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Mom Asks What to Do About Daughter Who Doesn't Care About Grades

By September 2, 2011

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Revisiting this popular blog post for the new school year since there is a lot of good advice. Enjoy!

A mom on the forum seeks advice: I am at my wits end and don't know what to do. My daughter ( 16) has been in school only 6 days and already has 2 F's and a D. I have tried punishing her by taking away everything but she still is failing, like she don't care about school. She is a very well behaved girl very polite and helpful but why does she not care about school? The only other choice is homeschooling. She has also failed 9th grade with a total of four F's.

Denise's thoughts: I'm wondering a few things like what your daughter says is the problem. Does she say she doesn't care? What does she say when you talk to her? Is she having a hard time getting along with peers? Is she suffering from other problems like drug use, depression or other troubled teen issue? Is she involved in her school activities?

If she was doing better in the homeschool environment and she wants to do that, seeing as she has already failed 9th grade once, that is a good option. I would caution you to make a contract with her that you will send her back to school the minute you see her failing in homeschool because it is all too easy to drift and not finish when you are not going to school everyday.

You may also want to check out any alternative schooling your area has available. Talking to the guidance office at the school will help you find these. I would also leave school as an option for her to go back when she wants.

Asking our parenting community: Should this mom try and motivate her teen to continue in a traditional high school, or is homeschooling the way to go? Do you home-school? Please share your advice, opinions and experiences in the comments area.
September 24, 2010 at 7:37 am
(1) Christine Duvivier says:

Without knowing anything else about your daughter, it is clear that she is very unhappy in school– have you checked for depression? In my study of students in the bottom 80%, I found that many kids have gifts that are at odds with school and so they don’t do well in school but they are still well-suited to thriving in the future economy.

Instead of punishing and fighting with your daughter, sit down and talk with her. Ask her gently what is happening for her in school. You might want to look at one or more of the articles I’ve written to help you stay open-minded in the conversation.

I agree with Denise– look into alternatives for your daughter, this is not a healthy situation for her. She has a great deal to offer the world– help her find a way to blossom.

All best wishes to you and your daughter!

September 24, 2010 at 7:55 am
(2) Jyoti Karnik says:

please be easy on her and yourself. its a confusing time for her. she will be busy with trying to make herself appealing to her peers. the new atmosphere alongwith the studies may be just too much for her. give her some time and she will see sense

September 24, 2010 at 8:12 am
(3) Arby says:

There are very few things that a teenager can control in their lives. Their academic performance is one of them. They feel “grown up,” mature, and ready to take charge, but they must answer to parents, teachers, bosses, pastors, etc. It can be frustrating. Failing grades are a symptom of a bigger problem, not the root problem. The question is what is going on in your daughter’s life that is causing her to scream for attention? Has there been a divorce in the family? The death of a loved one? What sort of influence(s) do her friends have in her life? Is she using drugs or alcohol? Addressing these questions with the assistance of professional help, either through a school counselor or a private psychologist might help unlock your daughter’s needs. Homeshooling is not the only other option, but if she responded well to working with you, well enough o earn “B” grades and above, I cannot help but wonder whether or not you were giving her something that she needed (attention) that she may not otherwise be getting enough of. IMHO

September 24, 2010 at 8:22 am
(4) Rejoyce says:

My heart goes out to you. I have just come out the other side of that. I had struggled and struggled with her… when we would talk she just never knew the why, she truly wanted to… she would set working on things and then… forget to turn it in, or do the incorrect assignment. It was so maddening. I asked to haver her tested, she was in the end of 7th grade, with no success in sight.
She tested out at 4th grade 3rd month. In math and on other subject. What I was told by the testing place was that she was lost absolutly lost, with already feeling she was DUMB she just knew there was nothing she could do. She was depressed so very depressed now being treated for that and was diagnosed with ADD prior to testing, we were using natural treatment for that… (taking 6 capsuals twice a day) she hid them in her dresser.

She was put on ADD medication along with her med for depression… We started the week of school… I can tell you her teachers last year only had wonderful things to say about her only that she was easily distracted.
This year Oh my stars… she is at 3 weeks and on the honor roll… Math is still a strong challenge so I contacted her teacher, she is meeting with her after school to help her in the areas she is struggling with.

Stay positive mom, stay strong and stay plugged in to the teachers, the counselor and have her tested to she if there is a greater challenge out of her control. Please do not assume she does not care, it may be she cares so much and feels like my daughter did, lost and felt there was no hope in sight. Let her know you love her no matter what, ensure her we all learn at different rates and you are willing to help her get the help she needs.

I will be lifting you up in prayer… know I am there for you too.

September 24, 2010 at 9:25 am
(5) Michel Bayless says:

I am in the same situation. My 16 year old Junior has been doing this since 5th grade. I have had her in and out of the doctors office with no results. She is a slow grower and very immature, but extradinarily bright. How can a child fail 8th grade Language arts and test into Honors English, Math, and Science for highschool. She has since been dropped from all honors classes and even failed some mainstream classes. She took summer school and ended up taking Geometry in the computer lab. She finished the entire semester in 7 4hour days. It should take 3 weeks. She earned a B, it was great. Some kids just need alternative teaching.
I feel your pain about being at your witts end. I send emails to teachers, request homework assignments to be emailed to me, check schools web site for teachers that post assignments, and post assignments on a desk calendar hanging on the dining room wall. It is hard, I work and go to school myself. She needs to learn to get along on her own somehow. My goal is to just get her through highschool, and send her to a local community college and get her through quickly.
Maturity is our biggest problem. She had the physical developement of about a 12 year old, just got eveything late (like her father), she is nothing like me, and that is why it is so painful for us. To have a child with no inner drive for success is terrible. Hang in there and get as much support as possible from the school. Take it easy on her and yourself. You cant walk her homework into the school and turn it in for her. All you can do is be the supportive mom that you are and keep intouch with her teachers.

September 24, 2010 at 9:46 am
(6) Donna says:

I have 3 teens in high school; each very different in how they learn, react & feel accepted. It’s clear there’s more here than you care to share or are aware of. Here’s an example. My oldest, the same issues as your daughters, she does ok 1st semester (As, Bs, & a C) then skip homework barely getting by in about 3 classes, she’d get in trouble then grades would go up, then fall 4th quarter. Her social engagements were rare, even though we said go out…she had 2 friends move, so it killed her socially. She felt we nagged & didnt see we care. We spent time with each of our kids, never getting through to her. We learned she was huffing aerosols, alone! Your girl needs attention, she’s missing something & she’ll pull away but you need to find a connection with her, help her. My 3rd teen, worked hard & had lots of help, tutoring & studying with me, she get the same type of good grades all year. She told us of her sister’s huffing, it bothered her. She WANTS to make us proud, has tons of friends, involved in alot. She’s doing things right & time was on her sister…we’d praise her but I guess not enough.She reacted by piercing her nose herself & text me from shcool she had done this! I was horrified that it was done to get attention! I went straight to school & we talked alone. I told her we care & we’re just having trouble with her sister finding her way, we all want them all to do well & know we care.. My point, one never rebels & did, both felt slighted. It’s never just school! She needs more attention, she doesnt feel accepted, she’s immature; she needs your support. Spend time & talk with her/ teachers, get advise…is she sleeping in class, social beyond control, rude a loner… Then sit down with guidance alone. Develop a pl,an. Homeschooling will only work if she respects you. Help manage her time. Homework at the dinig room table for 1 hour, then she can use the computer/texting/tv 1 hour, then homework! Addressed it at the same time. Good luck!

September 24, 2010 at 9:49 am
(7) Amba says:

my dearest
children often perform poorly when they have a low self esteem.many times it has been observed that when we as parents help to improve the childs self esteem their academic performance improves.we can improve their self esteem in various ways like-talking to the about their strengths,affirming them positively,praising them,encouraging them.
please also meet the school counsellor and make sure that she is not being criticized or negatively labelled in school and the teachers should give extra positive attention to her and make her feel good about herself.
lots of love care to you
have faith in your abilities as a mother

September 24, 2010 at 9:57 am
(8) donna says:

I need to add…I edited the first comment so much to make it fit I am realizing a couple things came across wrong…IM not saying you dont give her support, attention etc… Just that some kids need more of it. I give the same to my kids and my point was it is still not enough for my oldest. She is bright but doesnt want to do the work, feels bad for herself but cant reveal why… I feel your pain, but dont give up! She is counting on you to hang in there (wether she says so or not). At some point she will mature and get it and appreciate it. I am still going through some of this but it has become a bit easier. Especially once she landed a job and felt a sense of self accomplishment and freedom! Again, good luck!

September 24, 2010 at 10:30 am
(9) Bernadette says:

To Michael B: If your daughter has been in and out of doctors and nothing has been found, she may need a different sort of testing. Has she ever had a neuropsychological evaluation? Oftentimes students are tested by doctors and the school snd they come out perfect, but the neuropsych tests for things they don’t. It’s an idea!
For the OP: I know that this is something that can be very frustrating. Has the school completed an individual education plan (IEP) with her? This would do testing and identify any needs she may have. Alternative schools are great, as are school with nontraditional hours. Several school districts are also offering online classes that she could look into. Perhaps she feels unmotivated? Do you know what she wants to do after graduation? Early college high schools are popping up across the US. These are schools in which, upon completion of the 4 years of high school, the student also graduates with an associates degree. For some, this is incentive enough. Does she have specific interests…i.e.- art, dance, engineering, etc? A magnet school or program may also be helpful. These schools focus on the magnet subject, but also teach the core classes. My daughter is in an art magnet and they incorporate this into everything. Even math. It’s like the boy who’s so into sports that the only way to get him to learn is to change around the word problems so that they talkabout sports…this may help!
Everyone has different learning styles. Has she been evaluated to see what hers is? As I’m sure you know, some are visual, some audial, some tactile. If she learns by hearing and her teachers are telling her to read chapters 1-6, she could be doing all the reading and at the end, not know a single thing that she just read.
It is frustrating to be behind everyone else, and can even lead to teasing. If she feels like she is being left behind by her friends, or is being teased for being “stupid” or whatever it is kids call one another these days, she could be giving up. Oftentimes people feel that they are so far behind that they couldn’t possibly catch up, so why bother?
I say absolutely attempt to motivate her, try several different options. If she has no motivation at school, she may be even more difficult at home. Teens know how to manipulate parents and homeschool often becomes their dream. I’m not saying this will be the case with her, but it could be. Look into your area, or whatever college she may be wanting to get into if in fact she is interested in college. There are many colleges that do not accept a homeschool degree unless it is specifically run through a certain agency (ie, their local community college, etc). It would be horrible for her to graduate without it being “worth” anything.
I also think that counseling is a great idea! Does she seem to be losing interest in school only, or does it seem like she’s losing interest in things she used to enjoy before? Either way, counseling is a good idea because it will give her that neutral 3rd party she can speak to.
I wish you and your child the best of luck!!

September 24, 2010 at 10:40 am
(10) Rena says:

My daughter is going thru the same thing. She was diagnosed with depression and is on meds for it. She still has panic attacks and have bad moods. I am a single mom and have 4 children and she is the oldest. Like the other moms said she is immature also. It makes me unhappy when she is like this and I don’t know what to do either. She is in counseling and I don’t think she is listening to what they tell her what to do to cope with it. She is very smart, takes AP classes but some days she do not want to be there and I don’t know why, she won’t tell me. She says she doesn’t have any friends, dropped out of the band, and just want to lay down at home. When I am talking to her, I can barely hear her talk and that irritates me. I know she wants attention but she don’t realize that she can’t have all the attention and she has other siblings. I am mostly frustrated and tired. I have to find something to keep her occupied to keep her motivated and happy. She always looks sad and it kills me.

September 24, 2010 at 2:35 pm
(11) HJ says:

This can be as frustrating for the kid as the parent. I went through something similar. I wanted to pursue a learning to teach kids to horseback ride. High school was really low on my list of priorities. I think it would have helped if my parents would have worked with me, and I could have done both . Instead, they said, ” No horses if no good grades.” Due to the pressure, I felt it was a forced choice, so I ended up quitting entirely in 10th grade. I left home and went to work at the horse ranch.So my advice is to see if you can find out if there is an interest or passion that school does not provide an outlet for in the teen. If possible, try to find a balance so that school can be continued along with the other interest . You are seeking help, see if someone else may be able to ask these questions of her if she is not talking to you. If this does not help, maybe a work program along with homeschooling? And some kids just need to stop school for awhile and go back when they have figured out the use of school. Also,some of the kids in my community do well with”running start” where they contue high school but go to a community college for a couple of their courses, which really motivates them. Each kid is different. You love her , so you will find a way to help her with her path.

September 24, 2010 at 7:05 pm
(12) Gail says:

Just a thought but has she been tested for learning disabilities or Attention Deficit Disorder? Sometimes these issues are not discovered until later in school when the pace picks up in high school and the academic gap becomes greater. She may be struggling but not telling you that she’s having a hard time keeping up. A lot of times kids feel too embarrassed to admit they are having trouble. They feel it makes them look dumb and would rather fail and make it look like it’s under their control than admit to not being able to keep up with school. Often, teachers are so overwhelmed by the number of students in their classes that they may not notice there’s an issue or fear mentioning a possible learning disability as the cause. You might consider having an Educational Psychologist
do some testing or ask your school system to do it (although they may resist because of the cost to them of doing it). At any rate, I wish both of you the very best.

September 25, 2010 at 12:56 am
(13) Mauri Coover says:

I have had a similar experience with my daughter who just turned 15. For several years she has struggled in school. She had tested into a Gifted and Talented school in kindergarten,and although bright, had never it seemed cared to work up to her fullest potential. She was able to drift along just passing or getting low 80s.She scored one of the highest English Language arts scores on the state assessment in 5th grade. Her teachers have always said that she is a delightful student ,caring ,compassionate etc. When she was in 6th grade I was struck at how messy her desk was on parent -teacher night-eraser crumbles,glue shreds,crayon shavings ,torn papers and just wads of paper stuffed into her desk in a haphazard manner,with no thought of order. Her room at home was about the same.She also had difficulty keeping track of her school work ,books ,notebooks. Her back pack was also in disarray . I tried to help her organize and set up systems and strategies to help her-to no avail. Finallyafter a poor academic year in 7thgrade ,I moved her to a small,neighborhood ,private Catholic school. I thought maybe structure,consistency, uniforms,and being with other high achievers would make her improve her study -school habits.We also enrolled her at Sylvan Learning centers,which was a huge waste of money.She had another not so great year and seemed depressed . I got her counseling.She passed into 9th grade,and said she would go to the private all girl high school nearby that has an excellent reputation.Well that was when she began to”self harm” -cutting her arms and legs to release stress and anxiety.She also began to engage in risktaking behaviors- going into abandoned warehouse,painting graffiti on factory walls,and riding her bike far away from home along desolate railroad tracks by herself. She also stopped trying to do any work expected of her in school. She began missing lots of school-always a stomach ache,headache. My husband and I would argue- he saying she should stay home me saying she needs to get up and try to go to school.Meanwhile- I had her Therapist do the Connors Rating Assessment for ADD(Attention deficit disorder). I filled one out and her teachers filled out others. By this time she had seen a Psychiatrist and was diagnosed as depressed and was on meds for depression,which gave her more headaches ,stomach aches et. and more absenses from school and more angst in my marriage! The Dr. said she was anxious and depressed and that we should treat that before treating the ADD. I siad I felt that she was depressed because she could not focus in school and fell behind ,became anxious and developed depression and physical illnesse that kept her from going to school. I wanted him to treat the Add too. Well to make a long story short -my daughter was finally hospitalized in an Adolesent Psychiatry ward after making suicide threats and starting a fire in her bedroom.(she had been attracted to violent images ,movies and songs( Kurt Cobain being one of her favorites). A savvy young Psychiatrist finally diagnosed her as ADD ,with secondary depression and immediately started her on Concerta (Ritalin) and continued her Selexa (anti depressant). Almost the next day my daughter said she felt more focused and able to concentrate. It has only been a few weeks- we are hopeful. She is repeating 9th grade at a new school that teaches more “hands on curriculum”,and has smaller class sizes,and a very supportive staff and Guidance Counselor. We are using money we were saving for college but feel it is worth it. She is also enrolled in a Therapy program that works the best for Self-harmers”. It is called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy”. It has consistently been shown to help people like her. We are cautiously optimistic.She is doing some homework ,and is making it to school reguarly,but it is still early in the school year. So I guess my thoughts are that; your daughters problems can have multiple causation-school bullying,wrong curriculum, too big,she may be ADD or have a learning disability(undiagnosed.) I would have her assessed by your school district or better yet have your DR. recommend an assessment at a private agency. (Many school districts are cutting back on identifying students to save money .) Find a Therapist to get her talking. We had to wait 3 months before we got her into the DBT program-there was such along waiting list -there are so many kids and families who are in need of help. Good luck-dont give up- keep advocating for your daughter-research -talk to counselors ,google wikipedia about DBT,talk to other parents- I was surprised at how many families are going through similar problems as we are. Find support also.

September 25, 2010 at 12:22 pm
(14) MJ says:

I am a high school teacher in public schools.

My oldest daughter got all As in high school, got into a TOP college, did well for two years, but now is home (on a prolonged break) because she can’t relate school work to what she really wants to do.

My younger daughter is 16 and going through the exact same thing.

Both are very bright – my older daughter got a 2375 on the SATs (out of 2400), and these correlate to IQ scores more than anything else.

My assessment – they are bored! They need relevance.

We may have discovered an incentive for my 16 year old. She took a free airplane ride (thanks to Young Eagles – http://www.youngeagles.org) and is hooked and wants to be a pilot. She dropped all her basic courses and pushed her guidance counselor to move her to all Honors level this month. She doesn’t like school or homework or grades any more but she sees a payoff – better grades (and showing admissions counselors that she turned it around junior year) might get her into a service academy who will train her to be a pilot.

Let’s face it. Schools are teaching to the average. They have cut back on all the hands-on programs – culinary arts, wood shop, auto mechanics, etc – and they are forcing everyone into academics. The US is the only nation in the world that doesn’t divide students into academics and technologists. (And it shows – our national average on science & math testing is always around 50% because we are testing everyone; the other nations in these studies are only testing their ‘academic’ students.)

So we have found an incentive for our 16year old; hopefully, our 20 year old will find hers soon.

Think out of the box for your kids and stop pushing them into the mold that public schools are advocating.

September 28, 2010 at 8:58 pm
(15) Kensington says:

I want to second the idea of screening for depression. The teen years can be pretty intimidating. You might also inquire about the possibility of her being bullied in school.

January 12, 2011 at 10:44 am
(16) Reader says:

This happened to my daughter for 2 1/2 years in high school What worked for me finally was talking to her about incentives. What motivates you? (because she wasn’t motivated!) Ultimately what motivated my daughter was $10 a week for turning in all her assignments. I had to do my own work too. I have to recap every Saturday to go over goals and to see if the incentives that are in place are still working. (I got this idea from how managers motivate their team members.) I have to notify her teachers regularly to get feedback. But overall, everyone usually has something that motivates them. $40-50 a month for good grades, I am willing to pay. Sometimes you might need to spoil her with a weekend trip to the mall with friends for 2 hours so that she can see what she is missing before you begin the whole incentive thing. That is what I did and it is working.

January 12, 2011 at 10:46 am
(17) Reader says:

. . . By the way, I forgot to say that I don’t give up any money if she misses anything. So she understands that it is an all or nothing deal. Good luck.

September 4, 2011 at 8:47 am
(18) Laura moulton says:

I did very bad in school, i did not do home work and did not pay attention in class. I was punished in school and at home. After a while my parents managed to realize that I needed glasses and as an adult I have been diagnosed with add. not to be confused with adhd. I was never hyperactive but I have a very short memery span leading to problems with memory retenion and recall. Always rule out a medical condition before you attribute any behavior or situation to a self control issue. I could not explain why I couldnt stay on task or remember things. I finally spoke with my doctor about it when i was 40! mostly I felt there was something wrong with me and people telling me to “just pay attention” or “study harder” only made the problem worse because it made me feel like a failure and depression set in only magnifying the add and poor memory recall. Had it all my life and every one only ever accused me of not putting in enough effort instead of really helping me diagnose the issues. I am not going to collage at 46 yrs old! I am hoping to work with strugging teens so I can maybe help someone get the help they need.

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