My kids just don't care!

My boys are 12 and 10, and are both making horrible grades. I'm a teacher and I work with low achieving students every day. My sons don't face any of the turmoil and problems that these kids do; yet they refuse to get serious about their grades. Their lackadaisical attitude is evident in almost everything they do. We've tried withholding privileges and rewarding good effort but it is all to no avail. Are our expectations too high? We are both perfectionists, so the boys' attitude really gets under our skin. Are we being too tough? Please help!

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Dear Community Member,

I can certainly understand your frustration and despair. Children at this age can be difficult enough to deal with because of physical and emotional changes without having to deal with defiant and reckless behavior. I can't promise to give you the one and only solution, but I can make some suggestions on handling this difficult situation.

The situation you describe sounds quite difficult. It appears that you and your husband are making every effort to do the right thing by setting expectations and subsequent consequences for meeting or failing to meet those consequences. You know how important consistency is in discipline and it appears that you have made a conscious effort to follow through with consequences. It may be time to look toward outside resources for more ideas and encouragement.

One alternative to resolving this difficulty is counseling. Because your situation has escalated to an extremely uncomfortable level for all of you, I think it might be wise to bring a neutral, non-threatening person into the mix to help you work things out together. Ask your health care provider for a referral. If you feel comfortable doing so, you may want to inquire as to services available within your school district.

Parenting classes may be another alternative to consider. Your school district, health maintenance organization, or community service organizations may offer classes that help parents learn how to communicate and motivate their teenage children. Sometimes it's helpful to put yourself in the role of the student, even though you are used to being the teacher. Just because you are a teacher and you work with low-achieving students doesn't mean that you are expected to be perfect and know everything there is to know about parenting. I think that you have put a great deal of pressure on yourself and you need to relieve it somehow.

You mention that you view yourself and your husband as perfectionists and wonder whether that might cause you to have unrealistic expectations for your children. I think it's safe to say that perfectionists often have difficulty dealing with more relaxed, lackadaisical attitudes because it is so different from the intensity that they feel themselves. The difference in your attitudes may cause you to be less in tune with what your children are going through because it is so very different from your own experience.

Throughout this very difficult time, do continue to show your children how much you love them. They need to know that you love them despite your frustrations and the disagreements that you have had with them. If they feel acceptance and unconditional love, they may be more flexible and willing to work harder to meet the expectations you have for them. Perhaps it's time to sit down and redesign the expectations and goals with your children rather than for them. Ownership is very powerful, and may make a difference for your children.

Hang in there. Things can and will get better, as long as you and your husband and your children are willing to work on it together.

Best wishes,
Erlyne

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