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I have two teenagers. My daughter (17) is very mature and disciplined. School is her priority and has great friends. My son is in his first year of high school and of course going through puberty. He is a very smart young man but feels that school is not important and not a high priority. I have tried both rewards and taking away certain privileges in an attempt to make him understand that he needs to be responsible both at home and at school but nothing seems to work. Do you have any suggestions as to how I can best approach this issue Thanks


Peter Hanfileti, MD Replied: I have one suggestion and that is to be very careful about setting up a polarity where your daughter is in one corner and your son is in the other. What I mean is this: teenagers on the verge of becoming adults are yearning to be individuals. And because this program is ingrained in their internal system, they will gravitate away from what makes a sibling individual and very often take the opposite stance just to assert the fact that they are different and not "just like their sibling". You have one who is very mature and disciplined, school is a priority and she has great friends. It is not surprising that your younger son is trying to carve out his own niche at the opposite end of the spectrum. He must be made aware that he has many ways to express his individuality, not just the two choices of either conforming to his sister's pattern of managing school and friends or doing the opposite. There is so much more ground in between that he has to choose from. I am confident that if he finds some activity or focus where he can excel and do well, this will satisfy the need to become an individual and it will take the pressure off of school as the only venue for him to do so. He may be pleasantly surprised to find out there are many ways to express his individuality and to get positive reinforcement from it. In this way, the topic of school and friends and how he differs from his sister will become a peripheral issue and not the main point of confrontation and conflict for all concerned. You might start with the simple question posed to him directly and ask, "What makes you feel most like an individual? What makes you feel most like you?" See what kind of answer he gives and go from there. I have found that in many cases this approach will work better than rewards and privileges because now you are both on the same team and not adversaries.
Posted On 2010-06-22 00:17:05
Dr. Vicki Panaccione Replied: Yes—how many suggestions would you like? First off, please make sure that you do not compare your kids---to each other. If he knows how much happier you are with his sister than with him, he will be sure to continue down his path…he won't even try to live up to his sister's example. Additionally, he may not be as committed a student as your daughter; and that may be just fact. It's not clear whether he is as capable as she; he may not even want to try for fear of not living up to some expectations he thinks you have.

High school can be tough, particularly that first year of transition. Now, if he's been a very dedicated student up to this point, that's one thing. If, however, he's always been less than a stellar, dedicated student, then there's no reason to think he's going to rise to the occasion now. And, unfortunately, kids don't really get how important things like GPA's are until they have already started to screw theirs up.

Have you had a conversation with him? I don't mean a lecture, a sermon or an argument. I mean an honest to goodness conversation---where you listen and allow him to talk--- that includes letting him tell you how he's feeling, what his hopes and dreams are, how he feels about school and grades, where he sees his future going, whether he wants to go to college or not, what he thinks he does well and how you can help him become who he is meant to become. Find out how you can help---I bet he's feeling inferior to his sister. Let him know that school is important, but he's more important than anything.

That being said, here are a few things that you might want to consider. You had the right idea about rewards and consequences…they just may not have been the ones that worked for him. I always encourage working from the positive rather than the negative approach. Make an agreement----he does (certain academic requirements) in order to earn (something of significance to him.) This should not be a long-term reward, but something tangible daily, weekly, monthly. I like to make things like weekend privileges contingent upon certain academic responsibilities during the week. Earning phone, video, TV or computer time can be a daily reward. He doesn't earn it today…then, there's always tomorrow to try again (i.e.—getting his homework done; writing his assignments in his planner; handing everything in, and so on.) Then, there can also be longer-term rewards accumulating along the way. For example: Every week he meets his goals, a certain amount of money gets put in a car fund; he earns money toward tickets to a concert, etc. Money is usually a great motivator (however, there may be something of greater importance to him)…use it sparingly and pay up whenever it is earned! I hope he costs you a fortune!
Posted On 2010-06-08 20:42:26
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