you are divorced. He is probably scary when he's mad, but you have to get past that and help your daughter find her ''voice''.
As far as demanding success from your kids, I think that you can say I think you can do better, what's going on with this class? Are you connecting wiht the teacher? Can I help you? Do you want a tutor? etc. She's just a girl and will learn that what she puts into it is what she will get out of it. Her grades don't sound that bad anyway. History is a hard class to make interesting and it's probably mostly reading a boring textbook! People like certain subjects better than others and your can't fight that. She's not a machine. 7th grade is a hard time no matter what. There are lots of things going on with girls at that time anyway. Hormones are raging, friends stuff can be difficult, the home should be a respit from the outside world, calm and supportive (if that's possible with a 13-year old!). good luck anon divorced mom
Although I'm not in your boat, I can sympathize with having a distressed child; it makes discussion impossible, and one can end up feeling helpless and frustrated. A few things occur to me:
- Assess the grade situation with your daughter-have her identify what makes the academic work hard in certain subjects, or what is affecting these grades. Maybe you and she can talk to her teachers. This action can let her know that you are pulling for her, and show her how to navigate the system.
-Set some goals with her for the next semester, to improve certain grades.
-Get help from another adult-maybe someone she trusts and admires in the Chorus, or a school counselor; don't have this become a fight between her parents.
-I agree, removing her main passion is not the way to go. If television or computer time are at play, they may be affecting homework time; cutting back on these would be a logical step. hope this helps
Regarding her academic performance however, I would like to comment. I don't think that emphasis on performance (that is-- a demand for straight A's for instance) is useful. Rather, I think the most useful thing we can instill in our kids is a strong work (study) ethic. With that, the grades will come. Does she demonstrate an understanding of the value of hard work? Is she willing to invest effort now (and delay gratification of doing something more ''fun'' or easy like hanging out with friends or even chatting with her family) in order to achieve something? Is she able to do her assignments or does she need some help that you or her teacher or others might give her?
I frankly find it hard to believe that a child who really tries hard, puts in honest substantial time and effort, still gets C's or D's in History, unless she has a learning disability or language limitation. If you can instill in her the love of learning, fantastic. Perhaps even more importantly, if you can convince her that working hard to learn and achieve is a value of your family, you will be giving her a tremendous gift that will serve her well long after she has grown and moved out on her own. She may have a base for understanding in the practice she needs to do in chorus-- I bet they go over the same passage many times to perfect it. The same sort of commitment to excellence in academic efforts is what you want from her.
We always required our kids to have homework done, tests prepared for, etc, before any extra curriculars. I think it is fair for you to set an expectation with her on what she needs to do (and again my bias is not that she would need to make certain grades, but that she would put in a certain level of effort into her academic work-- it could be hours per day or it could include showing you all her work and improving it if necessary). It would be great if you can come up with a plan-- what does she need to do to participate in chorus-- and stick with it. Best of luck another mom
My son has had similar grades as your daughter over the years (mix of mostly A’s/ B’s, an occasional C). We never “yell” about grades, but we do limit privileges (TV/ Computer/ Video games, parties, and going out with friends) if grades are substandard (ie. below a B). However, we have continued with sports practices, regardless of grades, as we think that a child needs a group to identify with through middle school and high school (chorus, band, or sports) and those activities require commitment. So organized extracurricular activities would be the last thing to go in our house. That said, I have denied participation in weekend tournaments, etc. due to mediocre grades and would not hesitate to take away a 4 day chorus trip for poor grades, especially if it entailed missing 2 days of school, (it’s clear from your daughter's grades that she can’t afford to miss school).
I have told my kids that school is their job, and their lifestyle will be effected by their grades: an “A” lifestyle (complete freedom, lots of privileges, days off school for tournaments, vacations), a “B” lifestyle (some privileges, but more parental oversight), or a “C” lifestyle (heavy parental involvement, limited outside activities, no time off school). I have no qualms about minimizing privileges and, to a lesser extent, meting out some punishment for bad grades. But let me be clear: we lay out the expectations ahead of time in very clear terms so they know what’s at stake-- and we always follow through.
Has it worked for us? For the most part, yes, but it takes constant vigilance in my son’s case. My son will never be the straight-A student my daughter was (she was naturally motivated and focused), but he’s clear about our priorities for him and is somewhat motivated by our expectations. He’ll squeak out a 3.6 or 3.8 this semester (at a very academic high school, in rigorous classes, while competing nationally in his sport). I set high standards and expectations for my kids because I want them to push themselves to be their best. I support your ex's goals, but it sounds like his approach is overly harsh and reactive, not proactive (yelling is unacceptable) . On the other hand, you sound like you don’t have very high standards for your daughter and seem much more interested in pleasing her than in looking out for her future. I’m also worried that you have focused on your ex being the problem (not your daughter’s poor performance), and are certainly contributing to the problems she’s having with her dad if you are taking her side against him. -parent of 2
Based on my experience rearing a smart, focused, and stubborn daughter who was convinced she couldn't do math, a good way to motivate a kid to ''perform''--not a term I like--is to encourage her with kind words, find her some peer and/or adult tutoring, express pride in her efforts, tell her stories about your own struggles and triumphs at school, and reward her for good ''performance'': e.g., take her to a concert she'd enjoy if she brings a low grade up. Or let her choose her own reward.
Your daughter sounds pretty solid and well-behaved right now (a D in history* will not wreck her academic career), and she's also young enough to be cowed by her dad. However, if he continues making these unreasonable demands for perfection, she might well become very rebellious and difficult in a few years, and I wouldn't blame her. *A D in history from a bright, sensitive girl like your daughter? I wonder how competent her history teacher is.
I don't know what your custody agreement says about your daughter's education. Have you suggested going back to family counseling regarding this matter? (I gather your ex didn't care for the counseling you received before.) If he won't do it, you might need to return to court and attempt to readjust your agreement so that he cannot legally make these unilateral decisions.
Assuming that your ex wants to see his daughter eventually enter a top university, you might also try seeing a college-admissions counselor with him. Perhaps he'd realize then that getting into a ''good'' college doesn't always entail a 4.5 GPA and huge SAT scores. Truly good universities are also looking for individuals with strong interests who are committed to their field of study: someone like your daughter. Melanie
If it were me, I'd do two things: Try to build motivation in your daughter by exploring her future goals and helping her to see that what she learns now will help her in the future (in high school, in college, in her career). Help her to focus on the future! Then set out a contract or set of rules ahead of time so she will know the consequences of bad grades so that you can avoid the yelling and disagreements and she will understand that her participation in special events is based on behaviors under her control.
To do these things, first try to talk to your daughter about what her future career goals are and what type of college she would like to go to. Then research colleges in a guidebook to show her the GPA that these types of colleges expect. Also discuss the specific career goals she has and try to help her see how knowledge in certain fields (for example, math, English, science) may be critical to being successful in this fields. So you are trying to help her see that she is laying the groundwork now for doing better in high school in these courses and for success in what she wants to do in the future.
It would be useful to write a contract together. Here it may be useful to do this with her father involved. Set out the criteria necessary for her to be able to participate fully in her choral activities. For example, as long as she gets grades no lower than B, she can participate fully. A lower grade than this and she has to miss the next concert. Do this rationally, with no yelling, and write out the final agreement, with copies for all. That way, there is no yelling or arguments at the time the low grade comes in. She knows ahead of time about the consequence and it can be applied without further discussion.
Your ex-husband may be open to this idea if you emphasize how the goal is to improve her grades and having the contract in writing will help to reduce tension and let your daughter take more responsibility for her own behavior.
Revise the contract yearly. When she goes to high school, you may want to up the ante because high school grades are one of the most important factors in getting into college. At that time she may be more aware of her interests or what colleges interest her, and you can use that as a motivation as well.
Good luck! The tension between you and your ex-husband I'm sure is part of the mix in why your daughter isn't putting her all into her school work so any other things the two of you could do to reduce those tensions may help your daughter overall. Anonymous
Since your daughter is only in 7th grade, she does not need to worry about grades for college uyyet, so your husband should back off. Also, as I have learned the hard way, your child has to be on board with the goal of good grades --- the parent can't do it for them. Is she unhappy with her C in History? Then look at the steps that led to it --- were some assignments late? could she have done something extra? Gradually, she can develop study habits that, in very small steps, will almost automatically result in better grades (and hers are really great, believe me! a C can sometimes be a mismatch between a teacher and a student's way of learning).
It is sad that your husband is not sending a message of pride and support to your daughter. Although I would question: do you hear his criticisms directly from him, or is she reporting them to you? That would be important to find out. Did he really ''hound her'' when she got straight A's? Then it is not grades he is after, and some kind of acting out is going on somewhere.
Why is it his decision for her to quit her choral group or miss a concert? Don't you have a say in this? If you are parenting together, is there some way you can work these things out without her in the middle? Could the three of you go for some family therapy to change this dynamic?
At this age (13?) her most important task is to develop a confidence and self-esteem. Those are more important now than grades. And being in a chorus is a very powerful way of doing that. Please do not take that away from her! And let your house be a place, for now, where grades are not discussed as much as music, friends, and her growing awareness of the self she needs to construct to live in the world.
I don't know what a Special Master is, but it does sound like you and your husband need a mediator of some kind (with the grades and interest you describe your daughter as having, she seems fine.) This seems more like a parenting issue than a student issue. Can you and your husband see a mediator or counselor, who could talk to you both about this without anyone having to be ''right.'' If not, I would suggest contacting the school itself, as there might be guidance counselors, psychologists, a teacher --- or even the chorus director --- who could give you both a better perspective on this, and reassure you that your daughter is on the right path, and will be more likely to stay on it with acceptance than with anger.
--- a musician, educator, teacher, and mother of a 17 year old daughter who has yet to figure out that her high school grades actually have some connection to what comes after high school
We never gave any points for anything under a B (even a B-). You can even qualify it and make it only good for Math and English grades. Good luck. -Whatever it takes
Referring back to the days when she got straight As, my daughter told me emphatically, ''I was a robot then. I never want to be that way again.'' Please don't take away the one thing she loves to do, that feeds her soul. Last summer my daughter had the stamina and perserverance to appear for seven weeks in a local musical production. She got an A in A.P. English at BHS this semester. She will do what she loves well. She wants to go to college to study musical theater. Now she's motivated to have a tutor in her challenging subjects so she can achieve her dreams. There will be a place for her in this world. kathe jordan
I know this will hit the spot with many parents of teens. Our 16 year old daughter is not doing very well in 10th grade at BHS. Today I talked to her about ways in which she might improve her performance. I believe that parents should allow their children to make as many decisions as possible on their own as long as they are successful, but when they stop being successful, it's time for the parents to step in to help.
The conversation with my daughter was going well. We talked about how she needs to go to her biology teacher after school when she doesn't understand what he talked about that day, how she should review her notes every evening and look up in the book the topics she didn't understand. She was pretty receptive to my suggestions, but when we were finished talking and she said she didn't have any biology homework, I suggested that she look up in the book or on the CD that was enclosed with the book, the topics that he discussed this week, she really balked and said "Why should I look up stuff about biology when I don't have any biology homework"? I replied that this one way for her to succeed in the class, but she flatly refused to do it and yelled at me that I shouldn't help her at all with her homework!
I get to the point, frequently in times like these, where I think "Screw her! She can just fail if that's what she wants to do", but I know that that's the wrong direction for me to go. However, I don't know what to do at that point when she adamantly refuses to do something I've told her she has to do. What do people think? How have you found success in these areas? T.
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