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My son hates school

Carolyn Hax

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

I have a 15-year-old son who is obviously bright but hates school. My husband and I can’t helicopter him to success because (a) we don’t want to be helicopter parents, and (b) he has developed ninja-like skills when it comes to evading any attempts by us to monitor schoolwork and homework.

While we believe “actions have consequences” is the best motivational tool — he’s an athlete — it is demoralizing to watch him be OK with just skating by. He’s smart but assumes everything school-related will suck. He has been screened for depression and learning disabilities, and falls in the gray area for both. Up until last year he saw a psychologist and a tutor regularly but stopped seeing them because he resented both, and it just seemed like a waste of time and money.

And for what it’s worth, his grades and behavior are right where they have been for the past three years.

We’ve told him we’ll pay for whatever help he needs, but he has to tell us that he wants it and will value it. I guess I’m OK with the steps we’re taking, but how do I get over my disappointment that he isn’t curious about learning?

I know the plans I had for him as a baby were waaaaay over the top (Heisman-trophy-winning Rhodes scholar) and love him for who he is, but I can’t get over the feeling he’s going to regret the missed opportunities, and my disappointment that he has no interest in anything academic.

— Teenagers-ugh

Following the path you lay out for him could be the reason he misses his opportunity to figure out who he is, what he cares about, what he’s good at, what his purpose in life is, and what vocations/avocations make best use of these talents and interests.

So please widen your perspective as you watch him grow. That’s the best remedy I know for disappointment — being open to the beauty of what you have.

This age happens to be a really good time to diversify how he spends his time, too, and contributes to your family.

What if he’d rather work with his hands? What if he likes to cook? Fix things? Garden? What if he has an eye for _____?

Vary his chores and see.

Beyond these household expectations, though — which every healthy kid should be expected to meet anyway — it might help also to accept that you’ve made your point. Points. And to get him where he is, you’ve done some dragging, which sometimes can’t be avoided.

But to drag someone along you have to be out front, and there comes a time when you just can’t be out front anymore. You have to step aside and see where he takes himself — supervising closely, of course, but more in a catch-when-falling role where before you were inclined to push. This isn’t only about your son and his specific ways of going through school. It’s part of the natural evolution of your role as a parent — the scary part when you start to let go and see whether you gave him what he needed.

Actually needed, not “needed” toward a Heisman. Good luck.

Email Carolyn at [email protected], follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

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