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son failing college


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Initial post: Apr 30, 2008 10:16:47 AM PDT
My son is failing in college. He has the intelligence to do well, but he has no motivation and no aspirations. What can I do to help?

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 30, 2008 11:03:07 AM PDT
Mother Hen says:
Tell him you won't pay for him to go to college if he doesn't want to make an effort. And ask him: Do you want to get a college degree? Perhaps there is something else he wants to be doing with his life right now.

It is not the end of the world if your child doesn't hit the ground running at age 21 or 22 with a sheepskin in his hand. People can and do go to college later in life. It might be a benefit to talk with some of those adults about the challenges of trying to go back to college while still holding down a job so they can support their families; obviously, it is optimal to get that education while one isn't encumbered with so many other of life's responsibilities. But, again, it's not the end of the world if that's not the way it happens.

Some kids are just frustrated with academic structure, and easily distracted by the many diversions of college. Throw in adolescent hormones and fear of what the future may hold, and it just gets to be more than some kids can handle. Perhaps a year studying at an accredited online university while under your supervision at home might be the cure for what ails him. But don't waste your money bankrolling semester after semester of expensive college tuition, books, and housing costs if your son continues to show an inability or unwillingness to apply himself...it will teach him all the wrong lessons.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 30, 2008 11:40:34 AM PDT
LULU says:
I went to college a ways back and did very well, but some of my friends, who I would say were extremely bright, did horrible. I agree that you should not be paying for this. However, that being said, I think the kids who have it together right out of high school and know what they want to do are the exception to the rule. Maybe your son needs to join the work force, do volunteer work or try some different classes. I think that to make kids feel that they must have a plan at such a young age is a mistake. You need to have a heart to heart with him and really listen. If the answer is that he just doesn't want to do it and he's just lazy, then I say tell him to get a job. If, however, he seems to want to go off in a different direction and find hinself, you should support him.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 30, 2008 3:06:36 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 30, 2008 3:08:44 PM PDT
Oro Selket says:
I would recommend that you let him see the working conditions and how much each job earns now and for a period of ten years, and what can be done with the money saved if any could be saved, ideally expose him to many types of jobs, professional and non professional, trades jobs and just being at supermarkets and the fast food chains, from viewing all this variety that shold help him make up his mind. Use a calculator and figure out how much each job will earn him in ten years and how does the pay progress from year to the next. I hope I mangaed to explain what I am trying to say, as one of those jobs should trigger motivation within him.

wishing you the best
Oro Selket
How to Raise a Super Kid
by the way this is one of the topics I talk about in the book for preparing kids for what is next, school and college and life, as the earlier parents start the easier it becomes once kids are young adults.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 30, 2008 5:45:15 PM PDT
Sunny says:
Sit down and have a talk with him about what he wants for his future. Maybe college is just not for him right now. That doesn't mean it will never be. Perhaps taking a break from academics and joining the full-time work force will help him decide where he wants to go with his life. My daughter had friends who went to coll.immed after H.S.grad, spent a fortune of their parents money and didn't have any goals when they finished. My daughter took time off from school and worked full-time, all the time keeping college in her future plans. Since she then had a definate goal to work toward she excelled in college. So open the lines of communication and see what happens.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 30, 2008 10:07:27 PM PDT
i was your kid once, a little over 10 years ago. here's what i wish my dad had said to me.

ask your son if he wants to be in college. if yes, ask why, and why he is failing and talk about what you and he can do to fix the situation. if no, ask what he does want to do and how he thinks he can go about it. whatever he wants, help him make it happen. if he doesn't want to be in school, make sure he is either supporting himself, or has a reasonable plan as to what he is doing and why it is worth it for you to support him. but be accepting and help him out, most of what he wants to do will be cheaper than college and he will probably learn more as well.

be 100% willing to hear what he says in a receptive and non-judgegmental way. expect the best from him, but remember that you can never be sure what success for him will look like. trust that you have raised him well and whatever is going on for him is something he has the skills to sort out on his own given the time to do so.

for the record, i'm doing ok now, went back to school later on for a BA and am about to start a masters program in the fall.

best of luck.

In reply to an earlier post on May 3, 2008 7:35:47 AM PDT
Y. Roberts says:
I think that the advise given here is good, especially Andrew's perspective.

There are, however, a couple of other things you might want to consider.

Sometimes bright kids, who are ADD, can do fine...until college when those organizational skills become more critical. So, you might consider this possibility.

Sometimes, being away from home and Mom's rules for the first time is just a lot of fun. Without enough time and sleep, any of us would struggle. How is his scheduling of fun vs. work and sleep?

Thirdly, altho I hate to bring it up, some kids get involved in drugs and the 'wrong friends'. Is there any chance that this has happened? One of the tel-tale warning signs in a drop in grades.

I wish you luck with this issue. I have been there, too. My son ended up moving back home and commuting to school, daily. We were lucky to live only a short distance from his college and have good public transportation. He just wasn't ready (mature enough) yet, to be out on his own. So, the extra structure made all the difference in the world for him.

Good for you for noticing that there is a problem and paying attention to it. I think this is the key to a good outcome.

In reply to an earlier post on May 6, 2008 3:57:25 AM PDT
Stop paying!

Allow him to live at home but charge rent.

Make him get (and keep) a job that represents what an unskilled and uneducated person can get. The grimer the better!

After a few months of working his a** off and making no money....college will seem like a sweeter deal.

In reply to an earlier post on May 6, 2008 5:41:09 AM PDT
My very intelligent daughter fell apart when she got to college, and it was the beginning of our realization that she has borderline personality disorder. She came home November of freshman (2003) year to pursue treatment while attending a local university. As the disorder blossomed, she became more and more frustrated with college studies and has now dropped out completely. After all these years, she (at 22) is finally receiving useful therapy called dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and we are seeing some promise that she will get back on track with her life. If I were you, I would have your son evaluated by a reliable psychologist. There are so many ways for young people to become discouraged and depressed these days, and please note that mood disorders run in families. If you look around at your extended family and see depressed people or substance abusers, it would be a good idea to talk to a professional so that these tendencies can be caught and treated early if they exist in your son. In many ways, he can't help how his emotions make him feel, so his actions won't always be rational--"validating" his frustrations and feelings will help him open up to you and accept your suggestions to pursue help. There is a very good blog called "Sandwiched In" written by a woman who is taking care of her elderly mother while helping her early-twenties daughter deal with borderline personality disorder: www.sandwichedin.blogspot.com She discusses her daughter's day-to-day issues and progress with DBT.

In reply to an earlier post on May 27, 2008 12:27:48 PM PDT
Jan says:
I also had the same thing with my son and now perhaps my youngest, it can be heartbreaking to realise that even though you want this for him and you know its for the best, he may not want it himself. Its seems the harder you push they more they rebel. I would ask him what he does wants to do and if its a job then let him do that. My son went in the Air Force, got a first rate education and went on to a very high paying job. They will land on their own feet no matter how much we worry about them so I would just let go and let him do what he wants as long as its not moving back in with you and making a career out of that.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 1, 2008 3:30:49 PM PDT
R. Schmidt says:
I agree w/ most everybody's posts here. You should let him explore other options if he doesn't want to be in school right now. But I would be clear to him that the "free" tuition ride offer won't be for forever. Just as a small child needs limits and guidance, an "almost" adult does too. Give him a year to get his head straight... Let him know you love him dearly and will support his endeavors emotionally right now but that he will be financially responsible for himself even if it is under your roof. He would have to pay rent, gas money, utilities/groceries and hold down a decent job while living by your house rules. If he cannot keep his bargain, he would have to move out immediately. Be firm on this or he may be living with you when he is 40. I actually have a guy friend who still lives w/ his parents at the age of 42. He can't understand why no one wants to date him! I feel his parents did him a terrible injustice by allowing him to stay like that. I am not even sure he can do his own laundry. Anway, when the time limit is up, your son will hopefully have successfully supported himself for some time and gained an appreciation for the dollar! He will either be sure and appreciative about getting a college education for free from you OR he will have gained the skills/confidence to move out on his own. You will have fostered either decision he makes in a healthy way. Good luck!

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 3, 2008 12:27:17 PM PDT
T. Smoot says:
thanks for sharing your thoughts. We have a similar situation as the original post. He says he wants to be in college. We have offered to help him talk through ways to improve study skills ( he was a very bright kid and felt he never needed to study). We told him we would pay 100% for A's and B's, 50% on C's and nothing for below. He is starting to run out of money but still hasn't found a summer job (he has an unpaid internship with not many hours). We have tried to not nag but he's still not looking much. He says he wants a job and wants to go to school but does nothing to indicate that he will follow through. We have been very very supportive. He is a loving, generous guy who is willing to help at home. He is pleasant and kind. He can do for others but just not do for himself. He will do if it is asked of him but won't self start. I don't want to schedule him or tell him what to do. I want for him to initiate these for himself. We have family telling us to order him to do things. I don't thnk that is the answer. Any thoughts?

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 3, 2008 4:54:13 PM PDT
T. Smoot says:
thanks for sharing your thoughts. We have a similar situation as the original post. He says he wants to be in college. We have offered to help him talk through ways to improve study skills ( he was a very bright kid and felt he never needed to study). We told him we would pay 100% for A's and B's, 50% on C's and nothing for below. He is starting to run out of money but still hasn't found a summer job (he has an unpaid internship with not many hours). We have tried to not nag but he's still not looking much. He says he wants a job and wants to go to school but does nothing to indicate that he will follow through. We have been very very supportive. He is a loving, generous guy who is willing to help at home. He is pleasant and kind. He can do for others but just not do for himself. He will do if it is asked of him but won't self start. I don't want to schedule him or tell him what to do. I want for him to initiate these for himself. We have family telling us to order him to do things. I don't thnk that is the answer. Any thoughts?

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 4, 2008 3:07:58 PM PDT
B. Brown says:
I think my husband's parents felt like you do.
They did not pay for him to go to college, he knew early on he had to earn scholarships. And he did, he was very bright and graduated hs with honors. But when he left home for college it went down hill. He was away from the nest for the first time, and this boy who always had very set limits at home was now in charge of himself. Needless to say he did not make wise choices. He grew tired of his major, lost sight of limits with his new found freedom. His grades dropped and he lost his scholarship. He had to come home with his tail between his legs. When I met him a few months later he had no idea what he was going to do. He only had a couple of months left to live at home rent free. His folks had a rule, you could only live at home rent free if you were in school, and fall semester was approaching.
He never went back to that school and took some certificate courses at a local college in some effort to try and find his way. He was always a hard worker. Eventually we married, then he started to fiquire it out.
He had a reason to be a man now. He has gone back to school 3 times now in our marriage to further is carrier all the way to his Master's degree. He has gotten student loans and scholarships. I am very proud of him and so are his parents.
My point is not that he should get married. But my point is, let him know there are no hand outs and that he has to be a man now and find his own way. Eventually you should see the boy you raised grow into a responsible man. Atleast I pray you will. Raising kids is not easy, but you must have done something right you got him all the way to college. Now he has to get himself the rest of the way.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 20, 2008 12:38:39 AM PDT
I hope that after the summer your son and your family know where you are headed for the fall - I agreed with all the previous posts.

College has been a struggle in my family - my father, who continually thumbed his nose at authority, my brother, who simply finds it depressing to sit in someone else's classroom (my brother is an incredible autodidact), me, my husband...all of us earned our bachelors degree in our late 20s.

I would advise your son to see the counseling center at his school and assess if he has anything else going on with his brain, behavior and thought-processes. The sooner someone can make a diagnosis, if it is necessary, the more likely he can learn coping strategies, or even retrain his thinking.

This is my family's story:

ADHD has impacted my family fairly profoundly. The individual in question is very bright but it took him 13 years to complete his bachelors - through persistence in the face of all the other things concomitant with ADHD - depression, debilitating anxiety. The masters thesis, after six years, seems to be on permanent hold and I, for one, don't care anymore.

I didn't understand it (I said, "What do you mean, you can't write? You just organize your thoughts in an outline and fill it in!"). Then I read "Driven to Distraction" and a few other books about ADHD. With ADHD, I already understood very clearly that all external stimuli has equal weight in this person's brain. Thus, someone with ADHD pays attention to everything - some people call it Attention Surplus Disorder, and this is a more positive way of looking at this particular way a brain can be wired. This makes him a very good wildlife biologist, and that's great, but if he wants to do anything with it, we no longer honor life experience or provide apprenticeships or on-the-job training so much - the piece of paper from an accredited university is the ticket required for entry into many jobs.

At any rate, what I understood after reading was that all the thoughts inside the head are all weighted with the same level of priority, just like the external stimuli. Clearly this makes getting one's thoughts out on paper very difficult ("Should I organize my introduction topically or chronologically?"), and as he says, "Picking is not the same thing as choosing."

If this had been caught earlier in his life, he may have learned better coping skills or chosen a different life path than having aspirations of a PhD. He would be living with less depression and anxiety.

In my family, my parents always said they would be willing to support me through college, but my first attempt was not successful either...I was homesick and couldn't admit it...I had writer's block at an "elite" private school where all assessment was through writing, no multiple choice exams, one of the professors truly hated me because I challenged the way she read a graph in class one day, or so I interpreted it, etc.

I became an EMT (in Oakland) for a few years, and worked in outdoor education (which didn't require a bachelors). When I went back, my parents said they would support me. I said, No. I chose to pay for it myself. Fortunately I was living in California and what I earned at my summer job paid enough for both semesters at San Jose State University. What I earned working part-time as an EMT paid for my living during the school year. I received a very fine education at that school, with a minor in Spanish and a major in Conservation Biology, neither of which would have been possible at the small, "elite", private liberal arts college I first attended in Massachusetts. My professors in the biology department were really top-notch, and had thought long and hard about how to structure the Conservation Biology major to best serve their students, with real skills transferable to jobs in wildlife, that would also benefit the wildlife they served as well. In my upper division classes in my final year, my class sizes were just as small and discussions just as intense and stimulating as at my previous college. One of the biggest breakthroughs I had at San Jose State was with a professor (Jerry Smith) who took us to wildlife conferences, so we could see something OUTSIDE being a university professor. That really helped me formulate my goals better.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 28, 2008 9:37:46 AM PDT
K. Kostiuk says:
Some kids aren't ready for college yet after high school. Did he go just because he was expected to? Did he go because his friends were going to this school? Does he have a clear goal for being there? This might be the issue. Sit down and talk with him about what he really wants in the future. If he has no idea, then help him do some internships or sit-ins with people in jobs he might be interested in. If he does have ideas, then listen to them without judgment. If he says he wants to be a musician, don't immediately say, "Yeah, well, you need a job to pay the bills." Really just listen. Then try to find a way to help him follow his interests -- perhaps in a constructive way that may still enable him to pay the bills in the future. If he likes music, maybe he can get into a music program at his college (instead of, say, biology or business). If he likes cooking, maybe he should leave college and go to a culinary school. If he likes computers, maybe he can find a program for computer programming or designing games. If he likes art, maybe he should consider an art program. Another option -- if you have the money -- is to try to give him some kind of year-off experience in a different part of the U.S. or abroad. Maybe he can volunteer or get an internship somewhere else for 6 months to a year and take a break from college. It might help him learn more about the world, see what living is really about (i.e. that you need to have a job to pay the bills), and maybe solidify his interests. It might also help him grow up a little. If you're religious, look at your church/synagogue/mosque for opportunities like this. If you're not, look at secular organizations. This is a great way for him to get out, take a break from school, and learn about life -- and it will probably help him be more serious about college in the future... or figure out that there's something else he'd rather do (i.e. culinary or art school).

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 30, 2008 3:19:59 PM PDT
M. Denum says:
I was in your son's position about 3 years ago. I graduated from high school in 2003, jumped on the covered wagon straight to college and honestly had no idea why I was there. I was lost, alone and had no motivation to do anything except make excuses as to why my grades were slipping beyond the point of no return. Alcohol, drugs and sex all played a role in my failing out of college... not once, but THREE times; Every time it happened, I made the same excuses... it was the fault of other people- not my own- that was leading me down the wrong path.

I moved back home with my parents and started working a "dead-end" job at a movie theater. I liked the job, but after my monthly routine of paying bills, etc. I realized very quickly that the job was going to get me no where in my life. I wouldn't be able to travel abroad, buy nicer things for myself or be able to enjoy the little splendors in life because I would never have time to. After eating crap for about a year, I realized this in full. I had reached an apex of complete disappointment in myself and honestly just wanted to die and get it all over.

My life was changed by a younger friend who suggested I take summer classes with him at our local community college. Something snapped in my brain... it was a way out. If I did this, I wouldn't have to pay my outstanding student loans (until the grace period ended after graduation, at least), I would be able to be with a friend and I could finally work towards something that would make me far superior later in life to what I was now or what I would be if I never tried. On top of this, I could still work part-time, save money by living with my parents, who were very supportive of my staying in town and attending a local college. It honestly, has turned into a win-win situation for me.

The key for me was living the crappy part of what "would be", realizing this, and then developing a strong support system for myself. And as a parent, I'm sure you can understand the hardships that come along with being a developing adult. Honestly, I'm still learning the ropes, but if my mother and father (even my grandparents) hadn't been there for me, I would probably be dead in a gutter some where. The friend I mentioned earlier has become my very best friend and I don't think I could've possibly started this adventure through my life without him. Sometimes, that's all it takes after reaching your lowest... just someone offering to be there with you.

As of now, I'm still working part-time at that movie theater(!) and I'm attending my community college full-time. I will be getting my Associate's Degree in Psychology next fall and after that, I'm transferring to a different university to complete my BA with that friend who reached out to me. We already have living arrangements set up, jobs waiting for us when we move... having a solid plan with plenty of back up helped more than I can say; And now, I'm more motivated to do this than I ever have been in my life. I hope this helped you in some sort of way, or perhaps you can relate this to your son's situation in your own way.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 11, 2008 9:30:41 AM PDT
J. J. says:
College isn't for everyone. Don't believe the hype. It's expensive, and he may do better in life if he started making his own choices.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 27, 2008 10:48:44 PM PDT
Josh Dollins says:
well I'm a college student after taking almost two years off after high school. I am however paying my own way which certainly gives an excellent incentive to do your best. It seems though that even my best is not necessarily good enough at least not in all my classes. I may have bit off more than I can chew. What ever you do be supportive and encouraging but realistic as well.
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In reply to an earlier post on Nov 1, 2008 11:29:02 AM PDT
I am going through a similar thing with my son. He has some mental health issues but nothing too severe. My son failed out of an ivy league school after one semester. He struggled in the local community college as well. After treatment and medication he was able to "catch up" by taking "credit by exam".

Our local colleges offer CLEP, DANTES, & TECEP exams where students can earn up to 12 credits by taking one 90-minute test. Each test costs roughly $75-$100; a fraction of tuition! He has earned enough credits through testing to leap ahead by at least 6 months in his college career. Many 4-yr colleges accept these credits for transfer if he chooses.

My son is extremely intelligent and has always tested off the charts without studying (ugh!). His anxiety and depression interfered with him sitting in a classroom though. Going to the college testing center for 90 minutes once a week worked for him. Google the above tests and/or go to collegeboard.com for more info on what tests are available near you and share it with him. Not perfect but it's working for my son. It also fills the requirement with my health insurance company to keep him on my policy. As long as he's enrolled / earns at least 12 credits per year he's still covered. Good luck - you're NOT alone!

Posted on Apr 25, 2012 12:19:08 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Mar 19, 2013 8:38:45 PM PDT]

Posted on Dec 9, 2013 9:42:21 AM PST
My son was in a summer support group that was suppose to prepare them, and make them know they have support.
He did not utilize the support offered for free. He lied and said everything is "fine", when in fact, he either took an audit or withdrew, from calculus.
Now he is down to 2 subjects and thinks living on campus would make him do better. I do not agree. He is irresponsible and lazy.
I am not sure what to do. Let him take time off and get a job? He only has this education fund until he is 25.

He has been on the honor roll his whole life, and received "gifted and talented" certificates, the robotics club, played the sax in band.
I do not know how or why he lost his way~

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 28, 2014 1:41:50 PM PDT
Very helpful- thanks for sharing.

In reply to an earlier post on May 1, 2014 12:11:32 PM PDT
Mike says:
My parents stopped paying for me during my Freshman year. I dropped out, got a job, realized how hard it was to live well without an education or vocation and went back the next year. I self financed it all myself to boot.
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Initial post:  Apr 30, 2008
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