My freshman son can't seem to focus at school and won't do the work when he doesn't want to. I punish him for this behavior. I don't want to keep doing this all the time. -- No More Punishment


When you hear about a teen who is not focusing on his work at school or won't do it, you immediately think of the possibility of attention-deficit disorder, a learning disability or poor study skills. Punishment has obviously not changed things, so your son can't or doesn't wish to change his behavior.

Some investigation is definitely necessary to get to the root of his problem -- especially if it is a new issue rather than a continuing problem. It could just be a poor adjustment to the changes starting high school brings.

Begin at home by discussing why he can't focus on the class work and why he doesn't do his work all the time. Try to narrow it down to the subjects where the problems occur. Don't put ideas in his head about why he is having these problems. Instead, ask him to really think hard about the problem and how he might turn things around.

If your son shows that he knows how to turn things around, give him a few weeks to do so. Otherwise, schedule a conference with the counselor and all his teachers, as well as yourself and your son. The school personnel may decide some testing is necessary to rule out a learning disability and if the possibility of ADD needs to be investigated.

You don't want to leave this meeting until a plan has been tentatively designed to help your son. Then keep a close eye on whether it is being implemented and if it is showing some signs of success.