How to Help Your Troubled Teen Boy Succeed in Public School

How to Help Your Troubled Teen Boy Succeed in Public School

The following scenario replays in homes across the nation. Parents receive an email or a phone call from their 16-yr.-old son’s teacher, who reports that their child is simply not doing his homework and is failing the class. Parents react in frustration, wondering what steps they can take to motivate him.

If this has happened to you, you aren’t alone. The gender gap is growing among college graduates — about 40 percent of them were men in 2011, but that number was flipped in 1970 when nearly 60 percent were men. This statistic isn’t isolated at the university level as females outperform males from the earliest days of school all the way through graduate school.

Consider the Root of the Problem

Your son might struggle for one of the following reasons:

  • He is doing is best and honestly can’t do the work. He might be in a high-performing school and in competition with other students who excel academically.
  • He suffers from a legitimate learning disability. Dyslexia, anxiety, attention-deficit disorder, attention-deficit hyperactive disorder, auditory processing disorder and a host of other issues might affect his performance in the classroom.
  • He does what he needs to get by. He is focused on other things — a part-time job, sports, socializing, girls, etc. He doesn’t understand how school affects his future.
  • He suffers from the psychological pressures of school, including teachers, homework, testing grades and more.
  • He has checked out for a host of other reasons. These might include musical or sports talents, building his own business, jobs and other pursuits. School no longer holds his attention.

How Schools Can Help

  • Reinstate recess – Boys naturally need to move, but free time outside continues to decline across the nation. However, the decrease in free time produces the opposite effect, especially for boys — they become restless and suffer academically.
  • Encourage boys to read — Girls are generally better readers than boys. Additional motivation for boys to read will help them academically.
  • Nurture his creativity — Art, writing, music, building, crafts and other creative ventures will help improve his academic abilities.

What You Can Do to Get Your Son Back on Track

The following ideas might help him get on the right track so that he can succeed in public school.

  • Work with him on organization skills. Boys generally struggle with multitasking more than girls. Help him organize and schedule assignments, using either paper or electronic methods. A quiet study area free of distractions with a checklist can help keep him on task.
  • Remember that he is immature. Reasonable expectations go a long way toward helping your son mature. You can’t expect him to act like an adult when he has no life experience. However, you can still hold him to reasonable standards for his age.
  • Let him be his own person. He needs to know that he can fail as well as succeed. You won’t be there to protect him forever. You need to focus on your relationship instead.
  • Keep a positive attitude. As the old saying goes, you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar. That holds true with your child as well. Look for ways to encourage him instead of attacking him. Notice when he does something right. Tell him that you believe in him, no matter what. Even though he might act tough or indifferent, he still needs your support and love more than ever.
  • Look for ways to reward him. Encourage him with some type of motivation so that he wants to achieve. However, don’t make the reward so far out of his reach that he becomes discouraged. Consider his efforts in addition to what he accomplishes. If he is completing his homework, even if his grades don’t improve much, give him some type of credit. Consider giving him three levels of rewards so that he can see that he has made progress.
  • Be an involved parent. Focus on your relationship with your son. Keep a close connection with him and look at the areas where he excels. Is he kind? Sympathetic? Honest? Express your pride in what he does well.
  • Encourage him instead of punishing him. If he doesn’t do well on his report card, don’t overreact by imposing restrictions or removing privileges. Your son likely feels overwhelmed and frustrated as well, which doesn’t help the situation. Instead, determine the root of the problem. Consider the amount of screen time, including playing video games; how much sleep he is getting; eating habits; overall study habits; or other relevant issues. Then, take appropriate action, such as reducing screen time so that he can finish his school work. Assess what he needs to do in order to successfully accomplish his goals and raise his grades. Maintain ongoing contact with his teacher to ensure that he achieves these.
  • Discuss the situation and compromise as needed. Your teen needs to learn how to negotiate with you — and in life — as part of the maturing process toward independence. Involve him in decisions. For example, ask him what options he thinks might help him succeed. If he struggles with coming up with ideas, make some suggestions on what he can do to improve. Ask his opinion about these ideas. He now has “buy in” to a solution and feels more engaged with the process.
  • Ask for the teacher’s opinion. At the high school level, you might not have many parent-teacher conferences. However, consider them a resource whose goal is to help your student succeed and successfully complete high school. Ask the teacher’s advice about the situation and listen to his or her opinion. Politely make suggestions to the teacher about proactive measures to take.
  • Look for a tutor. Some schools offer before or after school tutoring services. If yours does not, consider the following sources: a college student, a teacher, either at your school or at another school, someone found through an online ad or a professional tutoring service.
  • Reassess the situation. The solution that you have worked out might only need to be in place for two to four weeks. Don’t consider it a permanent fix. Instead, monitor his progress and make adjustments as needed.
  • Allow your son to grow and mature and work through the problem. His continued involvement will help him become part of the solution.


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