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Is it typical for young teenage boys to be lazy but for them to become more diligent as they get closer to finishing high school? (I would not have thought so, but was advised by someone who is older than me — although not necessarily qualified that this is the case).

Knowing if this is typical is important for some difficult decisions I need to make in the next few weeks (my son is coasting along and I need to work out whether to continue to send him to a private school where he would be expected to do IB — the internationally recognised International Baccalaureate "qualification", or a public school where he will graduate from the much easier New Zealand NCEA (by world standards, not very good) standard. The urgency coincides with the start of high school, and the need to give notice to his existing school.

My son is entirely capable of getting As and Bs and, were he not lazy, would be quite capable of the other requirements for doing IB. He claims to want to do it, but is very lazy and, based on his current grades which would be equivalent to Cs and Ds, he would not pass. (Unsurprisingly, pushing him to perform is not something we have had much success with.)

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    What would be his motivation for getting good grades?
    – user43224
    Jul 7 at 9:46
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    There's a book called "He's Not Lazy: Empowering Your Son to Believe In Himself" by Adam Price that you may find useful.
    – Turbo
    Jul 7 at 15:46
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    Something I felt worth making a point of is not enforcing your values on your son. My parents did this, to the point that I was not allowed to make decisions on my own. Naturally, I had my rebellions that influenced me even now in my early 30's. Forcing your values on your son is a great way to make him push back. I believe the best approach is having a two way conversation with your son and listening to his perspective. I would be very cautious about using negative language like "lazy" as that will frame any discussion you have as "I'm right; you're wrong". Don't make it you vs him.
    – Drise
    Jul 7 at 19:04
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    Rather than being lazy, perhaps he does not see the value of school. It makes sense not to put much effort into something that you do not believe will have much return.
    – nasch
    Jul 7 at 19:28
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    Well that is probably a good sign then, because convincing a kid that good grades are important is not easy. As mentioned elsewhere, a good respectful conversation will be necessary to figure out what's going on and why.
    – nasch
    Jul 7 at 19:35

6 Answers 6

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Everybody is different. Perhaps your son is "lazy" because he's not being challenged, so he doesn't want to do his homework because he views it as a waste of time. Maybe he's "lazy" because he has trouble with the materials so he doesn't spend the time to learn them resulting in bad grades. It could be that a change of pace like IB would kick him into gear: if all of his new friends view academics as important, he might overcome his "laziness". Alternatively, maybe he could shut down and flunk out because he views IB as too hard and he doesn't want to put in the work.

The best bet is to communicate with him. View him not as a "typical lazy teen". Instead, figure out what is going on in his life. Don't be judgmental, don't use the term "lazy". Work with him to determine what motivates him to perform at his peak. What inspires him, what makes him want to try? Use these conversations to broach the topic of IB. Make it his choice more than yours. If he's committed to it, he'd be more likely to tough it out. If he feels forced into doing a lot of hard work, he'll probably rebel.

For context, I was once a teenage boy and was not lazy. I made straight As, was an Eagle Scout, etc. I have taught other teenage boys who are not lazy, but who scrape by with Cs because of learning disabilities. I have met teenage boys who don't like schoolwork, but will put in 10 hours a day getting better at a competitive video game. They're not lazy, but as a parent I could see why you'd think so - they have a different priority than you.

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    Nice answer! +1. Of my male offspring, one was lazy in high school, and one got lazy in college! The one who got lazy in high school was actually quite intelligent and was great at coasting, until he wasn’t. And he’d never had to learn good study habits, so starting failing. So, as you said, not lazy, just struggling and not asking for help. The other wasn’t actually lazy so much as enjoying their freedom a bit too much!
    – anongoodnurse
    Jul 6 at 17:01
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    I was nurse's lazy high school student (not literally), though that stretched into my early twenties as well. I didn't really get my act together until I was around 24-25, so I wouldn't necessarily count on them growing out of it, at least in a timely manner. Sorry that I don't have any advice for a solution. For me, I just got tired of living paycheck to paycheck, but obviously you don't want to wait that long. Jul 6 at 19:48
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    +1 specifically pointing out that "lazy" is often because people "have a different priority than you". Some people would call me lazy for not cleaning my house regularly. I could call them lazy for not doing as many other chores and home improvements as I have gotten done. Also, "lazy" can be a symptom of burnout. Once people hit a certain level of "done", they don't want to do anything, even things they normally like. Same goes for depression. Avoiding the term "lazy" and asking people what's going on is productive to get them active again. Jul 6 at 22:03
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    @JonathanReez In a majority of cases when video games are involved, it’s not laziness, it’s escapism, and that in turn is often motivated by real world problems that have nothing to do with laziness (and have a distressing tendency to be overlooked by adults and miscategorized as laziness). True laziness without some source of motivation for the behavior is essentially nonexistent., and categorizing someone as ‘lazy’ without digging deeper into why is itself a lazy approach (usually motivated by lack of interest or perceived difficulty in figuring out why). Jul 7 at 1:51
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    @AustinHemmelgarn - at the risk of starting a discussion, I love your first observation (escapism), but I do think some people are just averse to working hard. In that case, one might wonder why that is (fear of failure/lack of role models/lack of diverse experiences/depression/other?), but I think pure laziness also exists.
    – anongoodnurse
    Jul 7 at 4:37
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I have too few reputation points to add a comment to Robin's excellent reply, so I'm replying as an answer instead. Hopefully this will work, and please forgive me if this is out of the norm.

That being said, I wanted to add that "laziness" can also be a symptom of Inattentive ADHD. Inattentive ADHD doesn't necessarily manifest itself as the hyperactivity that's normally associated with the term "ADHD". The Inattentive type of ADHD is what used to be called ADD, and can manifest as forgetfulness, distractibility, or disengagement ("laziness").

You say your son is "entirely capable of getting A's and B's and where he not lazy would be quite capable of the other requirements... and he claims to want to do it, but is very lazy". This was me all through middle school, high school, and a lot of my adulthood. I wanted do things, but the distractibility and "laziness" often kept me from them. It wasn't until my mid-40s when I finally got diagnosed, started medication, and I could finally start using my brain like a "normal" person.

A lot of people think that if you have ADHD, then it's an all or nothing thing in terms of focus and distractibility. They say things like, "Well, if he can focus so well on a video game, then he can't have ADHD", or "he's not always distracted, so he can't have ADHD", but that's simply not true. People with Inattentive ADHD can focus, and can even hyperfocus to the exclusion of just about anything else, if the conditions are right. ADHD is what's called an "executive dysfunction", which means that it's a brain-based impairment that impacts a person’s ability to analyze, organize, decide, and execute things on time. It causes assignments to be lost, deadlines to be missed, and projects to overwhelm.

As a parent, I know that having someone say stuff like this is like they're coming at you saying that something is wrong with your child. It can be easy to recoil with an immediate thought of "No way!" and dismiss it immediately. I totally get it! But as an adult with ADHD, if someone would have pointed this out to me or my family back when I was a kid, SO much could have been different and BETTER for me as I grew up. I've had to make the discovery and advocate for myself all on my own. Having my parents help years ago would have saved so much headache.

That being said, just take a look at the two articles I linked above. If you think they describe your son at all, talk to him! Tell him some of the points you found or have him read the articles and see how he feels. Does it resonate with him? If not, then I may be completely off base, and there are no worries!

But if it does resonate, and if you want to dive deeper, find a copy of the book Driven To Distraction by Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey. It was their later book "Delivered From Distraction", which is more about adult ADHD, that helped me find my way.

I hope that you don't take any of this as an attack or finger pointing or anything like that. I'm just speaking purely from experience and wanted to offer a point of view that I hadn't seen mentioned yet juuuuuust in case it could be helpful. Good luck! :-)

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    As a contributor on other sites, I think you've done a great job with some of your personal insights and articulated yourself well. Your efforts here are totally within the norm; thanks for contributing!
    – Drise
    Jul 7 at 18:52
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    Thank you for this. I dont think it describes my son, but it may describe me and moreso someone else I know - and I had no inkling.
    – davidgo
    Jul 7 at 19:29
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I can answer from personal experience only as the lazy, black sheep of my family. I will also provide a personal tale of my brilliant brothers "laziness" so that there can be two inferences drawn. Providing advice is like providing an opinion. Sometimes a case study provides better data. It's long but I hope helpful.

Growing up I eschewed school work with a passion. I hated school except for what interested me. Specifically literature and history. I would consume both texts in about two weeks time. Math on the other hand. I was highly motivated to find ways to not do the homework. Socially engineering situations within the confines of a 60 person graduating class at a Christian private school was difficult but not impossible. Eventually at the end of the year my efforts or lack thereof would inevitably catch up to me. When I started dating at 16 years of age my grades suddenly sky rocketed from C's and D's but you can guess the reason why. If I wanted to go out, I had to have the grades. If I affected my dates grades I was also subsequently banned. It became in my best interest to get good grades and for her to get good grades. Needless to say I got into the habit of getting mostly A's, whatever the cost. I require a thing to interest me or have benefit for me to adequately care. My parents and her parents were savvy enough to redirect those youthful primal energies into something mutually beneficial.

It might be of note that I was diagnosed with A.D.D. in the fourth grade and subsequently on Ritalin and eventually Wellbutrin. Both of which I forewent upon graduation of high school.

My father was desperately concerned I would not succeed. I graduated high school and at 18 I moved out on my own. Certainly the best thing that happened to me. My father also didn't pay for or cosign for my car loan/s or rent agreements. For my first car I owed him, the dealer, and the bank money while working full time overnight at a grocery store as a stock clerk, while paying rent/utilities and schooling out of pocket. Some might disagree with the schooling out of pocket. For me it was necessary. I needed the opportunity to learn discipline. If he had paid for the opportunities out of pocket I would not have appreciated them. I was that kind of kid and it would have been kicking me in the teeth with kindness.

I did eventually get my two year degree (associates) in 2009 and a decade later I got my four year degree in Cybersecurity. During that time I got out of the grocery trade, started working with a printer/toner company and got interested in technology. I taught myself to code and developed a work ethic towards self learning that has served me very well today in my current position in application security working with solving interesting problems there is no product for. Which is to say, I am successful. I did much better setting my own course and pace after escaping schools rigid structures. I have not allowed my ADD to hold me back. I don't use medication, I am married with two babies and a third on the way. My financial situation is blessed. My fathers decision impacted me in a profound way. Keep in mind I'm stubborn and I go my own path. Success now is not a determination of success later I suppose. An aside, my father ensured I learned what my (lazy/disinterested) choices would mean with a stream of manual labor around the house. He figured (correctly) that I would not prefer it. On the other hand it could have opened a door to the trades.

Enter my brother who is absolutely brilliant. He does listen to direction and plays life like a chess tournament. He got very bored in his junior year (one year prior to his senior and final year of high school). He did absolutely no homework but passed every test and quiz. Unfortunately the grades were weighted towards doing the homework so he failed. He hid this from my parents by reworking the report card and progress report on the family computer and assigning his own grades. He would get them to sign the real reports right before we were due for school so there would not be much time to evaluate the differences. Eventually he was hoisted by his own petard when my parents and him were informed in a sit down that he would not be proceeding to the next grade. My parents of course still believed that he had done well and it was a mistake. My brother for his genius forgot to add a border around the reports. The forgery clear it seemed he was doomed to fail the grade. However, this being a private school my parents pressed the point they had paid for a years worth of education and had had it stolen as the teachers never called them to inform them of what was going on. A deal was struck wherein my brother could graduate with his class but only if he maintained an A/B average for both the 11th grade and 12th grade work he would be doing in the coming school year. To his credit he maintained an A average doing both grades in a single year. Because of him they had to redo their entire grading/reporting structure. I believe the new process is somehow tied to his name and this story. Today he works as a COO at a construction firm, is married with children and very successful.

So as the others have laid out, it could be sheer laziness, it could be disinterest, it could be ADD/ADHD, or it could be lack of motivation. The right approach is of course different from child to child. For me I needed a solid workout with reality and some struggle and suffering. My brother simply needed to realize he could not outrun his obligations despite his boredom and once he did, nothing has ever held him back or gotten in his way again.

I wish you best of luck in the decision you have to make. It is not an easy one.

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Industriousness is a personality trait people have in higher and lesser amounts. People high in it are extremely focused, easily get caught up in tasks, and have difficulty relaxing. People low in industriousness suffer less from stress but have a hard time focusing on single tasks for longer periods of time.

Personality traits can change as you get older, though I don't know how industriousness change over time.

Point being you need to understand your son's personality. There are personality and aptitude tests one can take, though they tend to be pretty intimate and I doubt a teenaged boy would want his father to try and psycho analyze him to that extent.

I will say that for people low in industriousness it is very important that they find something that interests them, that they're motivated on their own to pursue that interest, and that they receive support from friends and family in pursuing those interests. Someone very high in industriousness can work with the most meaningless tasks imaginable and still be content. Someone low in industriousness cannot.

Note it's quite possible your son isn't low in industriousness at all, so don't act on that assumption as a certainty. He might just be 'lazy'.

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    whole lot of [citation needed] here
    – iono
    Jul 8 at 10:09
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Do you truly find your son lazy in all aspects of life, or are there any areas (even just video games or hobbies) where he seems to have a great deal energy to spend.

Why I ask?

From personal experience, I had a hard work ethic in middle school, tried my best at everything I could, but by the time High School came around I had become quite opinionated. There were subjects that were interesting where I had unlimited energy to spend (math/ physics) and there were subjects which I grudgingly did very poorly (history).

Despite my parents best efforts I just couldn't see the value in handing in homework on time and would rather focus on learning new things in the subjects i thought were cool.

Now your son might be quite a different person than me but the point i'm making here is that I think that once you reach around the age of High School you do start to form opinions about the world which might take up until your mid 20's to refute/re-evaluate. And being these are some of the first opinions you form, you will defend them much more aggressively and live and die by them much more than any sane adult normally would.

If you son has decided they are more passionate about some other thing X and not necessarily grinding out an IB program there might be some wisdom in trying to creative a maximally conducive environment for success and growth in X (whether thats math or skateboarding or music depends from person to person). And pulling out of the IB program might help you create THAT better environment.

I suppose as they grow up they might get the point of "suffering through" something for a long term reward (ex: working a job you dislike to save enough to retire quickly) but that sort of thinking was certainly not something I nor most high schoolers at my age were really capable of seeing. And forcing someone through a program as intensive as IB without them being onboard might lead to a bad relationship even if it seemed like the "optimal" decision at the time.

An possible strategy here would be taking the money you would've normally spent on private school and saving+investing it so that when your son turns 18 or 22 (or whatever age you think he'd be more responsible in) you can basically tell him "here's the money we saved, now with your wisdom and better ideas of the world go use this money to build the life you want"

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All relationships and I do mean all of them revolve around power. This even includes the one you have with your dog.

If you give a child the power of stabbing you with rhetorical knives by them not doing something then you cannot be surprised if he uses that power. Nothing gives a child more pleasure than spiting his parents

You have to make it clear to the child what is expected of him. This is the academic standard you think he is capable of. This is the reward if he achieves it. This is the consequence if he does not.

If you need to remove every last bit of pleasure he has to get him to work then so be it.

In my life working with children I have met children from orphanages. Children who Im certain pray to God every night so that someone would adopt them.

I have also worked with children who play MineCraft on a MacBook that costs more than what I charge for a years worth of lessons.

If you are in a position to send him to a IB school and he is not willing to get good grades then it is clear he is in dire need of being reminded of just how priviledged his upbringing really is.

It is not about how fortunate the position we are born is was or is. It is about how we use our position to better ourselves and the people who surround us.

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    "Nothing gives a child more pleasure than spiting his parents" -1 You know what gives a child more pleasure? Being respected, cherished, affirmed (appropriately), wanted, heard, and loved. I put loved last because all the others are only part of "love". Being spiteful is a momentary pleasure but a lasting dark spot on one's soul/self-esteem/whatever you want to call your innermost self. Removing every last bit of pleasure so someone will conform to your will is not parenting, it's abuse.
    – anongoodnurse
    Aug 2 at 22:41
  • Thank you for your answer, but I can't agree with your premise. Most people are not psychopaths, and encouragement often works better then punishment (see incarceration/recidivism rates vs how prisoners are treated). I'm fairly sure your answer also overlooks the different way kids interpret immediate vs long term reward.
    – davidgo
    Aug 2 at 23:21

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