Written by Doctor G

Teen Doesn’t Care About School

file5411245785843What do you do if your child refuses to bring their grade up? Our son, 16, is required to maintain at least a low C in every class to be able to use the computer (read: Facebook) at home. He skips classes often. He is failing several classes. Nothing seems to be incentive enough to pass. He will pass each end of the year by the skin of his teeth, just so he doesn’t get held back a grade. He is almost 17, had not had driver’s training (another thing he had to be passing for us to pay for,) and just doesn’t care. What would be appropriate consequences? How do you motivate a child that seems to have NO motivation? For the record…he is actually a brilliant child. The only classes he gets A’s in have been advanced math classes and Physics. He is very much into music (the guitar.) Taking the guitar away only drives him into anger and depression…it does not help his grades or truancy issues. HELP!

Anonymous, in (state not provided)

This is a really tough situation, and I’m sorry you’re facing such struggle.

First of all, I think you are right to let him have his guitar. I think that your son’s challenges have moved beyond rules and punishments.

Is your son depressed? Very few people have no motivation at all. When that happens, mental health issues are usually at work. Lack of motivation, not pursuing activities that he “ought” to find enjoyable are big signs of severe anxiety or of depression in teens. Also, you need (if you haven’t) to explore the possibility that he is using alcohol or drugs. This, too, is a possible sign of mental health problems.

It sounds like you may be locked into a pattern with your son – he withdraws and fails at academic tasks, you restrict his social life more so that he will have more time to focus on academics and so that he will understand how important success is. I respect this approach but it sounds like it isn’t working.

Does your son have a plan for after high school? At age 16, this is often the main focus of a person’s thoughts – what to do when he is “an adult.”  If he does have a goal, grab on to it with him!

Support his goal!

Unless he wants to be a criminal or an unemployed high school dropout, do everything you can to align yourself with him towards accomplishing that goal. Even if you don’t think it’s reasonable, or that he’ll make a great living, those are lessons he needs to learn on his own.

Use his plans to help him find motivation!

Whatever he wants to do, it will go better with a high school degree and some good mentors. Help him find a summer internship in the field that interests him. Encourage him to seek out adults who are doing what he wants to do in your area. Help him make connections to someone in that way who can say what you’re saying – do well in school. Teens often have a hard time listening to parents because part of their “work” is to push away from us. Hearing it from another adult (not parent or teacher) may reach him.

Ask him what would motivate him.

Your son may believe that he doesn’t have to listen to you because you aren’t “listening” to him. So ask him what he wants, what he plans, what works for him. Then listen to the answers, but don’t offer any arguments or even your opinion. Just think about his answers and your common goals for a few days.

If none of this works, it is definitely time to get a counselor involved. There are great professionals who work with teens who have signs of depression to help figure out what is going on. Even if you don’t believe this could be the case with your son, he is exhibiting some of the symptoms. If conversation with you doesn’t help, you are really obligated to get him evaluated.

A counselor is not a “punishment.” Finding a good counselor models resilience. When you are at a loss, you need to seek out skilled resources. You will want your son to do the same as an adult.

There is, unfortunately, a short window of time before he will be done with high school – one way or another. The rates of boys dropping out due to failing grades is staggeringly high. Your son’s native intelligence may help him, but it may not! Ask him to break the mold of your previous communication, and see if you learn something new.

Please, let me know how it goes!


Readers, have you dealt with a teen who lost all their motivation?


Stress to Resilience for Youth, Free Download Cover Mockup

Learn to Help Your Teen Build Resilience​

Help the teen in your life walk through adversity with strength. Download this free PDF to learn the three steps to go from stress to resilience for youth!

4 thoughts on “Teen Doesn’t Care About School”

  1. At least your son has a guitar to focus on and that he excels in math and physics. He’s probably just bored with the other classes, not challenging enough maybe? My 15 is not motivated and does not have anything else but game on his mind. He does not want to do things anymore. Asked him if he wanted to go fishing. Nope. He does not talk to me and no longer calls me mom. He only talks to his younger sister.

    1. Autum, I am so sorry! It seems that your son is focusing on some emotion that he is using as his reason for cutting off communication. If this is a big change for him, I hope that you will look hard for that cause, and get other folks to help if you need. Wishing you and your family all the best.

  2. I’m so frustrated mine sleeps for days when we are awake he is up and eating everything in the kitchen during the day blinds down throughout all his gadgets confiscated for four months now so angry all the time.ii really don’t know what to do.

    1. That is pretty normal behavior, but the anger is not normal. It sounds like you and he would benefit from some family counseling, as well as some structure for his days. I hope that is a little bit helpful, I’m sorry for your frustration.

Comments are closed.


How Can I Help?

A Little Bit About Dr. G

A widely recognized media personality, Dr. G is your go-to expert on resilience. Countless broadcast outlets rely on her contagious humor and illuminating stories to tackle tough topics. She is regularly seen on TV, as well as interviewed for print and digital outlets. Here, she’s answering your questions. Search for the answers you need, or ask her your question now!
Scroll to Top

A Newsletter All About Resilience

Sign up below to join Dr. G’s newsletter and discover how to ‘Do Stress Better’ and tap into the resilience that already exists inside of you.

Ask Dr. G Your Question

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Book Dr. G

Let Dr. G know you’re interested in having her speak. If you’d like to send her a message click here.

  • MM slash DD slash YYYY
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

After pressing submit your forms will be sent to Dr. G and her team. You can expect a response within 1 business day.

Media Inquiry Form

  • MM slash DD slash YYYY
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Insights to Transform Your Stress Into Your Resilience​

Please let us know where to send the Stress to Resilience guide and we’ll send it quick!