Q:

Our 12-year-old son is a classic underachiever. It's a nightmare trying to get him to do his work. Neither punishments nor rewards work. I could wax forever over the struggles we have had with him this past year.

He has been evaluated recently and was not found to have any learning disabilities or attention-deficit problems. His IQ tested in the gifted range. Is there any way to get him on track academically? The teachers all agree that he is capable of getting A's. - Very Frustrated

A:

So many things contribute to children not doing as well as they should in school. Some are unmotivated, some are unwilling to put out the effort to succeed, a few are simply lazy, and quite a few have poor study skills. Underachievers often lack self-discipline, do not accept responsibility for themselves, procrastinate and frequently make very poor decisions.

Underachievement is not an overnight event - it builds over time and is not simple to overcome. We have found two books that will give parents a very good idea of how to understand and motivate their underachieving children. They are "Bright Minds, Poor Grades - Understanding and Motivating Your Underachieving Child," by Michael D. Whitley, Ph.D., and "The Unmotivated Child - Helping Your Underachiever Become a Successful Student," by Natalie Rathvon, Ph.D.

Besides looking at one of these books, we have two other suggestions. Some bright underachievers are simply bored. It's important to discover if your son is being challenged at school. If not, could he be placed in more advanced classes, and would his teachers be willing to give him more challenging assignments in place of his doing some routine assignments? Also, some bright children simply do not follow a structured daily schedule and haven't learned to handle their time efficiently. You might try having your son complete, without exception, an hour of homework or read school-related work every day before he can participate in any after-school activities.