Mediocre Middle-Schooler Wants High-School Honors Courses

Here's what to do when your son isn't as involved as he needs to be to work his way out of his problems.
My gifted middle-school son just made two F's, a D, and a C, two weeks after he requested all honors courses for high school. He can't seem to stay on track and nothing has helped.

He consistently scores in the 99th percentile on ITBS, and in seventh grade he scored an 1180 on his SATs (part of the gifted program).

We've had conferences, studied Sylvia Rimm's book, Why Bright Kids Get Poor Grades, tried punishment, no punishment -- nothing helps. I'm concerned about his low self-esteem. He was so excited about high school, the courses he would be taking, and being recommended by his teachers for the honors program. Now he's afraid he won't get in, or if he does, that he won't succeed.

His year-younger brother is a classic overachiever, also in the gifted program. Everything he does just seems to work for him. My older son can't see the effort his "little" brother puts into school, sports, friends, etc. He only sees the end result and is very jealous. Any suggestions?

It appears that you are the one making all the effort to solve this problem and that your son isn't as involved as he needs to be to work his way out of this. I've seen many teens with this issue.

At this point, the solution is often two-fold: What's blocking this guy from reaching his superior potential? What does this gifted teen want that he can't have unless he gets into gear?

The answer to the first question could be depression, distractibility, poor study habits, etc. A full evaluation could answer this, looking into the emotional, physical, and academic. The answer to the second question could be a material incentive -- but I doubt it. I have found that kids like this may have unrealistic expectations about what they can accomplish with no practice, no effort, etc. The fact that he is jealous (but clueless) about his brother's successes tells me this may be true for him as well. In counseling, your son could explore these questions about his current and future desires/goals. As low self-esteem is now also an issue, I think you should consider counseling. These problems may be masking a depression as well.

I have also had good outcomes with gifted teens who have found a mentor they admire, someone who can help them see what certain jobs actually require in terms of school, grades, effort, and so on. This type of course can help a gifted teen find their focus. Before the pressures of high school overwhelm him, I would recommend counseling with a therapist who understands giftedness. The National Association for Gifted Children ( can give you further info on giftedness and counseling.

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.

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