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how do you motivate a smart, lazy kid?

bcnmombcnmom Registered User Posts: 22 New Member
edited January 2010 in Parents Forum
I realize I am not the first parent to be in this situation, so I'm appealing to all of you out there for some good advice. My son is highly intelligent ("gifted", they say), but incredibly lazy. We live overseas, and his school, though great in a lot of ways, is not very challenging. (He's already skipped a year, and is two years ahead in English and Math). Consequently, he gets A's and B's without really trying. With a little bit of effort, he could easily get all A's. It is not an unreasonable bar for him to set for himself, as even his teachers say. I'm not a pushy mom who thinks her kids have to go to Harvard, but I do think that he is wasting his gifts and potential, and it is very frustrating for me. How do I make him see that his actions at the age of 14 may already be closing doors and opportunities? I was the exact opposite of him at that age (to a fault, I admit), so it is doubly frustrating for me.

By the way, there are no drug or alcohol issues here. Most of the time he's playing the bass or goofing around on Facebook!

Any suggestions?
Post edited by bcnmom on

Replies to: how do you motivate a smart, lazy kid?

  • mamacolmamacol Registered User Posts: 41 Junior Member
    Hi sure don't have the answer, but my son is really similar in that he has the ability but not the desire. We have always tried to impress upon him that the work he does to get good grades in high school is like a job that is earning him a small fortune - like who knows? $15,000 a year merit money at a college?! What teenager can earn that kind of money at a job? I don't know if our approach helped him too much though, because he started off with A's and has moved to a couple B's his junior year.
    But the rotten thing is that when he got his ACT scores (35!), I pointed out that a lot of doors would be open for him at colleges. I may also have mentioned that Princeton (a longtime favorite) might still be out of reach because of his GPA. He replied "I guess I really could have worked a little harder". And he was a little regretful. Now he realizes it!
    I wish I had some better advice - maybe a reward of some sort if he makes a better effort?
    Good luck, and I'll be checking back on this thread to see if I can get some help!
  • ADadADad Registered User Posts: 4,920 Senior Member
    How do I make him see that his actions at the age of 14 may already be closing doors and opportunities?

    I'd be surprised if you were able to make him see that (even if it were true, of which I am skeptical).

    Can true, interesting (to him) challenges be made available to him?

    I don't mean the "challenge" of getting all As in subjects he finds easy. That "challenge" just doesn't interest a lot of exceptional kids.

    I mean finding material, tasks that truly interest him, challenge him, stretch him, whether in or out of school.

    Something that he can have a passion for.
  • NorthstarmomNorthstarmom Registered User Posts: 24,853 Senior Member
    Honestly, both sons were smart and lazy in h.s. Tried everything to motivate them: privileges tied to grades; letting them run with their passions and see how academics related to their passions; exposing them to all kinds of fields and people including people who were doing boring jobs or unemployed due to laziness academically; counseling for the boys and us; medication for their ADD/ADHD....

    Nothing worked!

    Older S by his choice went to college, but flunked out and now, at age 24, works an easy office job, supporting himself in a distant state. He is happy with his life.

    Younger S got motivated after doing a gap year with Americorps (lived at home, paid rent) after not getting around to applying to college although he said he wanted to go to college. H and I held S accountable for his awful senior year h.s. grades, and told him that we wouldn't help pay for college until he had gone fulltime for a year with at least a 3.0 gpa.

    S by choice went to an expensive LAC, using merit aid (! due to high scores and excellent ECs) and big loans. He chose and loved the college, and was self-motivated to remain there, so got it together to get good grades.

    What I've learned is that parents can't force them to be motivated: We can hold them responsible for their underperformance, however.
  • bcnmombcnmom Registered User Posts: 22 New Member
    "Holding them responsible for underperformance"---I think that's key. Just trying to figure out how to do that. We've alluded to the fact that if he doesn't get into a "decent" school in the States, we're not going to spend the money to send him there when he can go for free here (Spain). He definitely doesn't want to attend university here, but we don't really want him to either, so it's a bit of an idle threat...
  • Singersmom07Singersmom07 Registered User Posts: 3,859 Senior Member
    so it's a bit of an idle threat...

    My experience with all 3 Ss, they are really good at picking up idle threats. You have to decide where you stand and what you will actually do about it. If you can't hold firm, do not threaten. Actually, threaten is not a good word. Also through experience, threats do not motivate anyone. If he is not invested in the goal it won't happen. What's in it for him now to change what he is doing?

    Action and consequences need to be defined. What do you mean by a good school? What will you reward and what won't you. He may be advanced academically but a 14 yr old male is not thinking several years ahead most of the time. Especially if it is easy for him now. The goals have go be broken down to smaller and achievable ones that mean something to him and with the right rewards. Going to a "good college" in the US is too far and esoteric for him right now. I prefer to work with rewards instead of punishments. Especially since A's and B's are not bad performance. Don't we all prefer rewards for our work? BTW - there are a lot of good colleges to go to with A's and B's for an advanced student. It isn't all HPYS or the pits.
  • siliconvalleymomsiliconvalleymom Registered User Posts: 4,461 Senior Member
    My youngest sister fit this description. I took her on a college tour and made the point that the schools we were looking at were possibilities if she buckled down, and not possible if she didn't. She got the point and changed in a week.
    (This is going to be hard for you to do living overseas...maybe some of the college tours on DVD would work?)
  • ADadADad Registered User Posts: 4,920 Senior Member
    holding them responsible for underperformance

    You catch more flies with honey.
  • ebeeeeeebeeeee Registered User Posts: 5,199 Senior Member
    Go to the college board website and have him look at the profiles of students who get into the better schools in the US. He needs to understand the consequences of his actions and that he is closing off some opportunities by not doing his best. If he is okay with that, then you just need to be.

    If he truly wants to go to a good school in the US he is going to have to work for it. As I used to tell my kids, "Sure, I want to run a marathon, but I never run and I am not in training." Nice idea but.....

    If he feels the future is about your goals instead of his he may be resistance. He needs to determine what his goals are and whether he is willing to work for them.
  • NewHope33NewHope33 Registered User Posts: 6,208 Senior Member
    bcnmom - As others have pointed out, your S isn't lazy --- he's disinterested. As a former "slacker boy" myself, you have my sympathy. I spent years trying to figure out what my parents could have done to motivate me during HS, and finally concluded that I simply wasn't willing to listen. As that line in The Boxer says "A man hears what he wants and disregards the rest." SO the answer is to find a way to get your S to "hear" the message. Whips and honey have been suggested. I'd recommend some experiences away from his comfort area. Travel to Botswana would do nicely. If that's out of the questions perhaps you could have volunteer at the local hospital, or even have him speak with some local students who are now away at college -- preferably AT their colleges. Good luck with this.
  • islandgirl1960islandgirl1960 Registered User Posts: 102 Junior Member
    I think ADad hit it on the head. You can threaten, cajole, bribe - but that will not change your child's nature. Help him find the things he loves, and he may well become motivated to do well in school as a means to an end. Also, accept that at 14 your son is not written in stone - many late bloomers don't apply themselves until college or even until they have jobs in the real world. Let S know you love him as he is. And don't nag - I know from painful experience that it does not work.
  • K9LeaderK9Leader Registered User Posts: 296 Junior Member
    How about a summer job? Say one that involves very hard physical labor for minimum wage? Working as a construction gofer, on a landscaping crew, or (one my son tried) at a mushroom soil composting farm (several acres of pile after pile of mushroom soil - manure - that has to be kept weed free) might just help him realize that he ought to keep all possible doors open.
  • huguenothuguenot Registered User Posts: 514 Member
    The problem with the job thing is that the money you can earn at a physical labor job is very hard to support a family on, but it seems a fortune to a teen. I had a friend in hs who got a job at a jewelry store. He didn't go to college, because he could "make so much money without a degree". Arrrggghhh. They can't see at that age that a lot of money when someone else is paying the bills is peanuts when you have a wife, child and mortgage.
  • NorthstarmomNorthstarmom Registered User Posts: 24,853 Senior Member
    If the teen either lives away from home and supports themselves or lives at home and pays rent (to cover housing, utilities, food), car payment, car insurance, the teen won't have a lavish amount of money left to spend only on entertainment and clothing. The limited money that teens who drop out and work can make seems like a fortune to them only if they don't have to use that limited money to pay for essentials.
  • mamabear1234mamabear1234 Registered User Posts: 3,522 Senior Member
    I appreciate you sharing your experiences with your sons, northstarmom. They are very helpful to me. My S finds high school classes boring. He wants to be a video game designer and his most recent interest is in a 2-year program specifically for that. While I worry about him having such a narrow focus in school, not going to a 4-year college, and the job prospects he may have in his lifetime, I am starting to resign myself to the fact that it is his life to live.
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