Dear Dr. Wes and Katie: My relationship with my 10th-grade son has deteriorated. We can’t communicate, and he will not listen or obey. I don’t know if my pushy behavior is turning him off, but I can’t let up on my expectations.
He starts out motivated with wonderful words of what he is going to do. Then he fizzles out. Back in seventh grade in private school, the principal advanced him to eighth grade as long as he maintained a 75 average or better.
He did not turn in any assignments. He didn’t forget his homework; he just didn’t complete it because he said he was bored with the subject. So he was demoted.
The school psychologist tested him and said he does not have ADHD. How can I make sure this school year that all assignments are turned in while trying to allow him to be a 10th-grader?
Dr. Wes: Until I saw your son has been tested for Attention Deficit Disorder, that answer seemed obvious. Every symptom you name, plus others I had to edit out to fit the available space, scream ADD.
It’s possible he’s depressed, but I’d want you to have a more thorough evaluation by a private psychologist before jumping to that conclusion. In that process, get a do-over of the ADD testing, preferably with someone who has expertise in treatment, not just testing.
People love to debate ADD, ignoring the body of science dating back 50 years saying it’s real, it’s serious and it impairs school and work performance.
Some people say it’s “overdiagnosed,” but the research says there are actually a lot of people going untreated, while others are treated who should not be. So in reality, ADD is often misdiagnosed or missed completely.
I’ve seen hundreds of cases over 20 years in which proper treatment made a huge difference in the symptoms you describe. Please don’t hesitate to seek professional help for this young man.
As for school, create a reasonable system of rewards and consequences. Pay him for grades, or even for good effort. I don’t care what anyone says about “bribes,” incentives often get performance from recalcitrant students.
Next, set up an evening study time that is set in stone. The recommendation is 100 minutes per evening for a sophomore, with a couple of breaks if he has ADD. If he doesn’t bring home schoolwork, provide enrichment exercises for the allotted time.
Shut down all communication and gaming systems until he’s done the 100 minutes, but don’t make him go a minute longer.
Katie: I’m no expert on ADD, but I agree you should get your son re-evaluated for this or another condition. Depending on the diagnosis, treatment may help him bear the long days spent sitting at desks, both in school and at home.
As the current verdict stands, though, parental influence could be the best instrument you have in your toolbox.
I’d suggest the gentler side of that toolbox — the screwdriver, perhaps, not the hammer or the crowbar. We teenagers don’t tend to take criticism well, and it’s easy to confuse parental concern with personal attacks when we believe we’re being pried apart.
You can expect your son to fulfill his potential, but right now, your expectations are hitting a wall in his mind, and drilling harder isn’t going to tear it down.
Instead, try taking a step back and going at it from a direction that is more manageable for him. Perhaps long-term goals, such as getting a certain grade in a class, seem daunting, pointless or unrealistic to your son. So start small by focusing on each assignment individually.
He’ll need a structured, procrastination-free environment at home during his study time. To fight boredom, don’t let that space seem like a jail cell. Call me a nerd, but providing stress balls to squeeze and snacks to munch on could help him focus.
You should present everything you do as a reward system instead of a prison sentence. You might say, “If you finish this essay, you can have an hour of free time,” not, “If you don’t finish this essay, there will be no video games tonight.”
When he turns in his assignments, make sure he knows you’re proud of him. He may not seem appreciative, and he might even roll his eyes, but secretly, teens thrive on positive reinforcement. Parents provide the unconditional support teenagers can fall back on in times of uncertainty.