Grades (failing) and sports

freezetagApril 14, 2009

I read the "Punish or not" thread, but didnt see this issue specifically addressed. My question is this:

My ds (11) is in 6th grade, in high-level classes. His grades were good in elementary school, but this year, in middle school, have fluctuated wildly all year, because he is unorganized and doesnÂt turn in projects and assignments (loses completed work, and forgets when things are due).

Recently, he was failing two classes, so I "suspended" him from all extracurricular activity until he completed all missing projects, to my satisfaction. His teachers do not accept anything late, so his grades were still poor, but at least he was completely caught up. Then I let him return to track and baseball.

Today, I found out that he has missed more assignments. I am going to start the "DaisyInga" method for enforcing project/assignment completion, but what about sports? His schoolwork is not that time-consuming, so itÂs not a matter of sports affecting his grades. It would be (depending on how you look at it) either a punishment for failing in school, or a motivation to do better in school.

He loves organized sports, but is pretty sedentary in his free time otherwise. And heÂs a little overweight. So I hate to remove an opportunity for him to exercise  I think he needs it. But at the same time, he would be absolutely crushed to quit baseball, and maybe that is what is needed.

To complicate matters, I hate to depend on him for information about his schoolwork. Some of his teachers post assignments online, some on the schoolÂs homework hotline, others, not at all. Some of the teachers email grade updates every few weeks, and thatÂs usually when I notice that he has missed turning in work. But I canÂt get a clear picture of his daily workload with the resources I have available to me, so I guess IÂll have to have conferences with his teachers to figure out how to stay current. Not looking forward to that, because his school counselor basically told me that it is up to ds to make up his mind to stay on track, and IÂm picking up the same vibe from his teachers : (

Any thoughts?

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Many schools and teachers use 'homework diaries' or agendas, and all work required is supposed to be posted in there, and you can put notes to the teacher in there/vice versa as well.

Meeting with the teachers is an important first step.

It's true, it's your son's job to keep up to date, unless he has some sort of learning difficulty or such, which I assume he doesn't have. My wife is a teacher, and has pretty much seen it all, but had a mother who had been homeschooling her pretty-much hopelessly-behind son who was so disorganised, he almost needed to be told "breathe in, breathe out" - his mother railed at my wife for not 'checking he's writing in his agenda' - hardly her job, really. Unfortunately mum's solution is to homeschool him again, which from the looks of it hadn't been working in the first place.

A wandering mind could just be the onset of adolescent hormones, or, in extreme cases some sort of mental illness, but that's rare, I would look more closely at the former!

I understand your dilemma re sports and fitness, especially if he is tending to be overweight already, but I personally take issue with sport over academia as a priority.

Unless he's the next Babe Ruth, (and even if he is, we need to rid athletes of this 'entitlement mentality) pro sport is not going to be a viable career option, it's a good thing to pursue for recreation but he needs to rely on his school work.

The disorganisation may even stem a little from a lack of exercise resulting in some mental fogginess, perhaps it's an opportunity to look at the whole family's dietary and exercise lifestyle, and make some adjustments, as a healthy kid that age shouldn't have a weight problem.

There are lots of kids playing ball who are overweight so ball on its own is probably not enough of a fitness regimen, and if you want to follow the actions/consequences thing now - and you may not be doing him favours later in life if he's allowed to coast now - if he really likes ball, then maybe he needs a 'time out' from it. I consider 'sport' is a privilege not a right, since there are other less fun forms of exercise around (like yardwork for example, I am a firm believer in kids helping out, just because, not for allowance-earning - that ought to be over and above doing what chores you'd expect a young near-adult to be doing, otherwise we're raising a generation of 'helpless' boys who won't fend for themselves)

If he has a game console or computer or tv, (and the tv and computer are in a common area, not his own room, right?) then of course you need to suspend those, and STICK TO YOUR GUNS until he starts taking responsibility on his own - home school kid I was mentioning had his mother spoonfeeding him or even doing his work for him - and then review it.

As for activity/fitness, a good replacement for the suspended ball and track privileges would be a family walk, morning or afternoon, after homework etc. Could be good bonding/talking time etc, will do more for him fitness-wise than ball, (if you walk briskly and far enough) - if you have a dog, they'll appreciate it, and when he decides walking with mom or dad is uncool, it may be an incentive to take responsibility for himself.

Just some ideas.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2009 at 5:07PM
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I saw a science show a while ago - it was about children taking doses of fish oil and the affect that had on them.

One child who had school problems, concentration etc - improved remarkably by having having fish oil everyday. He was able to think things through better and his grades improved.

Perhaps you might like to explore that side of things.

I agree with you about the sport and exercise, really important in the obesity epidemic age.

A few things for you to ponder.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2009 at 6:40PM
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I understand your reluctance to pull your son out of sports. I think middle school boys desperately need physical activity, and that's about the last thing I would have taken from my son at that age.

When my son was in the fourth grade he did the whole missing assignment thing (many, many 4th grade boys did). What I did that year was to tell him that he absolutely would do the work - there was no way out of it. So if the assignment was late, he still had to do it and I graded it. It was done over if it wasn't done to my satisfaction - trust me, he'd rather the teacher grade it instead of me. For me it worked best if I didn't lecture him - it was just a simple "Okay, I see your math assignment is missing, so you need to go now and do that assignment and turn it in to me". The benefit to this method is that if you find out a week or two later that the assignment is missing, when your son does it over it will be a bit of a review.

My son was actually doing most of his work, but he was losing it. His teachers told me he was doing his work, they saw him complete it themselves. A few times of doing double the work - once in class and then again at home for me - and he learned to keep track of his work.

So if my son had not done his work or missed turning in assignments in middle school, I would have had a conference with the teachers who don't post homework assignments at all, and I would ask them for a weekly or every 2 week report of which assignments are missing.

If I couldn't get that, then I think I might have told my son that if I can't trust him to do his homework and assignments, then I'd have an assignment of my own for him to do in lieu of the missing work. It won't help his grade, but it will reinforce that he has to do the work one way or the other. I think I did have to do this a time or two, can't remember now.

The key for me was to always make sure it was less of a hassle for my son to simply do his work and turn it in than it was to not do the work.

By middle school age, I found out the hard way that it was much easier to simply set the terms and conditions, make them clear to my son, then carry them out without (much) comment. Lecturing, yelling, pleading, none of that worked for me. Another critical thing was to first ASK my son why the assignment wasn't turned in, or why he failed it, etc. (then check with the teacher). Sometimes he had a good reason for failing the test or losing the assignment. There is so much turmoil in their lives when they begin middle school that the last thing you need is to punish them if they're doing a reasonable job of trying.

Also, I should have said this first - I picked a non-confrontational, neutral time to sit down and talk to my son about why he wasn't turning in his assignments. We went over his day starting with when he got to school in the morning, each change of class, etc. We did pinpoint some areas where any kid would have had genuine problems, and I gave him techniques to help him remember and organize better. That was my first step when I realized there was a problem. That method helped, but it didn't completely solve the problem. But it did prove to my son that I wasn't waiting to pounce on everything he did wrong and punish him - I'd much rather help him learn to solve issues.

My daughter has entirely different issues, and none of the above works on her.

I hope you find something that works for your son. I used taking away privileges as my last resort. Middle school is hard enough for kids, they need to have some fun and exercise.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2009 at 8:29PM
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OK, calling his teachers today. At least we all agree on that! Also, I think meeting face-to-face will be helpful. When I email them to ask questions, sometimes their replies come across as defensive/hostile maybe they think I am trying to bail ds out. We share a goal (for ds to get his work done and behave himself), maybe my intentions are not coming through in email.

Pjb, he does have an agenda book, he just doesn't use it as consistently as he should. I asked him to write something for each class, each day (even if it's just a --- for "no homework", but he is sporadic about doing it. As far as I know, he doesn't have any learning disability or mental illness, but he does seem "organizationally-impaired". (It takes him a long time to clean his room because he is not good at organizing things.) He is moody and sometimes teary, but doesnt yet have armpit hair, voice changing, oily hair, etc.

For chores, I tend to assign him stuff like mowing the lawn, walking the dog, washing the van, etc, but probably I should instead give him sorting the laundry, filing my paperwork/paid bills, putting away groceries, etc.

I also take issue with any "sports over academia" mindset. If he didnt have time for sports and school, I wouldnt have even posted the question. I think my reluctance to pull him from sports is that I personally have had issues with depression, but have found that a hard 30-minute run, 3-4 times a week, helps A LOT. Our puppy, too, is well-behaved if she gets a certain amount of exercise. If not, though, you can bet shell find something in the house to chew up and destroy.

Dh and I are not overweight; neither are our other three kids. Ds has a chubbiness I associate with a tween boy on the verge of a growth spurt. So while I am not terribly worried, I do want to make sure ds is exercising. He likes to walk the dog with me, but doesnt want to jog, jump rope, swim, etc., just for fitness. Most coaches (even for baseball and volleyball) have the kids run at the beginning/end of practice, and he doesnt mind that (must be more fun to race your teammates than jog with Mom).

Yes, TV and game consoles are in the family room, and are only allowed on weekends. (Sometimes I make an exception during the week if all chores and schoolwork are done, though). Of course his TV/game/computer privileges are now gone.

Will think about the fish oil. I took it while pregnant, and it made me belch something terrible! Have stayed away from it ever since : ) but would be willing to try again for ds.

Daisy, my ds also does his work, then loses it, or leaves it at home. And yes, sometimes just forgets. And like your son, he has to re-do it but cant turn it in. I went to school with him over break and helped him clean/reorg his locker, and added some shelves. Ive encouraged him to use his agenda book. You summed it up nicely I want to help him learn how to succeed, not punish him. Im just frustrated because Im having trouble finding anything that helps.

Thanks guys, will update later!

    Bookmark   April 15, 2009 at 6:23AM
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Maybe we need a support group for parents of 6th grade boys. ;o) I have one, too. Also a smart kid with organizational challenges. ;o) It would take a lot to get me to take away his sport. He plays roller hockey (the current sport, he likes to try new things). The NHL isn't going to knock down his door, but that's not what it's about. As an adolescent boy, he needs the physical release of energy. It would take a lot to get me take away sports from my other sons or DD, too, though. It is such a part of who they are that taking it away is more than a punishment, it's almost an attack on who they are. For all of them, it's the thing that can turn a bad day around and make them feel like themselves again, capable of meeting goals. It's not about training for a profession. My kids would be different people without their sports (one per kid). So far, the people in their lives b/c of the sports (teammates, coaches, other parents) are also positive parts of my kids' lives. For me to take it away would take repeated failure with no attempt to improve or a problem that took so much focus to correct that there was really no time for the sport (OK, like drugs). I would take sports away IF I truly believed the sport had become part of the problem, not as a punishment intende to motivate. I honestly don't think it would motivate my kids. I think it would increase anxiety and mood swings to lose the activity and self-esteem that comes from that outlet. It is their down time most days.

So, my 6th grader. He has more potential than he uses and it frustrates me and his teachers every year. He is a goofball. He is not typically motivated by grades, either. He is not a kid who gets proud of an A. A or B, occassional C, doesn't matter to him. Actually, once when he had all As, he didn't want me to tell a friend of mine who would tell her 6th grader. He didn't want others to know ("I have a reputation to keep" he joked to me. Yeah, goofball.)

But, he will feel bad about an F. Last fall he goofed his way to an F in math, a subject that he excells at and teachers have always called him a "math whiz." That crushed him. He goofed his way into, all on his own, didn't turn in assignments, refused to show his work no matter how many times the teacher told him one-on-one she would take off points for not showing work. He was disorganized, got 0s on "notebook checks" b/c he couldn't/wouldn't keep papers in a notebook the way the teacher wanted (she was trying to teach them organizational skills they need!). He had it in his head he could do it "his way," tried to reinvent the wheel, just b/c he didn't want accept the method given to him. In the end, he really had no method. Or he'd try something and not maintain it, we went through a dozen "systems" devised by him that didn't work.

I sub in his school, in November I subbed for one of his teachers. If I hadn't, I would not have known he had science fair project due in 10 days (he'd known for a month) and that he hadn't done any of the planning assignments. That day, I went to every teacher and said "What does this kid owe you?" It was mostly math (one teacher had no idea what I was talking about, he had a high A with her, it's just too many balls to juggle sometimes). I sat him down at home and told him how I really feel. Disappointed. I said if I thought this was all you are capable of, I would be fine. But I know you can do great things, you are smart and I'm upset b/c you are letting yourself down. We both cried. ;o) He said "I just want the world to stop so I can catch up." Once he got a little behind and disorganized, he had no idea how to get back on top of it. I made him go to his teacher and ask what was missing and could he still turn it in (she let him for partial credit), I made *him* talk to her. I did send an email to her saying he wanted to talk to her about his grade, in case he got cold feet she could kind of create a "right time" for him. But I wanted him to learn from the experience that he CAN do something about it, that he can be the one to communicate with his teachers, to be his own voice. She didn't have to take the lead, he went to her and started the conversation. I was proud of him for that, I know it was hard. The teacher was more impressed and willing to work with him b/c he showed that initiative and concern for his own grade.

So she let him do the make-up work and she and I stayed in contact. But he really turned around after sort of "hitting bottom" so to speak. He knows how bad that feels and doesn't want to go there again. It's also cute, the teacher intentionally assigned him a seat next to a very organized girl that DS will listen to without getting all... oh, junior high-ish. LOL. So she will remind him "put that paper away now before you lose it." I've seen her in the classroom with DS and other kids, too. She rolls her eyes and says "Oh, like this!" She's cracks me up. I don't think DS quite has crush on her, but he does not seem to mind her telling him what to do. He will put a paper away so that girl doesn't get on him for it. LOL

Gook luck talking with the teacher. If you don't already plan to, make your DS sit in on that conference and take an active role in it.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2009 at 11:44AM
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Stephanie, well done in helping your son bring about change himself, I agree female company can be a motivator for boys lol but we don't want them lurching from one mother substitute to another, which is what I was alluding to. It's wonderful that you were able to bring about that epiphany.

Freezetag, I had to laugh about the fish oil belches, my wife complains of the same, because we're working our way through a big bottle of non-deodorised capsules - if you can get those they should not be an issue.

I'm glad you brought up depression - I've suffered from one form or another all my life but that did not become apparent til some years ago. It can 'run in families' but it's hard to tell whether or not it's environmental or genetic, or a combination of both. It could be your son has a tendency towards a mild form, a lot of what you describe reminds me of myself, unfortunately nobody noticed, and no-one did anything about it, and I went through much of school in a fog and could have done much better.

Through some inklings I had, it was diagnosed in my eldest daughter and they had an excellent counselling setup at her school and she's done much better than I could have hoped, she's weeks away from completing a Batchelor's degree in Music composition and considering going on to do honours.

Oily fish is certainly considered one of the foods you can use to elevate moods, the oil supplements (omega 3s incl flax seed oil, but it's best if the seeds are ground just before consumption) are ok but good, fresh oily fish is still one of the best things.

Definitely keep up the exercise/walking the dog stuff etc, giving him 'brain exercises' as chores as you suggest are a good idea, but the outside chores/gross motor stuff is good too. Whilst being mindful of sun exposure, make sure he sees plenty of daylight, and in the winter consider one of those 'daylight' lamps to ensure he gets enough. It's another potential depression trigger, SAD (seasonal affective disorder)

You might also consider having him do a Beck depression inventory, I've included a link below. Even if he does not appear to be affected you should keep a weather eye on it if there's family history (and quite often we can trace it back generations, once we know the signs - many families have an unmarried uncle who was something of a hermit - my mother's family did and from the description, he was a chronic depressive.)

These strategies we've discussed and the ones you are proposing would benefit pretty much anyone as a healthy lifestyle but if he's a little prone to depression, could make all the difference.

If you can just help him over the hump as it were, it'll benefit him in the future.

I commend you for taking that extra interest, and the proactive stance you're taking, it will make a huge difference.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2009 at 1:47PM
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Im just frustrated because Im having trouble finding anything that helps

Different things work for different kids, and it's hard to know if what we're doing is working sometimes. It takes time. I know a year sounds like a long time, but it's not.

For my son the key was consistency - I couldn't ever let up. Sometimes it felt like training a puppy. And it took time - all of 6th grade. Don't be discouraged. Some of the more negative methods (like taking away sports) may get quicker short-term results, but the more positive methods that take longer are more effective in the long term.

Remember when they were little and it took sooooo long for them to "help" and do their "chores". It was twice as much work for you to let them "help" as it would have been to do it yourself. But the pay off is when they get older, they are a tremendous help - they mow the grass and empty the dishwasher, hang up their wet towels - all because you spent all that time training them. For us schoolwork is the same way - I spent countless hours helping them learn to get organized, making sure they did their work, etc. The payoff is when they get to high school and college and you don't have to do a darn thing except beam and say "Terrific, I'm so proud of you".

    Bookmark   April 15, 2009 at 6:53PM
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With many helpful ideas having been posted, I really think the most helpful thing is hearing that you guys have "been there, done that", and that there is still reason to hope that ds will one day be able to manage his schoolwork successfully.

Had a group meeting this morning with five of dss teachers. The atmosphere was friendlier than I had hoped, given the amount of missing homework and obnoxious behavior hes had this year. I started by saying that I know his situation is his own responsibility, and that I didnt want them to cater to him, but did wish that I was better able to help him with his agenda book. I was surprised that his last-period teacher offered to check/initial his agenda book daily (she already does this for a few other students) and that I should initial it once ds and I have gone over it at night. So that will be a big help for me, and hopefully will help ds to make it a habit. I sort of think that he is like stephanies ds, and just isnt accepting the "school method" of keeping track of stuff. (He also gets in trouble for doing math "his own way". It is generally correct, and his teacher would be OK with it if he would just show his work, but of course he often doesnt).

Stephanie, I wish ds would address issues with his teachers himself, but he has really clammed up lately. He barely spoke at all today. Weve discussed many times how people tend to interpret shyness as either rudeness, or not caring, but it is painful to see him try to speak for himself.

He signed up to be a cadet baseball umpire this summer. The league hell start out in is coach-pitch, so no balls and strikes to call, just safe/out on the bases and fair/foul hits. And the kids are small (6 8yo), so the coaches/parents arent crazy/critical yet. I hope it will help him find his voice.

Will look for "deodorized" fish oil capsules didnt realize that was an option. I love fish, but dh hates it, and its been hard to sell the kids on it. I should be serving more fish, but a capsule would be faster and easier for the time being.

And daisyinga, it is so true that everything takes much longer than it seems like it should. Cant remember where I heard it, but when Im frustrated that Im not getting through, I tell myself that its because kids need to hear a message 1,000 time before it sinks in, and Im only on 950.

Many thanks for the feedback!

    Bookmark   April 17, 2009 at 12:06PM
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The umpiring thing sounds like a great idea, it's like public speaking. I guess there is a risk that the 'power' goes to some people's heads so I guess you need to watch that. (I just watched the South Park episode where Cartman gets deputised and turns into a despot - "you must respect mah ahthoritah" - that show, if you can get past the more outrageous aspects of it, offers a pretty good insight into how preteen boys think)

Unfortunately, I don't think that there's an age limit for parents to behave badly towards umps/refs et al, watch out for that one - but most well-run leagues have rules that cater to that.

I think part of your son's quietness may be embarrassment, I can relate to what's happening very much with him, and at the moment he's feeling very much under the microscope and may actually be feeling quite worthless since he's doing "so much wrong" in his perception -again, this is looking at it from a perspective that he might tend towards depression.

If he is, there's sometimes no countering it through logical argument - ok I guess that applies to lots of things - but being positive and supporting and consistent is a big help, but avoid adding to the pressure.

My mum actually cause me a lot of issues because she was always telling me how smart I was, in some areas I wasn't doing so well at school, so that made me feel more and more like a fraud - it put a lot of pressure on me, or I did so you can go too much the other way.

Your being involved and aware is a huge advantage, and, like I said, when you are proactive and interested (and open-minded), most teachers will go the extra mile for you.

It's usually a welcome change from indifference or denial.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2009 at 3:49PM
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