Parenting advice: what to do if your child isn't interested in school?

Flickr photo by OctavioSN

Parents of teenagers worry about how to keep their children engaged in school while respecting their boundaries. Here's some advice for a parent of teenagers who had the following question: "Should I try to set a high bar for my teenage son's academic performance or is he already a formed human being in charge of his own destiny?"

Parenting advice:

A question for the ages. What parent does not struggle with this question? I do. I have two boys in their teenage years. One in public school and the other home-schooled. My wife and I know how important grades are for university admissions. Thus, our minds tend to fix on this concept and wonder, "Are they studying enough to get the grades they need?" Or: "Are they taking the right classes?" This results in our own inner stress and anxiety. We begin to think for ourselves. What we want. What we hope for. We begin to believe we can help shape our children's destiny through our efforts. And, we often, at the end of all this concern, feel puzzled and lifeless.

Though, it doesn't take long for me to switch from concern to another perspective on academic performance and personal destiny. This perspective comes from my own life. My own personal journey through school. As well, this perspective is formed by watching how hundreds of other children have moved through the maze of educational opportunities. Some of these children had learning disabilities and/or attention disorders. I was able to form this perspective through my previous educational consulting company and current educational ventures in running schools for children with all kinds of learning profiles.

The perspective is that parents are instrumental in providing opportunities for educational experiences and in solidifying a belief in their children that life is full of possibilities. In addition, parents can lay the platform of understanding that the brain changes based on our attention to tasks and the thoughts we centre on. That we can change our attention and change our thoughts, and thus, change our brain, once again. Over and over. Thus, possibilities are endless in terms of interests, passions, careers and states of emotion. It is up to our own children to direct their path and create their own lives.

I have sat down with hundreds of parents worried about their children's academic performance. Here is one such story. Sarah and Jim were panicked about their son's loss of interest in school. Their son, Sam, was in grade eight. His loss of interest was slow in developing. Starting around the beginning of grade seven. Sam would say to his parents, "I am just not interested. I don't want to go." Sarah and Jim's plans of a university education for their son were diminishing. The RESP they invested in was in peril. This was a huge problem. They sought the services of a psychologist who said, "Sam is just not interested. No depression. No psychopathology."

The psychologist suggested a psycho-educational assessment to determine if his learning profile was resulting in his disinterested. Maybe he was gifted and school was boring. This is how he got to my office. He was given an intelligence test, a battery of cognitive assessments, and achievement testing. He did show high intellectual ability and strong achievement results in reading, writing and math. Though, when I asked him why he did not want to go to school he said, "I like the teachers, students and such, I just want to do something different with learning."

I sat down with Sarah and Jim and went over the results and Sam's comments. They were neither surprised with the results, nor his comments. Sarah asked, "Did we push him too hard?" I told her that I asked Sam that question. His response to me was, "No, I know they want me to do well. But, really, what they say doesn't really affect me, unless it is unkind, which they don't, really. I do that to them more." Sarah and Jim laughed at this.

Of course, the question was, "What do we do now?" I told them that I had asked Sam this. He had no idea. I mentioned some ideas like homeschooling, another school, Brainboost, Wondertree or Self-Design. He said to me that he would consider it. Jim said, "Consider it? Is this really up to him?" I looked at Jim and said, "Yes." Jim looked out the window of my office and said, "What is going to happen to him?"

This story, as you might have predicted, has a silver lining, as do many in my experience. Sam is now at The University of British Columbia. He was home schooled. Took courses that interested him. He never took provincial exams. Rather, at age 18 he walked into the counselling office at UBC and asked how he could get in. He told them his educational path.They listened, closely. They were impressed with him. He got in. Not your traditional path of educational attainment.

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