Being a parent and a teacher, I like to think that I have some of the answers when it comes to parenting teenagers. Not all of the answers by a long shot, but some of them. My youngest son seems hellbent on proving that I know nothing.
I know that teenagers, particularly boys, can become disaffected around the age of 13. Hormones are raging, peer pressure is heightened and with the added joy that constant social media adds to the party, school can become the lowest of all priorities.
This does seem to be the case with my youngest son. Don’t get me wrong, he has never been the biggest fan of school but this year, it does seem to have become an inconvenience that gets in the way of his screen time and social life.
And I will admit that I am struggling with this.
Because we are one of the rare counties that operates a three-tier school system, he moved to high school last September. We worried a lot about this as he suffers from quite severe anxiety but he surprised us all and settled in really well. He has a big group of friends, he happily walks to school and back every day and to begin with, seemed to be working reasonably hard in lessons.
Pretty soon, the lustre wore off and we were back to battling over homework, detention slips kept appearing in his blazer for missed homework and silly behaviour in class. Some mornings, he would beg me to let him stay off school as he felt it was such a waste of time.
This attitude really worried me. He is in Year 9 and I know that this can be a tricky year. Options are looming and some subjects that he won’t be taking already hold no interest and he can’t see the point in putting in any effort into them. Other subjects get the occasional burst of effort, but if he doesn’t see any immediate result from it, he pretty much switches off.
It is so frustrating.
We have tried to talk to him about his attitude towards his education. We have tried to get him to think about what he wants to do, whether he wants to go to university, maybe do an apprenticeship. Our hope that this might get him to engage more positively with school was met with disinterest. We have even tried scare tactics, telling him about his lack of options if he doesn’t at least make some sort of effort in school. No response. His general motto for life currently seems to be “can’t be arsed”.
His brother is the year above him and whilst he is by no means a fan of school, he has a plan. He knows already roughly what he wants to do careerwise, he wants to stay on and do A Levels and he wants to go to university, so even though he doesn’t enjoy school, he works hard and does what he needs to do as he wants to succeed.
The two boys are completely different in every way and I try not to compare them but I do occasionally try and talk to the younger one about his brother and his positive attitude towards school. This is always met with a barrage of comments about how it is always about his brother and how I care more about his brother than I do about him. This isn’t true at all and I merely try to show him that his older brother doesn’t overly enjoy school either, but that he works hard for his future.
The irony of his lack of motivation is that he is an extremely intelligent young man. I’m not sure any of his current teachers would agree with that statement. But he has an exceptional memory and a brilliant imagination, he just chooses not to use them. He would rather be the class clown in school and make his class laugh than do any work. Maybe that is partly due to the culture of it being ‘uncool to be clever at school’?
There is a small part of me that hopes that Year 10 might bring with it a wind of change. Maybe the narrower range of subjects will help him to focus more? Maybe he will mature a little in Year 10 and start to see the bigger picture? Or maybe not? He is one of the youngest in his year group as his birthday is at the end of August and that does still have an impact as he is almost a whole year younger than some of his peers, my husband often says that we should have held him back a year, it is too late now but maybe he was right?
In the meantime, we will keep supporting him and trying to encourage him to work in school, I know from my own experience that at 13, not many kids really know what they want to do as an adult as it still seems so far in the future. I just don’t want him to look back in ten years or more and regret that he didn’t make more effort as it severely limited his options later on.
So how do you motivate 13-year-old boys to take an interest in their futures and their education? If you have any ideas, please let me know, I will be eternally grateful.