Dear Dr. Meg,
I am concerned my son is cheating at school – but I’m afraid this may be a bigger issue.
I have been keeping up with his grades and ask him about every low grade I see (he’s 14 so he doesn’t love that and he gets an attitude). I finally had to say, “Okay, I’m giving you full responsibility for whatever happens with your grades. I won’t get on your back about it, but it’s up to you to tell us what you need for studying or you can do it all yourself. You know the consequences for grades below a C-.” (any grade C- or below and they have all electronics taken away until that grade is a C or better).
After this conversation, it seemed like he was doing great. I never saw him with homework and I didn’t see him studying, but his grades were really good. I still couldn’t understand how he was doing it.
His report card was great – he only had two Cs. In the past, his report cards were pretty good too, but he would have large swings during the trimester and have to work hard to bring them up.
My question is…how do I address this issue?
He is a child who will always do the least amount of work to “get by”. He does not use half of his potential and I cannot get that across to him. I tell him he is smart and capable. Is it possible to turn this child into someone who cares about his future? I’m so concerned. Please help!
At fourteen, many boys lack motivation for things that they just don’t like to do – and for many, academics tops the list. The only way to motivate him is through positive or negative reinforcement. In other words – reward or punishment. Since you don’t think that punishment is doing the trick, you might try rewarding him (and any other siblings) for B+ and above. But even good rewards fail to motivate some adolescent boys.
This other issue I would consider is making sure that he doesn’t have a learning issue. Sometimes kids can compensate for learning issues during the early years of education but can’t compensate when the work gets tougher.
Here are a few things that I would do:
First, sit down and have a heart to heart during a time when you are both in good moods and when you aren’t reviewing a report card. I would say something like this, “Son, I don’t want to ride you about your grades and you know how Dad and I feel about your capabilities. I know that I can’t get you to care about your work – you have to care on your own. We will continue to take away electronics for C- and below and we’ll also add in (whatever you decide) as a reward for a grade of B+ or higher. The rule applies to each of you kids. But here’s what I’m most concerned about – the fact that you feel you need to hide your grades, lie about them or maybe even cheat. I’m not saying that you are, but for some reason, you feel ashamed of your work. Why do you suppose that is?”
Then I would listen to him without interrupting or criticizing him. Let him know that you empathize with him when his grades are poor and that this may make him tempted to cheat. Then, let him know that regardless of his grades, that cheating and lying are far worse than bad grades. Tell him that your family values honesty and truth more than grades.
Your kids should know that your family values honesty and truth more than grades.
Second, ask why he thinks he doesn’t want to work. Does he dislike his teachers? School? Other students? Or is he simply disinterested? If he can pinpoint a reason, great. Help him there. Then, ask what areas of his life he feels good about and why? In other words, having this conversation lets him know that you are on his side, and that is very important.
If he continues to do poorly, I’d have him tested by an educational specialist just to be sure that he doesn’t have mild dyslexia, etc. If the tests are negative, remember, many boys are late bloomers. They simply aren’t ready to kick into gear until they hit their late teens or early twenties. The most important thing to do is model to him that hard work is an important quality to you and your husband. It is important that he sees this, and doesn’t just hear you say it.
Parents should model that hard work is an important quality to have, so kids see it in action.
I’d also encourage you to listen to my podcast episode with Dr. Leonard Sax, which is all about raising great boys. There’s a lot of fantastic information in there that I believe would be extremely helpful for your family and your son!