View Full Version : Non-motivated teen is driving me crazy

03-12-2012, 11:11 AM
I don't know if this message is a call for help or a rant (or both), but here goes. My 15-year-old son (Frank) seems uninterested in learning anything. I've been supposedly homeschooling him since December, but the progress remains very slight and I'm feeling like this whole thing is a dismal failure. He seemed very excited and positive about the idea of doing independent work, etc. when I first took him out of ps, but he doesn't actually want to do any work. I asked him what he'd like to learn about, and he had a couple of ideas (WW II, the whaling industry), but now says they're both boring. I tried a more structured approach of listing assignments that he should do throughout the week, and he did a couple of easy ones (like summarizing a short story) and left the rest. He hates math, and has done maybe three worksheets over two months. My husband tried sitting with him and explaining the math, helping him take notes, etc. but unless someone is actually sitting with him forcing him to stay on task, he leaves after five minutes and goes to his room or wants to hang out with his friends. I had him read an essay last week about a guy who climbed Mt. Everest, and he said, "That was the most boring, lame story I ever read!" He had been reading a novel (The Road) and proclaimed that was boring, also.

I tried turning off his cell phone until he has his work done each day, and making him ask his dad for his bus card so he can check his work before he goes out. I work full-time so am not there myself most times during the week, and my husband works part time. This approach sort-of worked but his work is still so marginal that it really shouldn't even count as work. He'll write maybe a half page for a story summary, and write a sentence to answer what should be a paragraph.

I asked him if he wanted to take guitar or piano lessons or take karate classes, and he said "no" because he doesn't think he'll follow through with them. He also decided not to join the summer baseball league this year. The only things he's interested in are skateboarding, playing basketball, and hanging out with his friends. I had visions (fantasies?) of us planning interesting unit studies based on his interests, but I think he'd honestly be happy not to do any school work, ever. He doesn't seem to be depressed at all, just flighty. Last night I told him we need to talk about his studies, and he said, "I'd do the work if you'd leave me something to do." I said, "When I leave work, you don't do it." And he said, "Touche."

My husband thinks I shouldn't worry about it and should just wait until he's old enough to get a job and let him find out later what he should have been learning. I have trouble being that hands-off. My oldest son (age 28, US Navy officer, high achiever) has been lecturing me about how we need to crack the whip with Frank because we shouldn't be letting a 15-year-old decide what he should be learning and he doesn't think that homeschooling is challenging enough to get him ready for life. Of course, that made me feel even worse and like I need to either develop a full-blown curriculum to do here or take him back to ps. I guess I'm realizing that maybe Frank needs more structure, expectations, and direction, when I was hoping the experience would be more free-form and that he would be more self-motivated.

Sorry this is so rambling. I know I have a sympathetic and helpful audience here, at least.

03-12-2012, 11:33 AM
I honestly think the only thing that would 'motivate' him is to say he isnt allowed to go hang out with his friends until he's done specific work you've assigned him. At 16 you could say he either has to get a part time job or go back to school if he's not doing his work. I mean, i dont think he HAS to be doing academic work, but I do think its a big mistake to let him crash at home and spend all his time playing.

some teens will self motivate and some wont. and yes, he will figure out some day that he screwed himself over, but he may or may not have the strength to do something about it then. Idk, being a teen sucks and parenting an unhappy or unmotivated teen sucks

what does he say he wants from life? have you asked him what he thinks he'll do when he turns 18?

Accidental Homeschooler
03-12-2012, 12:24 PM
That would drive me crazy too. I think I might be fairly angry in your shoes. You have been trying to meet him halfway and he is not willing to do the same. Have you tried, as Cara suggested, not letting him go off with his friends until a minimum of work has been done? Could even enforce that since you aren't at home.

My sister had an unmotivated teenage son. They tried going very strict and not giving him an inch of wiggle room and when that didn't work sent him off to military boarding school. That did not work either. He is back in ps now and I guess he is doing better. They did try ritalin after he came back and it helped. But I think what made a big part of the difference for him is that he did decide what he wanted to do with his life and that he needs to go to college to do it. He had to find his own motivation. Do you know if your son is drinking or smoking pot with his friends? That would have a negative impact on his motivation. He may also just feel so defeated after his time/failure in public school that he is not even willing to look at the future in terms of school, much easier to play and not think about it. Whatever direction you decide to go good luck and sorry that it is so difficult right now.

03-12-2012, 01:42 PM
He says he wants to join the military or become an auto mechanic, and I've told him that he at least needs to learn enough math and such to pass the entrance exams for either field. As far as I know, he's not drinking or smoking pot (or even cigarettes) and seems to be against such things. Although I'm sure the skateboarding crowd aren't exactly angelic and he'll be exposed to more pressure in that direction as he gets older. I'm leaning more toward the idea you suggested, Julie, that he feels defeated by after his time in public school, as he essentially failed 8th grade and half of 9th grade.

I think I need to be more strict with him in terms of work before going out. He's good at begging to be let off restriction, and I'm sometimes too easily swayed. It goes something like, "I swear I'll do my work tonight Mom if you'll just let me go out for a while. The weather's so nice, and I promise I'll do my work, clean the whole house, and make dinner!" Then I give in, because it is a nice day, and I sort-of believe him, and then he comes in too late to do anything he promised, and tomorrow happens.

You're right, Cara, that it would be a mistake to let him continue not doing anything. I just feel like he lacks judgment at his age and that's what I'm there for, to direct him toward things that are "good for him" in the long run. I guess that's what my older son is trying to say, and I'm having trouble taking over as the authority figure in his education when I've always left that up to the public schools. My other kids all went to public school, so this is my first experience outside of that world.

03-12-2012, 02:01 PM
being easy on him is not helping him! I treat it like any other chore. I know my son wont do it if i let him get away with it. Its a hard fight - just like with a toddler. If he doesn't have self discipline yet, you have to be his discipline for him. I was lax with my daughter, but she took responsibility for her work. with my teen son, i micromanage because he just doesnt seem capable of managing his own time yet

Accidental Homeschooler
03-12-2012, 02:38 PM
Maybe you could make an apt with a military recruiter who could be very direct with him about what he would need to accomplish to be able to enlist when he is old enough. He could also tell him about the possibility of getting his mechanics training through the military. Is there a technical school where he would go if he doesn't join the military near you? Maybe someone in admissions there would be able to sit down with the two of you and talk about what would be required for him to be accepted (probably a GED or high school diploma). Then you could come up with a course of study/plan that would prepare him for either option and when he tells you it is boring you can say something like, "Too bad! But you have to do it because your aren't having a room here for the rest of your life while you spend your days skate boarding!"

03-12-2012, 04:46 PM
Thanks for the good advice. I hadn't thought about meeting with a recruiter or admissions counselor to find out their requirements. I think it would make the education process more "real" to him if there was a goal in sight. And I do think I've been too easy on him, but somehow thought I shouldn't have to micromanage him. I don't know why I thought he had more discipline than he does, but logically that's probably why he had so much trouble in public school.

I talked to him just a few minutes ago and told him I'm not happy with the way things are going and they need to change. He said, "I swear to God I'll do anything you leave for me to do, just let me know what it is." He also said he'd start waking up earlier so he has time to do everything before his friends get out of school. So we'll see how it goes--

03-12-2012, 11:11 PM
My kids are still younger, but I think I have an idea what you're talking about. I am homeschooling my 14yo niece, and having a similar problem. If this is your son's first experience with homeschooling, I honestly think it has something to do with the way things are done at school. Kids don't need self-discipline at school, they don't need to be motivated, or even have any honest opinions about what they want to study. They just show up, do what they're told, go with the flow, and if they do even a minimal amount of work over the years, they get handed a diploma at the end of it. They are spoon-fed and hand-held all the way through.

My niece has NO IDEA what she wants to study or learn or do. If I give her something to do, she will do it willingly, but only the most minimal result possible. It is so hard to inspire her to dig deeper, to take an idea farther, to take the initiative. She has no idea what to do unless she is told. When I make suggestions (which I do all the time), most of them sound "boring." My own kids have been homeschooled for years, and are so much more enthusiastic, and better at managing their time, starting projects, pursuing an idea, etc.... They are also so much more well-read.

If your son likes to read or is at least willing to read, I'd leave him a stack of required reading every day, from a variety of subjects, and a variety of reading levels.

If reading isn't a great place to start, maybe he could start with projects: have him build a go-kart or take apart old appliances or do anything hands-on (geneaology? photography?)

03-13-2012, 04:05 PM
Yes, Avalon, the description of your niece sounds just like my son. I hadn't thought about it like that, but I think you might be right about the kids not having to be creative, etc. at public school and maybe that dampens their curiosity and enthusiasm for learning. And to top it off, my son doesn't really like to read, so it's a struggle to find something that interests him. I did leave him a specific list of things to work on today and told him to call me when he's done so I can turn on his cell phone if he wants to meet up with his friends later.

He had mentioned once that he'd like to learn photography, so I'll see if he wants to follow up with that. He'll probably want to take a lot of pictures of skateboards.:)

03-14-2012, 08:39 AM
Thanks for the good advice. I hadn't thought about meeting with a recruiter or admissions counselor to find out their requirements. I think it would make the education process more "real" to him if there was a goal in sight.

This is what I was going to say. Goals, goals, goals. Set them and create measuring points along the way to them. Otherwise it's just flailing about with no direction. If it's more tangible, it seems more doable.

Good luck!

Accidental Homeschooler
03-14-2012, 10:34 AM
Maybe you can pick up a GED study guide and practice tests and use those to plan your course of study for the next few years. A GED would be acceptable for a technical school I believe.