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The End of Year Slide – and What to Do (and Think) About It

A parent asked: Help! My son went from an A to a C+ in science… what is going on??

Parents are terribly scared. So many of you have put your finger on one of the most frustrating and scary moments in raising bright, young boys: Most boys are checked out of school. They won’t take pride in (or ownership of) their academic/school work until late, typically freshman to sophomore year, sometimes later. Meanwhile, parents know what’s coming. There are realities to consider. The stress builds at home. Everyone is overwhelmed!

Yes, he has stopped trying and he’s avoiding his work. Before you see your son as the problem, step back and see the big picture first

This has been one of the worst years in my memory seeing kids and families. They are completely stressed and beyond their ability to adapt to the demands placed on them. There aren’t enough tutors, pills, executive coaches, Russian Math classes, or psychologists to “fix it.” And, don’t forget the late long winter we had here in New England that just battered everyone down, compounding the situation.

The biggest problem, though, isn’t these boys. It’s us. We keep following the herd blindly and piling on more and more expectations, whether its grades, sports, social expectations. And we are doing it to them earlier and earlier. This is not the world we recall of our childhood.

Back to your unmotivated, school-hating son. What to do? Here’s what I recommend:

  1. Acknowledge he’s stressed. Tell him he gave up because he’s stressed. Name the problem for him, and tell him it’s not him. He’s overwhelmed. Admit that it’s too much to sit in school everyday and feel like nothing valuable is happening. Tell him he’s not alone in feeling this way. Validate and join in, because until you do that, he won’t hear a word you say after.


  1. Promise him it will get better. Tell him that at some point the learning becomes power. He realizes it gets him status among his friends. They start competing about grades, scores, schools… Boys are very competitive and he’s going to feel an inner drive (for the first time) to do better at school.
  2. Tell him it will get better because (at some point) he will also start liking what he’s learning – the material and the way he learns will be more interesting, next year and certainly beyond… the teaching style changes and teachers often become more passionate and open to broader, more real-world topics in the higher grades.
  3. Tell him what college really is. These kids are told they have to go to “college” but they think it’s a continuation of grade school. They think it’s going to be more of the same. They think it’s just 13th, 14th, 15th, and 16th grade! I tell kids what college really is. I say, “you take only 4 courses that last only 14 weeks. These courses meet only twice a week for about an hour and a half, and then, done. You spend about 12 hours a week literally in classrooms. The rest of the time? You live with your friends.”  I don’t scare kids about college. I make it seem like heaven, which compared to middle and high school, it is!
  4. Finally, share with him your experiences, any examples of where you were checked out, bored, and didn’t care, but slowly pulled it together. Tell him (not as a lecture) what it’s like to grow up and move from being a kid to man. That’s where he’s at right now. He doesn’t want to give up being a kid. He’s scared way deep down that he doesn’t have the stuff to make it in this ridiculously competitive world, so he tunes out or drops the ball here and there.

See the deeper, richer aspects of what’s going on beneath the shrugging that frustrates us as parents. Behind the shrugs and “bad attitude” there’s a real human being trying to grow up and feel good about himself.


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