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I have a 17 year old son who is incredibly bright, very talented, but seems unmotivated. Everything he learns seems to be effortless. His School Marks are consistently below his capabilities because he frequently fails to turn in his assignments, or does a sub-par job. He is uninterested in learning to drive, and try though I might, I cannot help him to understand the value associated with getting a job. His mother and I have been divorced since 2000, and I am now remarried. His mother's stance when I talk with her about him is to become defensive and to accuse me of impugning her parenting skills. She does not like to push him and essentially turns every discussion we have on this topic in to a chance to extoll his virtues.... which are many, but that's not the point. His mother is afraid that pushing him will ruin his self-esteem, while I believe setting goals and achieving them is precisely how we build self esteem. My son is about to go out in the world and go to college, which we cannot afford. Thus far, he has done little to nothing to earn money for. Lately, every tactic I try seems to meet with the same result - passive-agressive resistance. To complicate things, he has few friends and also seems unmotivated to socialize with them. I can get him to do most anything if I take him by the hand and do it with him (study, set up times to hang out with friends, go look for jobs), but he digs his heels in when I ask him to do it on his own. I am at my wits end - he is such a great guy and I fear he is cutting off his nose to spite his face.


Rob Gilbert Replied: When I read the words "he is such a great guy," I knew right there that you are a great dad. This is a complex issue, but try to focus on exposing your son to things that he might become incredibly interested in. I'm a critic of the American way of education. The fact that your son isn't motivated in school is a good sign. What's motivational about our way of education? Basically we're training kids to become indoctrinated, not educated. Find things that he might not have discovered yet where you think his true talents and interests might lie. I hope this quote helps you as much as it has helped me. "The purpose of life is to discover your gifts. The meaning of life comes from giving your gifts away." Quote attributed to Dr. David Viscott.
Posted On 2007-10-11 12:56:56
Brenda Bercun Replied: From what you have written it seems to me that your son is depressed and could benefit from some counseling. It also appears that he is dealing with the divorce, your new marriage and his own normal teenage development of struggling to figure out who he is and what his next step after high school will be. I strongly recommend that you involve a professional who has worked with adolescents to help your son sort out his struggles and support him in creating and achieving his own goals. I believe that both you and his mother want him to be successful in his life and sometimes it takes a professional to help a teenager figure out who they are and what they want to achieve.
Posted On 2007-06-12 12:40:01
Jim Taylor, Ph.D. Replied: At 17 years old, there's only so much you can do. He's a young man now and if he wants to spite his face, then that is his choice. I see a few concerns here. One, what is clearly self-sabotage on his part as evidenced in his underachievement and social withdrawal. Its cause is unclear, though a few possibilities are depression, low self-esteem, fear of failure, grief over the end of your marriage, and as you suggest, anger expressed as passive-aggressive behavior toward his parents. Two, it appears that he has been coddled considerably and he has not been allowed to mature and assume responsibility for his life. I thoroughly agree that self-esteem is built through goals, hard work, and accountability. A few suggestions. First, you and your wife need to come to some consensus and get on the same page. As long as you don't have a united front, no change in your son is possible. Two, sit down with him, find out what goals and aspirations he has, express your concerns about his current behavior, and ask if he feels that his behavior is in his own best interests. Three, if necessary, try getting tough on him by establishing expectations and consequences for his behavior. Fourth, see if he would be willing to see a counselor. Finally, as I alluded to at the beginning, it may be that he just needs to learn life the hard way and then perhaps decide that he doesn't like the road he is currently on and that he needs to make some changes.
Posted On 2007-06-01 15:02:27
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