TEENAGE BOYS sometimes become suddenly bored and apathetic with school. This indifference does not afflict girls as often and there are numerous possible causes for it. For one, high school allows little opportunity for the sort of mastery or obsessiveness that appeals to boys. There are too many classes in too many subjects.
Gary North looks at the subject in this article and offers some suggestions. A teenage boy, if at all possible, should focus on something that interests him. Parents should give him the chance, within reason, to make his own way and his own mistakes.
Here is the article:
There are a lot of reasons — good reasons — why teenage boys do poorly in school. I hope your under-performing son has one of them.
1. Boring teachers
2. Boring textbooks (written by committees)
3. No visible payoff, other than more years of boredom in school
4. ADD (a few students have this, but very few)
5. He is a budding entrepreneur
6. No intellectual challenge
The bad reasons:
2. Lack of future-orientation
3. Rebellion against all authority
4. Pornography or other addiction
5. He’s below 100 IQ
If he was a good student in lower grades, then the problem is treatable. It’s a matter of bad habits.
I would talk to his teachers. See if they all agree on what his problem is. Have they seen the pattern in others? Was there a common cause in the others? You want their experience in spotting patterns. That is their business.
If your son has one thing that he really likes that involves study and self-discipline, you have got to find a way to let him focus here. You want him to develop mastery: 5,000 hours. If he can master one difficult field, that will offset his lethargy in the rest of his courses.
He needs a positive sanction. Find out what he really wants. Set performance standards. He must have intermediate goals. Offer intermediate rewards.
Negotiate. He is in charge; you aren’t. If he thinks, “I’ll flunk every class until I’m 18, and then I’ll leave home,” there is nothing you can do about this. Do not forget this. Pray that he won’t figure it out. The fact that he has not already decided to implement this strategy is a positive sign. He is still in the game.
You should pull him out of school. Something in his environment is ruining him. If it’s drugs/addiction, you have got to pull him out. You have to have a parent monitor him. No excuses. This is your last shot. At 18, he’s legally beyond your control. Your only influence then will be economic.
Work with him on a performance-reward program. If he hates math, let him skip math. No matter what he really likes to study, there will be math involved. Let him crack that nut on his own. If he seeks mastery, he will have to get some kind of mastery in with math. Don’t be fussy about which kind.
Warren Brookes was the best financial columnist in the business in the
Warren Brookes was the best financial columnist in the business in the 1980s. He was most gifted at spotting and exposing rigged government statistics. He was a master here. Yet he did not do well in school in math. He once told me his secret. On a job involving the manufacture of cartons and paperboard products, he was forced to learn math: cut here, order this much, etc. He never forgot. He understood context and application. No one could fool him again.
If he hates English literature, so what? Let him master the literature of the one thing that really interests him.
Move from what he wants to learn to the things he must learn to become a master. You will find that these skills constitute education: reading, analysis of information, critical thinking, math, and writing.
Have him set up a website on the topic. Have him produce videos. Nobody wants to look stupid in public. This will force him to appply himself.
If he really does need a tool to advance himself, buy it for him. Tell him to go out and get a really good price. Make it his deal. If he gets snookered, that’s his problem. Let him live with the consequences. But make sure he is ready for the tool. He can master pencil and paper first.
Let’s hope this is his problem. There is a cure: getting rich.
— Comments –
James P. writes:
There is a lot to disagree with in the Gary North article you cited.
“If your son has one thing that he really likes that involves study and self-discipline, you have got to find a way to let him focus here.”
What if what he really likes is mastering the latest video game? Yes, that involves effort, study, and self-discipline, but no, this is not something you should let him focus on.
Life does not always involve the application of study and self-discipline at things that we like. Often the things we have to master are boring or disagreeable, but we have to do them anyway. If you only apply yourself to doing things you like, you are not an adult in any meaningful sense.
“Negotiate. He is in charge; you aren’t.”
If you have a teenager who is “in charge”, you have failed profoundly and have abdicated your role as a parent. One uses different tools and techniques to discipline teenagers than children, but the fact remains that YOU are the parent and YOU are in charge — or the poor kid is doomed.
“If he thinks, “I’ll flunk every class until I’m 18, and then I’ll leave home,” there is nothing you can do about this.”
You shouldn’t have let him get to this point in the first place, but I certainly don’t agree there is nothing you can do about this. Reward and punishment options are available.
“If he hates math, let him skip math.”
“Move from what he wants to learn to the things he must learn to become a master. You will find that these skills constitute education: reading, analysis of information, critical thinking, math, and writing.”
The greatest sources of distraction for teenagers today are video games and the internet. These are things they want to learn about, but to master them, they do not need to read, write, think, or analyze beyond a very superficial level. Video games and the internet kill the child’s motivation and ability to concentrate, and severely undercut the ability to read, analyze, think, and write. If you let him do what he wants to do – play games and surf the net – he will not learn to read, think, or write as North hopes he will.
Yes, thank you for pointing this out. You are absolutely right. A boy should only be allowed to indulge an interest in something that is reasonably educational or useful. Gaming and Internet use should be severely restricted or forbidden altogether for all boys. If a teenager is not doing well in his school work, he should not be playing video or computer games at all. Gaming addiction is a major contribution to the lagging performance of boys, as has been discussed in previous posts.
In his book, Boys Adrift, about the underperformance of boys, Leonard Sax lists gaming addiction as one of six major reasons. I entirely agree with him. Gary North’s piece does not acknowledge this huge phenomenon at all.