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I have a 15 year old that has been grounded 60% of the time the past two years. Most of the groundings are around his grades or forgetting to do homework.

When he is grounded at first he buckles down, gets his homework done and seem mature. Then a couple of weeks later he goes back... There is really no reason for not getting stuff done. He is playing games, he just forgets, he didn't know, he takes notes on homework wrong in class so does wrong things, whatever.

He is in the school's gifted program and is in the 99th percentile on the standardized tests. Obviously this does not help him study or do his homework.

When he is grounded he is usually "electronically grounded" too where he can't use a device unless in family room and for homework. Is he too old to ground? Should I try something else? I have had talks with him 20 times on this stuff. He is a good kid but is immature and has no ability to prioritize anything. At the same time he can't take responsibility for anything - he makes excuses or lies about why he gets bad grades every time... so?

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    Anon's answer is incredibly valuable, but additionally, have you thought that if grounding 60% of the time still isn't working then it's the wrong approach. – Rory Alsop Feb 21 '15 at 9:56
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    @RoryAlsop - well it doesn't work optimally. There is a chance that it could be much worse if there was no punishment or groundings. – blankip Feb 21 '15 at 16:29
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    To get a sense of perspective here... what do you consider "bad" grades? – Layna Feb 22 '15 at 11:27
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    If he's grounded 60% of the time, why would you continue using this as a punishment? It can't imagine using a method that requires a long term consequence more than a tiny fraction of the time. I don't think this is an age issue. What else have you tried? – user11394 Feb 22 '15 at 20:09
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    That's helpful to know: if the grounding is effective at the beginning, then perhaps shorter durations are in order, since that's the only length of time it works anyway. Maybe combined with other consequences, you can help your son better. It sounds like anongoodnurse's answer is right. Maybe you can also ask about effective consequences for gifted 15 year olds? – user11394 Feb 22 '15 at 22:11
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There are some very significant things in what you've said: he's in the school's gifted program, is in the 99th%ile on the standardized tests, but he doesn't study or do his homework. He is a good kid, but immature. At the same time he makes excuses or lies about why he gets bad grades every time.

I wish I could say this is normal and natural, but it's not, unless you're talking only about very intelligent kids, a subset of whom believes that they can get by on their smarts and their smarts alone. When they don't make the grade on smarts alone, it's always someone else's fault. Lies are common, and (maybe you haven't encountered this) so is cheating. And this they will justify by saying, "I'm smarter than (X), and if I had studied, I'd have passed. So, cheating isn't wrong."

Unfortunately, the parents have played a role in this. In the self-esteem movement, Parents and schools determined every kid would feel special, regardless of what they did, which meant they began hearing remarks like:

  • You’re awesome!
  • You’re smart.
  • You’re gifted.
  • You’re super!

We were duped. Almost everyone was duped. For more recent studies have shown that when a child is complimented insincerely, or on things they cannot control (how do you stay awesome/smart/gifted/super? By never taking the chance of proving people wrong by trying new things!), but research is now indicating this method has unintended consequences: we actually decrease their confidence in themselves and decrease their willingness to risk and fail.

Dr. Carol Dweck wrote a landmark book called, Mindset. In it she reports findings about the adverse affects of praise. She tells of two groups of fifth grade students who took a test. Afterward, one group was told, “You must be smart.” The other group was told, “You must have worked hard.” When a second test was offered to the students, they were told that it would be harder and that they didn’t have to take it. Ninety percent of the kids who heard “you must be smart” opted not to take it. Why? They feared proving that the affirmation may be false. Of the second group, most of the kids chose to take the test, and while they didn’t do well, Dweck’s researchers heard them whispering under their breath, “This is my favorite test.” They loved the challenge. Finally, a third test was given, equally as hard as the first one. The result? The first group of students who were told they were smart, did worse. The second group did 30% better. Dweck concludes that our affirmation of kids must target factors in their control. When we say “you must have worked hard,” we are praising effort, which they have full control over. It tends to elicit more effort. When we praise smarts, it may provide a little confidence at first but ultimately causes a child to work less. They say to themselves, “If it doesn’t come easy, I don’t want to do it.”

The articles discuss how to chance your parenting style to try to undo this damage, including affirming smart risk-taking and hard work wisely. Help them see the advantage of both of these, and that stepping out a comfort zone usually pays off.

Google 'Understanding a Lack of Motivation of gifted students to excel' on Google Scholar. Do some reading. Make an appointment with the school counselor, and get more professional help if you can afford it and it has been recommended for your son. There is time to turn this around, but it's going to take a lot of work. It can be done! And No, he is not too old to be grounded for bad grades. It just needs to be structured differently, since it's not working the way you'd like now, and combined with (yes) rewards for effort and more active parenting than grounding on your part.

Three Huge Mistakes We Make Leading Kids…and How to Correct Them
How Not to Talk to Your Kids <- Read this article completely
7 Crippling Parenting Behaviors That Keep Children From Growing Into Leaders

  • This is good advise but I feel that much of it is completely the opposite of my situation. I don't overpraise him at all. I don't tell him he's awesome or so smart. If anything I tell him he is a dumbass for being lazy and letting a gift get squelched. I do praise if he works hard, but that hardly happens without me hovering over him... – blankip Feb 22 '15 at 21:26
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    @blankip - Someone somewhere said this if he's in the gifted program and he knows that he's in the 99th %ile on standardized tests. There's a balance to take here. If he's truly just lazy and uninterested, then there's little you can do to change that except for making his life much worse if he continues (so far, it sounds like that has failed). Alternately, calling him lazy and a dumbass might allow him to fulfill your diminished expectations (or he might be rebelling against you). In any case, a new dynamic needs to be found before too long. My advice stands. You could use some help. – anongoodnurse Feb 22 '15 at 22:22
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While I do not have parenting experience relating to the issue, I do have experience being the kid here. I was the kid that tested well but sometimes couldn't be bothered to do homework. It wasn't that I couldn't do the homework. It just bored me to death.

For example, I was in AP Chemistry in high school with a teacher that was renowned for being incredibly good but incredibly hard (His class was harder than my college chemistry classes). I remember getting homework that would have 20+ problems to do and would take hours to complete. It wasn't hard, just incredibly tedious. I learned everything I needed to and could ace the tests easily. As a result, I never saw the point of doing the homework because it didn't seem to help and was just a waste of time. As you can guess, my overall grades weren't as good as they could have been.

I was taught growing up that sometimes we have to do boring things and that that is just part of life. I just had to start applying that lesson.

So the short version is that your son may be bored and needs to either a) find something more challenging to do in school or b) work on more consistently applying that work ethic that he gets when he first gets grounded. I would work on helping him with the work ethic because that is a skill he will be able to use the rest of his life. Finding new challenges is fun, but doesn't help with getting through the unavoidable, mundane, everyday things.

  • I was the same way. I found school so boring and believed it was a waste of time. I got bad grades but all tests were easy. I just didn't get along well with american curriculum. "More challenging" would definitely not have helped me though. I didn't need challenge. I needed to be allowed to follow my actual interests, which I did. I might have been the only kid in the city to ditch school to go work on my own projects (which later led to a career in game development) - I don't know what to say except school isn't for everyone. – Kai Qing Feb 23 '15 at 22:44
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    Well good comments but... He does not test well in his classes without studying. He studies very little and gets mainly Bs and some Cs on tests. Factor in he forgets to do his homework sometimes and he gets Cs. If he just forgot to do homework but test grades were good it would be a different approach. And guess what I have a "fun" job but even it gets boring and tedious. – blankip Feb 23 '15 at 23:08
  • @blankip - you should edit that clarification into your question – user3143 May 23 '15 at 19:13
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Fifteen is not too old to be grounded, and it's very effective in some cases. However, it's a pretty high-level punishment, and can easily be ineffective if misapplied.

My mother preferred grounding as a punishment (for a variety of infractions, typically not grades) and I was grounded probably 75% of the time from 15 until I left for college. It was a bad strategy on her part, and created a lot of resentment. Most importantly, I didn't learn better behavior from being grounded.

For example, I say something very rude when told to do a chore. I'm in the wrong. I should be respectful and willing to contribute to my household. But if the punishment is yelling and not being allowed out of the house for yet another weekend, I learn that my mother is uninterested in my perspective and thinks taking out the garbage is more important than me having a social life.

I apologize if this appears to be just a rant against grounding, that's not my goal -- I just want to outline why it becomes decreasingly effective. Keep it for extreme circumstances.

If dropping grades is directly connected to too much electronics time, playing sports, or hanging out with friends, then those should be targeted. Bringing home grades that clearly do not reflect his best effort is a problem. But if that behavior doesn't change after a quarter or semester of restricted sports, games, and friends, the punishment isn't actually teaching him anything. And outright eliminating these activities is almost purely about punishment, not about teaching better behaviors.

Since you've identified his problem to be more about disorganization, time management, and/or motivation, here are some possible ideas:

  • Have him do homework in a general room of the house with a parent present. (I prefer the kitchen, because that's where most of my early evening housework takes place.)

    • If he establishes a track record of staying on task, he can graduate to the living room with nobody else around, then eventually his bedroom.

    • Limit electronics to those required by the assignment (e.g. a laptop for writing an essay). No cell phones, no TV -- maybe radio or MP3 player for music, if he thinks that helps him focus.

    • Breaks for snacks, bathroom, or just taking a break are reasonable, and arguably very useful for teaching good work habits. Just don't let them last too long.

    • This can be an incredibly boring arrangement as a parent. Trade off with a spouse if possible. Bring reading or knitting or something. Feel free to mention (politely, not too sarcastically) that yes, you've got other stuff you could be doing, but you're invested in his success and want to help him stay on task.

  • Engage other adults in his "responsibility" drive. If he's interested in athletics, the coach can regularly ask him how grades and academics are going.

  • Anecdotally, it seems that kids with afterschool activities (sports or clubs) are better at managing their time since they have less of it free. (Grounding can be moderately counterproductive in this respect, since it seems like there is SO MUCH time available with NOTHING TO DO, what's the rush to study?)

  • Ask what he thinks possible solutions are. "Grounding is not working. Your grades aren't getting better. What can you do to change your homework problem? What can I do to help you with that?"

    • Don't offer ideas, just wait -- silence gets increasingly uncomfortable and he has to start engaging in the conversation to get you to go away.
  • Consider accepting B's and C's. He can still get into college with mediocre performance in high school, even if it won't be the college he's hoping for. "University of Awesome? Well, you know their standards. It's fine, you'll still be able to get into Mediocre University if you really want." If he thinks you're exaggerating, an admissions officer from U of Awesome would probably be willing to discuss their minimum requirements. (As natural consequences go, this is pretty harsh -- but realistically, are you going to go with him to college and keep grounding him when he doesn't go to class? Study and work habits need to happen now.)


If none of these really floats your boat, that's fine -- I am just guessing what may or may not work. Some other resources you might be interested in...

  • This is a lot of good advice. We had started doing some of these. It would be great to get others involved. His mom grounds him too but she kind of lets him do whatever. The coaches on his team would be great if they talked to him... but they make the situation worse. He's at a powerhouse football school and he might have the best grades on the team. They certainly aren't telling him he needs to keep his grades up even after I kept him out of some activities. – blankip Feb 25 '15 at 18:48
  • I find it disappointing when coaches don't care -- even for those kids who are athletic and driven (and probably also lucky) enough to have professional careers, there needs to be some thought about what they're going to do after they're too old to play, or if they get injured along the way. They should encourage students to do their best off the field, too. – Acire Feb 25 '15 at 18:54
  • Well his coaches think he's the team genius. It's not that they are hyping him up but it is the average player has really bad grades - or I should say the "good players" on the team have bad grades... So coaches aren't concerned until there are Ds or Fs because of eligibility. They have 5-10 kids a year that get kicked off due to grades so a kid with a 3.something GPA is no concern. – blankip Feb 25 '15 at 18:58
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I'll throw my own experiences out there, too.

I was homeschooled except for 6th-8th grade. I absolutely hated the public school experience, because most of the time there were things I was much more interested in doing than sitting at a desk doing boring things. Reading, for one.

But I also hated mathematics. Nobody could give me a good reason for why I should need to care about math, and I hated Saxon math (the homeschool math curriculum of choice, it seems like.) When I got to be homeschooled again, I would drag my feet a lot when it came to math, and by the time I was 16 I think my mom pretty much gave up on trying to get me to do math.

But at 16 I also took programming courses as the local tech college.

When I was 21, I finally decided it was time for college (well, actually it was really more some prodding from my parents, but I didn't really have anything better to do). I got a 25 composite on my ACT, with an 18 in math. Had my math scores been more in line with the rest of my scores I would have been closer to a 30 composite. That really wasn't anything new, though. My reading comprehension had always been in the high 80s-90 percentile. Science behind that.

So arguably I had really sucky grades.

However, when I started college I decided to give math a shot and discovered it was fun. I got almost all A's in my math classes, including Cal I, Cal II, and Linear Algebra. I ended out graduating with honors, even after taking 25 credit hours my final semester.

My problem? As a teenager I had a hard time seeing the benefit of learning things, like math. I didn't find it interesting, useful, or exciting. And honestly there are very few things about math that have been applicable to my life as a software developer - besides the general ability to take a look at a complex problem and break it down into less complicated parts.

I suspect that your child has the same issue - they're not motivated because they don't see how X, Y, or Z would be useful to them in their life, the things that they want to do.

What motivates your child? What causes their eyes to light up? What kinds of things do they do when they don't have anything to do?

Figure out how these other principles apply. And if you can't figure out how they apply, be honest. Just say, "You know what, being able to do multi-variable calculus probably won't make life as a fast-food clerk any better. But what it will do is show your employer that you will still do things that need to be done, even if they're not the exciting parts. And until you can pay your own bills, this is what we expect out of you."

Also, ask what they need, and listen. Another anecdote - my mom used to get so frustrated because she would ask me to do something and I'd say, "Yeah, uh-huh, sure," and then go right back to playing my video game or chatting with friends. Until I realized that what I needed was just a self-imposed time limit. So I had her ask, "The garbage needs to be taken out. When can you do that?"

By asking me when, it forced me to engage and make a decision. Sometimes I would say, "I can do it right now." Other times I would say, "Uh... I'll get it done by 3:30, I'm in the middle of this thing."

She listened to what I needed, and it made her life better because she didn't have to continually hound me, and it made my life better because she wasn't continually hounding me.

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I upvoted almost all the answers so I feel bad for accepting my own.

But I finally got through to him about 6 months ago. Basically I grounded him from everything, and he still wasn't doing his homework. I found out he had a couple of Cs and told them if they weren't Bs that football was done.

What surprised me is that about 2 weeks of ground him into oblivion we had a conversation that I really didn't understand and in a way I still don't. Basically he wanted me to help him schedule things and be in his business. He said he didn't even trust himself and wanted to be made to study certain hours, be home at certain times and so on. This was very surprising to me because at 16 I never had a parent look at any homework and the last thing I wanted was my parents in my business.

I thought it was some of his mind games at first. He is smart and I thought he was just trying to deflect responsibility to us. In a way he was but he actually needed the help - not just making up a story. We moved him upstairs by our bedroom, no internet without a door being open, tell him has has to do X homework before he can watch TV. Basically treat him like he is 9 years old. But he likes it, had done great, and attitude has changed. I think that he thought that I didn't care because I was giving him freedom when in reality I was giving him freedom so he could grow up. So short term this is working great but not sure what it does when he is in college.

We also sat down 2-3 times a week to go over his homework, test schedule and so on. I emailed his teachers and made him turn in late stuff even if it counted as a 0. Two things he realized - from the math and his future grades. #1 is if homework is 20% of your grade it is still a huge deal. He wasn't doing it thinking if he turned in more than half it was just -10% on his grade. Well that made it where he needed a solid B on tests to get a B in the class. #2 by not doing the homework he would intrinsically do worse on the tests. So he learned that just doing the homework without much/no studying was an easy B on the test, where he was cramming the night before to get a C.

So I really don't get it. The kid wants his parents up in his business. He also seems perfectly fine with moving upstairs when he had basically a 2-bedroom apartment to himself in our basement. I am not really sure where this is all from - he has gotten tons of attention and have really always been in his business before. He got good grades the last two semesters, and got a 31 on his ACT. He is seeing how his grades are going to keep him from getting into top tier colleges but I guess that is a life lesson.

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I feel like I should chime in on this. Not unlike what Becuzz said, I was that kid too.

I wasn't in gifted programs because I wouldn't take the tests. I didn't want any more work. I didn't want any more "challenge." I just wanted to draw, make cartoons, and feel like I was doing something productive with my time. Making it harder wouldn't work because you can't force someone to see the point of school work that reads like it was meant for several grades below. AP is really no different because I had no sane application for AP math classes. As a kid, you won't hear any logical explanation if you have already decided it was useless.

I don't think I went to a single whole day of school in high school. I ditched pretty much every day, went home and drew cartoons (animated cartoons) - using my brother's computers and stacks of printer paper I would get myself. My parents didn't outright ban me from doing this because I could pass the tests and I think they could see what I was really doing with my time was not drug related, or even related to other people.

I graduated a year early. Didn't get honors or anything. I still don't know if I have a physical diploma because I never cared to pick it up.

I ended up getting a job as a video game developer because of the animated cartoon I spent my entire high school career making. That later turned into a programming job. You can decide if that's success or fail because I'm still not sure. I do know that I am not where everyone said I would be just because I didn't care for school.

Bad grades don't mean doom. They don't mean you're stupid, lazy, unmotivated, or whatever else they want to conclude. I'm no expert and I am just one example. So take my story for what it's worth.

I'd say you should look closer at what your son is really interested in and see if you can devise a way to focus on that and concern yourself more with his progress in his passions. You can probably somehow motivate him in school with some clever psychology, but not like direct consequence. It would have done nothing for my parents to take my brother's computer as punishment. I was going to make cartoons one way or another.

I don't know what your general relationship is with your son. but I was pretty happy with my family and didn't want them to be upset. They tried to confront me about the school thing but I always had a way of explaining it. But if they passively demonstrated some kind of burden they had to go through because of me, I just might have tried to deflect them from it. That's vague, but the idea is that your son may not want you to have a bad time. Maybe he doesn't know to what extent this is affecting you.

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    If I felt my kid was doing ANYTHING productive other than texting girls, playing video games or watching movies I would agree with you. He wants to go to a good college and have good grades. He just isn't motivated enough to keep working hard for more than a week or two. If he was busy "drawing cartoons" or doing something he enjoyed more than "nothing" I would still be upset about grades but totally different stance. – blankip Feb 23 '15 at 23:05
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    Right and that's usually the most common response I get when I talk to people about the whole no motivation school thing. Does he know what he wants to major in? Maybe that might help. He might want to do something more constructive but doesn't know how to get started. – Kai Qing Feb 23 '15 at 23:14
  • You should be sure that you are a success. You navigated the path through adolescence to a self-reliant adult using your own instincts and skills. I understand that in retrospect you may have wished you had been more deliberate and determined in your direction, but it isn't easy follow your own path without guidance. Nobody ever achieves as much as they could have. You achieved much more than people said you would. Man, I sound like a positive self-esteem building motivational poster. – Noah Spurrier May 23 '15 at 15:35
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If he is immature and has no ability to prioritize anything then it seems clear that he is still eligible for being grounded. Does grounding him still work, even temporarily? If you find that grounding works but only for a short time and the cycle repeats every few weeks then consider this a form of discipline and direction. Don't be angry or nag him. Just treat it as a logical, inevitable, and unemotional consequence of his actions. As you say, he's a good kid, so you shouldn't be angry or disappointed with him. Obviously you would prefer him to be self-disciplined, but if he wasn't immature and could set his own priorities then he wouldn't need you. Kids are lazy and lack motivation. This isn't the fault of your parenting. If you let him fail because you expected him to be mature enough to know better then this is your fault. Obviously he is not... If grounding doesn't work or he begins to resent you then you might need to find a different way to discipline him. Discipline shouldn't be punishment or failure. This might be a lot of work for you, too, but you're setting an example.

  • I feel like kids are lazy and lack motivation is too broad and too dismissive. Just because their motivation is "do a fun thing instead of chores or homework", something the parent doesn't find valuable, doesn't mean there is no motivation at all. Understanding they do have different (albeit undesirable or unproductive) motivations is pretty key to figuring out how to help maturity develop. – Acire May 23 '15 at 16:47

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