Son Stressed by School Workload

A mother seeks advice on how to help her honor student son, who refuses to lighten his academic load.
We have a 17-year-old in a private boy's high school who appears to be under a lot of stress. I know he worries about college and his future because he doesn't seem to have a clear direction. He bitterly complains about his lack of free time.

We encourage him to reassess his course load (advanced placement and honors classes) and the many extracurricular activities he's involved in, but he's stubborn and won't consider those options. He's in way over his head and this is reflected by his negative attitude and declining grades. What can we do to slow him down without looking like we're punishing him?

Your son's trying to "do it all" in his tension-ridden junior year. Find out if his grades are declining because he's having problems with the course material (in terms of comprehending the subject matter) or because he hasn't been able to devote enough time to studying because of his extracurricular demands.

Besides talking with him about how to relieve some of his anxieties, it might be beneficial for all three of you to speak with his guidance counselor. Are there any seniors with whom he is friendly and whose opinions he might respect regarding his dilemma? He's disturbed and worried that he's blown his chances of getting into a good college by not having a stellar junior year. These anxieties are contributing to his free fall and he doesn't appear to be able to use reason to bring himself out of this tailspin. He probably feels like he's failed you, too. In addition to his school counselor, I'd like to see him get some short-term therapy. Let me know of your progress.

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

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