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The Competent Parent: The ‘I don’t care’ attitude


Headshot2011Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

The “I don’t care attitude”

Dear Dr. Debbie,

I’m very frustrated and I don’t think I’m being effective as a parent to my son—a junior in high school. He lives with his mom and grandparents (by the way, both are college grads), and unfortunately no one at the house seems to be as concerned about his “I don’t care” attitude regarding schoolwork as I am. I try to at least talk with him every week about his studies and what his plan is for the upcoming week.

He is currently failing English, and completely ignored two recent assignments (his teacher e-mails both parents), which were to write a resume and a cover letter. He has had some volunteer experience, so I would’ve thought he could have at least gotten that on paper. His career goal is to become a gaming programmer/game tester but my gut feeling is the steps to getting there are not very detailed for him.

He has skipped class a few times. I asked his mother to stress that truancy can mess up getting his learner’s permit. I’ve suggested putting restrictions on PlayStation or television until schoolwork is complete. If he lived with me that’s what I’d do.

He has a 504 plan for attention issues; however, I don’t think it’s being implemented. I’m reluctant to call a parent/teacher conference because at the moment, I don’t have reliable transportation. Hopefully this will be resolved soon.

I wish we were able to work better as a team. I would like to get back to family counseling again. All of us need it! My attempts at parenting from afar aren’t working. Do you have any suggestions?

Left Out Dad

Dear Left Out Dad,

You are right to be concerned! He obviously needs more help than he’s getting, including having caring adults who believe enough in him to make him believe in himself. Giving up on him is not an option. It’s high time to intervene, starting with a review of that 504 plan to assure that he is successful every day with assignments. As a parent, even if Mom can’t work with you, you need to connect with the school immediately and earnestly. It may take a few calls to get things rolling, so don’t wait for wheels. The consequence if he doesn’t get those assignments done will be a repeat of English 11; however, unless and until his adults figure out a different way of doing things, he is not likely to do any better next year.

Find out what resources for tutoring and counseling are conducted right in the building and also get referrals for some that are not. The Boys and Girls Club, for example, provides homework assistance as part of after school activities. You can find out more about how membership provides opportunities to develop the skills needed to succeed in school and in life at at bgcaa.com http://www.bgcaa.com/.

Positive peers help a teen who has self-esteem issues, while underperforming buddies validate the low standards of a student who has given up. Unfortunately, drug abuse and other self-defeating behaviors often go with the latter. Who are his friends? Are they good for him? A teen’s friends help him to see and get to his future. When you call the school, you’ll soon find out which staff person is his strongest ally. This person knows him beyond the missed classes and assignments. This person has an idea of who your son is among his peers. Discuss your son’s social life and work together to help fortify it. Maybe there’s an after school gaming club? If not, find out what it would take to start one, maybe with the help of one of the colleges in the area.

His “I don’t care attitude” is a bigger problem than missed assignments and truancy. Depression is a serious matter at any age, but teens are particularly vulnerable to seeing problems as insurmountable. Has he had a checkup recently? Physical health and mental health are interrelated. An attitude of hopelessness could be the cause or the result of his school problems. Call upon your son’s medical professional to assess and advise him regarding his psychological outlook, and help him follow up with recommendations on good habits for diet, exercise, and sleep.

When Mom and Dad don’t work well together as parents, children are at a disadvantage. Family counseling would be wonderful for helping Mom, Dad, and Son each commit to understanding and doing what’s best for his difficult situation.

There is a village out there—beyond Mom and the grandparents—who can redirect your son toward success. Ask for help. Hopefully your intervention will begin to turn things around and Mom will support the recommendations and appreciate that you acted as a responsible parent. Please don’t wait.

Dr. Debbie

Dr. Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at editor@chesapeakefamily.com

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