HomeArticlesMotivating the Underachiever

Dear Estelle. Is our child lazy or does he have a learning disability? We just can’t figure him out. He goes to class, seemingly pays attention to his teachers but does poorly on tests and barely completes his homework. He used to be such a good student when he was younger. His lack of motivation scares us and gives us great concern for his ability to attend college and be successful in his life. What suggestions might you have to address this problem?
Parents of a ninth grader, Cherry Creek High School

You are certainly not alone in your concerns.  Frequently ninth graders

lose their motivation for studying as they adapt to their new school. Naturally it’s troubling to you. Academic performance is important in the ninth grade because it sets a standard for your son for the remaining high school years. Some college students wish they had tried harder in 9th and 10th grade. Ninth and tenth graders sometimes don’t understand the importance of studying especially if they’ve breezed through elementary and middle school.

Here are a few strategies to try to address the situation:

  • If you suspect there’s a learning issue, now would be a good time to have your child tested. There are psychoeducational tests which can help determine whether your son is actually struggling with his work because of a learning disability. He may need an environment where he can utilize a support team at the school or perhaps a weekly tutor. Many schools employ psychologists who give the tests or can recommend people who administer them privately.
  • See a psychologist to determine whether there are possible underlying emotional issues which might be a barrier to your son’s performance.
  • If motivation seems to be the problem, visit your guidance counselor at the school who will show him that grades do matter. Determine with his counselor whether his classes are at an appropriate level for him. He should recommend a few classes he enjoys.
  • Motivated peers and older siblings can be a positive influence too. As parents, you should keep encouraging him without nagging.
  • Plan a college visit to CU or DU. Take a tour of the campus and attend one of their information sessions. Often this could be the spark that lets your son see why hard work and good grades in high school are important requirements for admission to college.

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