Teenage Son Slacks on Grades
Q: How do I deal with feeling disappointed in my son? He’s made some bad choices and doesn’t seem to be learning from them. BUT he is super intelligent.
Everything is easy for him and he tends to just kind of blow things off, sometimes just doesn’t turn in work, so he’ll end up making a B, C’s or occasionally a D in a class when he easily could have made an A.
He is slowly destroying his overall grade point average. Is there anything I can do to get him to see the light?
A: As always, you start with the core message you want your son to receive. That message is one of love. In every conversation, be it about trust, money, limits that are being set, consequences of poor choices he has made, you want to make sure that the message that you are responding out of love and your belief in him must come through. Unconditional love is about loving him as a person. It doesn’t mean that you agree with choices he’s made or actions he has taken.
Second, you want to know what he thinks about the situation he has found himself in, if he will tell you honestly. You want to know if he is surprised, disappointed, confused, or content. The less you initially reveal, the more you might be able to learn from him.
Listening to someone can be extremely difficult when you are upset and concerned. It takes a lot of work. Don’t underestimate how hard it is and how important it can be. Go very slowly at this point.
If your son wants help, you are in luck! You can be part of his plan for getting information and moving toward a different future. If he needs you to find some expert advice, allow yourself to assist, as long as you don’t put more work into his plan than he is investing.
Sometimes you can help in small ways and still leave the core issues for him to handle. Feel free to share similar struggles if you have ever walked the path he now finds himself walking.
From what you learn and already know, you will have to make some decisions about what your current responsibility for him entails. Some parents withdraw in the face of disappointment, almost letting go of all expectations and requirements. Others see the problems as an invitation to increase involvement and engagement.
Some behavior problems merit a strong response, while others might just be putting you on alert.
Your task is to take a hard look at the expectations he has not met. What if the goals that our culture, our socio-economic group and peers set do not fit our child? We know that people with more education usually make more money, but is that really success and fulfillment? It helps us worry less about our children’s future when we feel they have what they need to financially survive, but not all children are cut out for the same future.
Open your mind to the possibility that what you wanted for him may not be what we can do, or what he wants for himself right now. This might be especially hard if you have other children who seemed to follow the family career path. It will take extra work on your part to step back and check out how realistic your expectations are since you can’t make them happen.
Parents are always in a double bind of sorts. We know that what we do and say makes a difference. We work hard to do the right thing, to do our best as parents. We also know that we cannot control our children 100 percent of the time. We have to watch them make their own mistakes, yet we want to protect them from the consequences of these mistakes.
Because of this, we have to accept that at each moment we do the best we can with the information we have and our circumstances. We must let go of the useless “if only I had done this, all would be different” type of thinking. It won’t help anything and may paralyze us and take the focus away from moving forward. Let go of those thoughts unless they help you move forward with your son right now.
Since your problem is not uncommon, it might be helpful to talk with your family, a friend who has gone through this, or a professional, as you explore how you want to respond. One thing you will quickly learn is that many people have been in your situation.
Hopefully you will also learn that no one expects you to be responsible for his choices and behavior. You can let go of concerns about what will others think, knowing that it may take time.
If you have older children, they may have information and an ability to communicate with your son that will help all of you get through this time. What you don’t know is how long it will take and how things will seem once you get to the other side of it. Don’t forget, this cannot last forever!
All of these resources may be able to help you with any anger you may feel towards your son about his behavior. The anger may be merited, yet you will have to judge how useful it is in moving forward. There may be financial repercussions that he will have to face.
He may need to deal with consequences that affect him legally. All of this is part of his becoming self-sufficient. Our goal as parents is launching our children, where they go belongs to them.
You don’t know what things are going to be like after this current crisis passes. Will there be times when your son seems back on track? Will you slowly have to let go of the images you carried around for years and make peace with a new “normal,” a normal that is one of his making, not yours.
You only have the ability to control your response to all that is going on, not the actions of your son. As you make peace with your limits, you may find times of grief and times of relief.
You will be moving away from taking responsibility for him towards observing him grow as a young man on his own. I hope you will be able to find that unconditional love you have given him allows a strong bond to continue between you for all your years. Good luck!