I received two questions about 10th graders that can be answered similarly. The first question is:

Dear Dr. Sylvia: What strategies do you have to help a young man in 10th grade who continually does not complete homework, although completely capable and work is at an appropriate level? He was grade-level accelerated after his kindergarten year and is in advanced courses. We routinely ask about homework, and he always states he has none, even when he does. We have established a routine for teachers to communicate to us about homework, so they can make sure he completes this, but how can we move to the next step? What can we do to help him begin to take responsibility for this? I’m worried his homework completion is too dependent on his teachers and parents and want to make sure we help him with this before he goes to college.

The second question is:

Dear Dr. Sylvia: I’m the parent of a gifted young man. My husband and I have always been the “consequences, consequences, consequences” type of parents. Now our underachieving 15-year-old gets passing grades, but very few A’s. Is it too late for us to read your book, Why Bright Kids Get Poor Grades And What You Can Do About It (Great Potential Press, 2008), apply your strategies, and motivate our underachiever?

By 10th grade, students should be taking responsibility for their own homework, but there are always some who haven’t yet caught on. It’s not too late to reverse underachievement, but it’s always harder by high school. Two important motivators can be useful. Visiting colleges is the first one. Most families save their college visits for 11th grade, but for students whose grades may not allow them to be admitted, doing some early college research can help motivate them. Together you can check the colleges that interest your sons to determine the grade point averages they expect of their students. If colleges they are excited about won’t accept them, you can point out that there may still be time for them to improve their grades.

If your sons are learning to drive, privileges behind the wheel can motivate them to do homework and study for tests. Explain that you’d like them to have the privilege of driving when they demonstrate that they can be responsible. You can arrange a weekly check-in with teachers. If their homework is in and grades are reasonable, they can be allowed to drive on the weekend or even to school. If not, they can’t. Always try to stay in an alliance with your sons, so that they don’t oppose you for the sake of rebellion. Generally, their desire to drive and go to college are tempting enough to encourage more mature responsibility. If these normal encouragements don’t work, you should have them evaluated by a psychologist to see if they have attention problems or a disability.

Dr. Sylvia B. Rimm, child psychologist, is founder of the Family Achievement Clinic in Ohio and southeast Wisconsin. Questions for this column can be sent to Family Achievement Clinic, P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI, 53094, or to Dr. Rimm’s email address: srimm@sylviarimm.com.

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