Did I fail as a parent? - FamilyEducation
Did I fail as a parent?
01/10/2008 at 10:33 AM

I have a 15 year old tenth grade son whom I love dearly. He is a greadt kid who doesn't get into any trouble. He is pleasant, respectful and well liked by everyone. My only concern is that he has no interest in school, and that's the one area that I most want him to excel. His teachers give him chance after chance, and he won't take advantage of the opportunities. He knows that he is failing and still won't do anything, promises he will do better and still will miss assignments. It's like he just doesn't care.

I stay in constant contact with his teachers to keep up with whats going on. I check his homework and help him study for tests when I can. The times that I don't help him is when he "forgets" the materials home. I tell him all the time that I can't go to shool and sit in the classroom with him. He does just enough to get by.

I am beginning to feel like maybe it's my fault. Am I not punishing him enough? What else can I do? I talk to him all the time and tell him how important his education is. I get so upset and cry because I want him to do well. I even told him that I would rather die because then he would do well because he knows thats all I ever wanted. I hate to hear other parents talk about how great their children are doing in school.

Is something wrong with my child? Has anyone else had this experience?

My son used to struggle terribly in the early elementary years, and I found myself helping him every day .  It was a stressful time!  He was disorganized and got frustrated easily. 


While he started getting better at handling the school work (in 5th grade), I started feeling that he was becoming too dependent on my aid, so I started backing off. 


For example,  I used to check all his math homework problems and have him redo ones with errors so that all the problems were correct when he would turn it in the next day to the teacher.   Under the new plan, if he didn't understand the problems, I would help him understand how to do them, but after that, he was on his own.  Afterwards, I would just check for completion, not correctness. 


Fast forward to today---He is now in his first year in HS, and while there is room for improvement, I am proud of him for how far he has come.  He occasionally still asks for help, but most times he is capable of doing it entirely alone, or he now knows how to research for the information, or call a classmate for clarification, etc. 


So, for me I think the backing off was key in helping him with school.  I did not want him to rely on me all the time.  It was becoming where as soon as homework got a little hard for him....rather than try to figure it out, I'd hear: "MOM!  I need your help!"  I read somewhere that "Too much help teaches your child that when the going gets rough, someone will do the work for him or her", and I do believe that.  He had to learn that he could do it all by himself.  I don't think he thought he could. There were some wonderful moments of pride in himself when he earned a good grade knowing he did it totally by himself. 


If you say your son is disorganized,  check his homework assignments when he gets home, then, with him, work out a homework plan.   Help him with managing his time for the work, have him do the more difficult tasks first, etc---then back off, and let him work alone, except for checking on progress.


I don't know if any of this will help you in your son's situation, but it did help in my son's case. 


Wishing you success!


It sounds like you are saying he is capable, he can already read, write, reason and calculate.  I know that you understand how much impact a good academic record has on his success, financially and in other ways, too.  I wonder if the problem is that he feels like you are too invested in his behavior. 

  I have some experience with this, but my situation was complicated by the fact that my son had difficulty reading and spelling, and his handwriting is pretty bad.  I think there are a lot of parents of sons who go through this, I know we have a neighbor with two sons who passively resist doing their schoolwork. 


Absolutely, he is definitely capable. He is just lazy and unorganized. I don't think he really realizes the damage is is doing to himself. Most students want to do well so they can get accepted to a good college. he talks about the colleges he wants to go to, but his track record will never allow it. How does he expect to get there, by a miracle?

I don't know if you have much experience with farm animals, I have very little, but I remember reading that it's really hard to pull  a mule.  The mule is the one that is supposed to do the pulling.  Does it feel like you are doing all the work?


How did you know? It sure does feel that way. communicating with teachers every other day, checking homework, studying for tests, making sure he's wriiten down all of his homework, not to mention all the other things, I feel like I am the student. I just want to feel like I am not alone in this and that this is not the worst thing in the world. I need to know that my son is going to make it in this world after high school. Will he make it to college?...I hope, but I don't know. He won't have anybody to stay on top of him like I do now. I just want him to be successful.


OK, I'm gonna ask the tough question.  Prepare yourself!

Let me know when you are ready.

I got through this, my son's homework habits now are acceptable.  Not perfect.  Here's the question.  Do you know any successful people who have someone riding herd on them the way you are riding your boy?


Good question, but honestly I don't think I am being hard on him. Actually I don't think I am being hard enough. What have I said that makes you think I am hard on him? I check his homework and follow up with teachers because when I don't he gets completely lost. Any concerned parent wants to know how there child is doing and help them if they are not doing well. I think your question should have been "Do I know of any successful people whose parents weren't hard on them"? My answer would have been...no

I didn't say you were hard on him. I said you were riding herd on him. Another rural reference, I'm afraid. It means you hover, like a cowboy trying to keep the calves from going over the cliff. You know, check his homework and follow through on his assignments.  I think you want him to develop self-control, but you don't let him practice because he will fail. And I'm not saying he won't, initially.


Oh...I aplogize. I thought it was a typo and didn't recognize the lingo. I think that if this were something new with him, then I would let it ride for a while and see if he would come to grips. However, this has been going on since grade school. At that time, I didn't "herd" him because I thought he would outgrow it and get serious. He now has 2 years left of high school which is why I am so nervous now.

I've got to tell you what happened just now, as I was driving my 16-year old 10th Grade son (who repeated Kindergarten, and struggled (still has some issues)with reading) to bowling.  (Way too many parantheses)  sorry!

    Anyway he asked for my help  at the last minute last night.  He needed me to drive him to Kinko's so he could print a brochure that he had designed at school, and it was on his thumbdrive.  So today, I asked him how that went.  The assignment was a group project, with Power point, 5 page report, and brochure.  J had done the research, given it to the other members of the group, and they had worked on all of them during school, with J responsible for presenting the tech-dependant items on time, which he did.  The other kids hadn't finished the 5 page report. 

   What is cool is what he said.  "I'm going to write the 5-page report, and I'm going to remind them that it is due.  I'm going to turn in my report before the exam next Wednesday."  That is almost verbatim.  His thinking is a little choppy.  Anyway, his intent is to get a good grade for himself, not to go whining to the teacher about how it's not fair, just to do the work necessary, and not curry favor with his peers by sharing the credit. 

   The point is, this would not have happened last year.  Last year (age 15) he would Not have completed his part of the assignment, he would Not have done the research, and when the other kids were also irresponsible, he would have just taken it as normal.  No big deal.    The work he turns in , particularly things like essays and research papers, is not anything you'd see in the big glass case as a shining example.  But they are his work.  And he takes pride in his work.


Would you like some ideas about changing from a supervisor to a support in your kid's education?


I've got company coming today, but here's a first idea. Pick a landmark (like a birthday, but more arbitrary so it is soon) and let him know that --on Groundhog's day or whatever, he will be old enough (or mature enough ) to take over a lot of his own decisions. That's all for now. LAUNDRY calls.

I got the load in, but I've still got a lot to do, but    

it occured to me that it is important that this is presented very matter-of-fact.  Not you SHOULD be mature, not that i HOPE you are mature, just that it will happen then.  I'll get back to you Sunday. 


My company got delayed and my house got clean. So I'll finish this off.

   Soon, invite your boy to sit down with you . Have a paper and pencil or sit at the computer.    Ask him to help you come up with all the things that help him turn things in complete and on time. Brainstorm together. Write down everything as it comes to mind.  He should be the one coming up with the ideas. You can help, but keep it 1/4 of the ideas, or less.

    Make it a really complete list. Things like catching the bus/carpool and like starting big projects early so there is enough time. Look over the list. Ask him if he can think of any more. Then ask him which ones he wants YOU to still be responsible for. Underline those. Ask him which ones he thinks he will want you to help him with. Put a star by those. Tell him you will make him a list of the ones he is responsible for. It will have everything on it that isn't underlined.

      This is just the beginning list. It will change as he gets more mature. Ask him how many copies of the list he wants, maybe 3, for locker, backpack, & kitchen. If he only has ONE THING on his list, honor the list. If he has ALL but one thing on his list, honor his list.

    He is allowed to fail. If he fails, your response is "oops! Try again tomorrow." The consequence of failing is that he failed and it is a heavy enough consequence.

   He may be so accustomed to thinking of himself as a failure that it won't seem like it bothers him, but because you are allowing him control, this time it is his own failure. Be really really patient. This is the hard part. Don't get mad. Don't get frustrated. If 2 weeks pass, and he is consistently failing to take care of his responsibilities, you take the initiative. Sit down with the list and say "I don't think this is working for you. Would you like to assign me some more responsibilities?" Then honor what he says. Even if he doesn't want to change the list. 

   On the other hand, if he is meeting all his responsibilities, after 2 weeks, pull out the list and say, "I think you can take back some of these responsibilities. We'll underline the ones that are for me." Then, make new lists, one for him that has more entries than before. Anytime he asks for help, help him if you can.  Keep doing this til you don't have a list. 

   I know this works. I do it before my kids turn 14, because I figure they're pretty much raised at 14. And I do it with all their responsibilities, clubs, church, household stuff. Then you don't have to spend those 14 to 18 years fighting with them.

   You'll notice that I started this with J at 14, and he still didn't really get going until he was well into his 15th year. Yep. And his grades reflect that. But so does our relationship. And his concept of himself as a leader. SO worth it.


Have you considered him possible being ADD? I know my oldest son and his friend who have struggled with the forgetting and "homework apathy" he may not be able to ask for help for a number of reasons.

I just saw the date of 2008. Duh me. Almost 5 years later. Lol

Just trust your sense that you need to do less management and more consequences. Don't rescue him. The goal is to mirror real life-- his boss will never hold his hand while he does his job. His co workers will never respect him for a half-done job either. Sit him down and let him know that here forth, he will take ALL responsibility. Expect nothing less than A's,B's and C's (but there BETTER be a good reason for those C's). Tell him you won't monitor him like a 12 year old anymore. Tell him you already graduated school and now he must do the same. Let him know you have no problem with his going to summer school-- that HE will have to pay for. Let him know if he can't handle the responsibility of school he can't handle the privilege of driving and definitely not owning a car. Then let go. Let him struggle, gain competency and learn you are serious. You're doing him a huge favor by raising your expectations.

How is he getting on 4 years later?