14 yo step son, bad grades, advice?

Avatar for ktjm3
iVillage Member
Registered: 06-05-2003
14 yo step son, bad grades, advice?
Sat, 06-21-2003 - 9:44am
Hello! I am a freqent post-er on the Get Organized site but these ladies have suggested I post with you for some advice. Watch out... I have a tendency to get wordy, so get coffee now to stay awake!

I have a 14 yo step-son, headed to 9th grade this fall. Yesterday his grades arrived via mail and they are disappointing. Mike does not live with us, he lives with his 5th grade brother and mom 30 minutes away in a different school district. Mom has lived with her boyfriend for the last three years but just this May moved out when they "split up". She's still seeing him a lot, just not living there. Anyway, Mike is very capable of good grades. His teachers all comment his problem is not doing his homework. When asked why he has not done it, his reasons are it's hard, there was a lot to do, I left my book at school, blah, blah, blah. Mike did well in elementary school, but when he moved to his new school the grades dropped. He has friends, some really good, close friends, so he isn't a loner. I believe part of the problem is that mom was a poor student and so was her boyfriend (who dropped out of high school and had to get his GED), and Mike has no one to go to as a role model or for help. Mike's parents don't communicate much, mostly because mom wants to handle things on her own, not involve dad. My husband (the dad) is a college grad, has his CPA license, spent four years as a foreign language linguist in the military, he's very intelligent. I am an office manager and I'm in college part time as a mathematics major. Mike knows he can come to us. It's laziness that he isn't doing his homework or seeking help if he really doesn't understand it. It's more fun to play video games and watch TV than to do homework. He doesn't want to bring homework here on the weekends. I have two daughters, one in 5th, one in 7th. Both with excellent grades. The 7th grader works hard to get A's, it doesn't come naturally like it does for the 5th grader. Both understand that getting good grades is part of their expected responsibilities.

We have told Mike that his grades are disappointing and that he is capable of better grades. His mom has taken away the Playstation and TV. Mike has spent weekends here doing chores and getting serious lectures about his poor grades and teachers comments (never brings his school work along). He has been lightly punished here since he is only here four days a mnth. His mom said if he didn't get all C+ on his report card, no freshman football. With a D in science and pre-algebra, and a C's in everything else, no football this fall. His grades all year have been C's and D's. My husband has talked with Mike's teachers, they all say he is very bright, gets good grades on his tests, the low grades on the report card are due to sloppy projects, late projects, homework not done. My fear is that he is headed towards high school this fall, every grade counts for college, and he seemingly could care less. We have used people in his life as negative examples to motivate him to do better (i.e. his grandmother didn't graduate high school and has always worked as a waitress, gas station employee, factory worker because without the diploma, she can't work anywhere else and she is one bitter, nasty woman because of it). One last thing... Mike's mom and dad do not speak much. Mom divorced dad to be with the boyfriend and just shut off communication. Dad has tried to talk with mom, but she always "has another call" or doesn't have time or says she is handling it. Three years in middle school, same grades the whole time, same comments the whole time. By the way, back to the 5th grade brother, he is struggling desperately in school, has problems with reading comprehension and basic math skills. He is in Sylvan Learning Center this summer getting private attention to help him for next year.

One of my big concerns is that I notice my 7th grader with A's tends to hang out with friends who have the same grades, same personality (slightly geeky!). Same with the 5th grader. So Mike could tend to hang out with friends who have the same attitude towards school and that attitude concerns me. We have talked to Mike about the virtues of getting work done, getting good grades. We have not forced college on him but we have mentioned that if he ever wants to go to college, the grades he has will keep him out of the schools he may want to go to. He says he does not want to spend his life as a collections agent or McDonalds burger flipper. But he doesn't know what he wants to do. Does anyone else have experience with a slacking teenager? Have you found something to motivate him/her? What have you done that hasn't worked or that backfired?

You may only be one person in the world... but you may be the world to one person.
Avatar for elc11
Community Leader
Registered: 06-16-1998
Sat, 06-21-2003 - 4:58pm
Hi ktjm, welcome to the board. I hope that some of us here can help you and your stepson.

Has he been tested for learning disabilities and/or ADD? Sometimes kids are able to compensate during the elementary grades so no one suspects, but it gets harder to do in the higher grades. Are there unresolved issues concerning his parents' divorce or the blended family? Are you sure that there is no drug or alcohol use contributing to the problem?

Do any of the adults know his perceptions of the situation? Does he feel compared to his (higher achieving) stepsisters? Some kids would rather give up than fight for approval. Does he think he got sent to live with mom and her loser bf because he's a loser? I'm not suggesting that you are saying these things, just that sometimes kids come up with some strange ideas and they really believe them.

Does he do anything well that can be celebrated? Maybe he's getting worn down by the negativity and could use a boost of approval in some area? Since Mom tied participation in football to grades then she must follow through on that, hopefully it will work as an incentive to do better. Would he accept a "bribe" for good grades? I used to be opposed to paying for grades or other forms of "bribery, but in retrospect I wonder if that could have been a useful tool. ..

You mentioned the influence of friends. In my experience it may or may not make a difference. My ds (now in college) hung out with the top of his class and did well. My (academically underachieving) dd's best friends are the #2 and #11 students in a class of 500+, but she has no desire to work hard in school or attend a university like they do. We stressed the importance of college with both of our kids and did everything we could to encourage them in many areas. We still don't know why it "took" with one and not with the other, except that personality has a lot to do with it.

Would your ss be willing to attend a study skills course? Sylvan offers one geared to his age group, maybe it could help him. Would coming to live with Dad and you be a possibility? It does sound like the environment in your home is more conducive to academics, and he could probably use more exposure to a good male role model.

Whether he spends more time with you or not, there are probably issues pertaining to the blending of your two families. In case you have never visited the Blended Families board I am including the URL: http://messageboards.ivillage.com/iv-psblended

Some of the members there may have advice for you too.

I hope that you will let us know how things are working out with your ss. And if you are able to motivate him to do better in school a lot of us here would love to hear how you do it!! Best of luck.

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-02-2003
Sun, 06-22-2003 - 1:27pm
i agree with elc. also - he is 14. you are (unfortunately) not going to make a big dent with saying things like "if you don't do well now, you won't get into college, you will be flipping hamburgers all day". he will soon come up with replies like "einstein was kicked out of school and bill gates didn't finish college" (or similar stories). and - truth be told - there are many people out there who are quite successful in life even if they DIDN'T do well in HS, or go to the *right* college. but i digress - a 14 YO cannot see beyond today or tomorrow, and especially if he has any kind of learning disability.

also, you have to see what is best for HIM, not what is best for your DDs or grandma. maybe he is more of an artistic type who doesn't do well in square environments? maybe he is a genius who is under stimulated? so - lets not compare him to anyone else, and start by what's best for him. also - try to be very very careful about *labeling* him - nobody likes that.

as ELC said - speak to his teachers, and see about having him tested. make the teacher spell out for you EXACTLY where his problems are (organizational? not understanding the assignments? not being able to focus?)

also, the splitting up with mom's BF may have had an effect on him. why did they break up? did he get along with this guy?

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Mon, 06-23-2003 - 8:22am
Grades are not the be-all and end-all of college admission, particularly for adult students. Spending a few years flipping burgers before he goes to college might be just what he needs to help him figure out what he wants out of life.

I have one daughter who is already set on going into the Army because she has no idea what she wants to do and I've made it clear that I'm not paying for college, or even trade school, on spec. I just don't have the money.

Her answer is to go to the Army, try out the jobs they offer (job, really, you get one job), learn to live without mommy and daddy for a few years and then decide what she wants to do afterwards.

It's not a bad choice, but if you have gun issues or you're not particularly fond of the military in general, you can try for others.

McDonalds isn't an awful choice, actually. Hard work, good teamwork skills, customer service, not much in the way of trade skills because they've automated it to death, but still, learning to work around automated equipment isn't a trivial skill. A few years of that and he'll probably be ready to grow up.

There is *always* time to learn. He may fall off of the fast-track for lifetime earnings, but if he isn't focused on that, so be it. If you push him, he'll resent it.


iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Mon, 06-23-2003 - 10:07am
I think at 14, it's a little early to condemn the kid to a few years of flipping burgers. Lord knows I've had this same exact problem with my son. I'm pretty sure that he is going to graduate 8th grade. He brought his grade in language arts up to a 65 from a 26. He also handed in a big project last Friday and got a B on a test, so he might wind up with a higher grade. Like your ss, he is adverse to doing homework. He was in therapy since January, and I only noticed a difference when I told him that I wasn't going to send him to summer school if he failed because I had already paid for camp. He was going to have to repeat 8th grade. Maybe therapy helped, maybe it didn't. I don't know if his dilligence will last. Most teachers say freshman year is hard too, but that by sophmore year, kids settle down. I sure hope so. One of his friends he hangs out with is going to summer school for 3 subjects. I wish he did hang out with the geeks more because he is bright, he is just unorganized and undisciplined.