Is hockey to blame for teen's low grades?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  June 8, 2010 06:00 AM

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Barbara,
My son just turned 13 years old, and he has been playing hockey since he was 5. This year his grades are not so hot, so his mother wants to take hockey away for a year.

He only plays hockey one day a week and on the weekend. My son will tell anyone that hockey is his passion and he loves to play.

His mother did this to his older brother (different father) when he was about the same age, and she never let him return to hockey.

As many of coaches have said -- he is on the verge of being great. I try to explain to her that hockey is not the problem with school.

Please help.

From: John, Michigan

Hi John --

So what is the problem with school? Since you and his mother agree that his school performance is "not so hot," the first order of business is to figure out what's causing that. Start by asking your son what he thinks the problem is; a child this age definitely has an opinion about what's preventing him from doing better, and he needs to have the opportunity to give his input. If nothing else, he will be much more willing to buy into the solution if he's part of the discussion rather than if a so-called solution is forced on him.

Getting to the bottom of school performance also means conversations with teachers/guidance, etc., and maybe even some testing. You might give him the opportunity to be part of those conversations, too.

By the way, what does "not so hot" mean? That needs to be defined clearly for everyone, within an expectation that you all agree is reasonable for him.

Now, about the hockey. Taking away something he loves has the potential to create a bigger problem, not solve one -- to make him angry and resentful that his parent(s) arbitrarily took away the one sport he loves. Plus -- for a year?! I don't see that as a solution.

Sometimes it works to take away a "privilege" as a consequence to inappropriate behavior. But that works only when there's a relationship between the bad behavior and the privilege, and when the consequence is of a reasonable duration. If a child goes over his text minutes, the consequence might be to have him figure out a way to earn money to pay for the next month's texts. Taking away TV would be an unrelated consequence

Meanwhile, what I said above applies to the hockey, too. The more you involve a preteen in the discussion of the problem, the more he is to feel that you respect him and therefore the more likely he is to own the solution. I suggest the three of you have a candid conversation that outlines both parents' unhappiness with his academic performance; his mom's concern that the hockey is putting a strain on his ability to do school work; and a willingness for the three of you to figure out how to solve the problem.

What kind of grades would he like to be getting? What does he think he needs to do to get those grades? How can you, as his parents, help him? Does he need a tutor in a particular subject? Extra help from a teacher? Help to be better organized with his school work, like knowing when projects are due? (Kids this age frequently bump up against organizational problems.) If hockey is not the only extra curricular, does he think he has too many? What would he like to drop? Is there some other reason entirely that he is doing poorly in school? Like stress, family problems?

So, no, I wouldn't take away the hockey unless the three of you agree there is a direct link to his academics.

Meanwhile, this might not be helpful for you since you're in Michigan, John, but Boston area parents of teens might be interested in this FREE seminar next Saturday. Michael Jellinek, who is among the speakers, is an excellent resource on teens. Registration is required even though it's free.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with
some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.


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7 comments so far...
  1. The 2nd link does not work. Where is the free seminar?

    Posted by guest June 8, 10 09:51 AM
  1. Thanks for the heads up! We fixed the link. The free seminar is the Boston Health & Fitness Expo at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. Michael Jellinek is speaking at a panel discussion called "Parenting Through Adolescent and Teen Behaviors." Here's the link: http://www.massgeneral.org/about/newsarticle.aspx?id=2229

    Posted by Angela Nelson, Boston.com Staff Author Profile Page June 8, 10 10:29 AM
  1. I can relate to the question and am really glad to see the response. My 12 year old has ADHD and learning disabilities and also plays hockey. His grades are always an issue. He gets lots of appropriate accommodations and support both at school and at home but is reaching an age where he has to USE the help that is offered. We use a technique from Positive Discipline where if he does all of his homework each week (evidenced by a signature from his teacher in his assignment book and evidence of studying) he gets screen time on the weekend. If he's got outstanding assignments or can't prove that he studied, no screen time that weekend and he tries again next week.

    Anway, my husband is beside himself that I still let him play hockey in spite of bad grades. He's not a great player and never will be, but is passionate about the sport. I can't imagine telling a kid who struggles in school that I am going to then take away the only thing he enjoys. Athletics are not only good for the body but are good for the brain as well. Kids need to MOVE on a regular basis to both burn off excess energy and create more. Taking away hockey won't make my son do better in school, so why would I do that to him?

    Another consideration is that for a kid who struggles in school, needing to maintain minimum grades to play on a school's team can be a great incentive to really try. My son will play for his middle school's hockey team next year and is already talking about what he'll do differently to keep his grades up because he doesn't want to be benched. For a coach to bench a kid from games for a few weeks until grade improve is a lot different from taking away a sport for an entire season - removing the possibility of playing for a year would not encourage your son to do better. I hope that the LW can reach agreement with his wife - perhaps talking to a guidance counsellor or school coach or family therapist will give her the perspective she needs to make a good choice to help her son success on and off the ice.

    Posted by Jen June 8, 10 11:58 AM
  1. The amount of hockey he is playing is not enough to adversely impact his grades. It sounds as if taking away hockey is merely a punishment for not getting good grades, not a solution to a problem. My boys get their work done with far less nagging when they are heavily involved in sports and other activities - there is little time for procrastination or getting in trouble. If hockey is his only recreational outlet, at 13, this boy should be getting MORE than just one day a week and on the weekend, especially if he is truly passionate about it. Kids need a passion, heck, everyone needs a passion.

    Posted by Cordelia June 8, 10 01:18 PM
  1. I completely agree with Barbara. It is inappropriate to take away an activity that provides pleasure. I saw this happen in my own family when my stepsister (who received Cs in middle school) was told by her own academically-oriented father that her grades were abysmal and as a consequence he was pulling her from her dance programs. I watched as my stepsister spiralled into depression, failing grades, dropped out of three colleges, and was finally hospitalized for alcohol poisoning before pulling her life together, all because she was taken away from the activity she loves..

    Posted by Musicteacher June 8, 10 01:31 PM
  1. It is ABSOLUTELY correct to take away that which takes up the majority of the extracurricular time when his grades are poor.

    Posted by Crystal June 9, 10 02:08 AM
  1. I'm getting the impression that mom doesn't really like her children playing hockey--it's a dangerous sport-- and is looking for an excuse to stop the activity. In that case, when it comes to safety, Mom usually gets what she wants!

    Posted by momof2 June 10, 10 02:07 PM
 
7 comments so far...
  1. The 2nd link does not work. Where is the free seminar?

    Posted by guest June 8, 10 09:51 AM
  1. Thanks for the heads up! We fixed the link. The free seminar is the Boston Health & Fitness Expo at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. Michael Jellinek is speaking at a panel discussion called "Parenting Through Adolescent and Teen Behaviors." Here's the link: http://www.massgeneral.org/about/newsarticle.aspx?id=2229

    Posted by Angela Nelson, Boston.com Staff Author Profile Page June 8, 10 10:29 AM
  1. I can relate to the question and am really glad to see the response. My 12 year old has ADHD and learning disabilities and also plays hockey. His grades are always an issue. He gets lots of appropriate accommodations and support both at school and at home but is reaching an age where he has to USE the help that is offered. We use a technique from Positive Discipline where if he does all of his homework each week (evidenced by a signature from his teacher in his assignment book and evidence of studying) he gets screen time on the weekend. If he's got outstanding assignments or can't prove that he studied, no screen time that weekend and he tries again next week.

    Anway, my husband is beside himself that I still let him play hockey in spite of bad grades. He's not a great player and never will be, but is passionate about the sport. I can't imagine telling a kid who struggles in school that I am going to then take away the only thing he enjoys. Athletics are not only good for the body but are good for the brain as well. Kids need to MOVE on a regular basis to both burn off excess energy and create more. Taking away hockey won't make my son do better in school, so why would I do that to him?

    Another consideration is that for a kid who struggles in school, needing to maintain minimum grades to play on a school's team can be a great incentive to really try. My son will play for his middle school's hockey team next year and is already talking about what he'll do differently to keep his grades up because he doesn't want to be benched. For a coach to bench a kid from games for a few weeks until grade improve is a lot different from taking away a sport for an entire season - removing the possibility of playing for a year would not encourage your son to do better. I hope that the LW can reach agreement with his wife - perhaps talking to a guidance counsellor or school coach or family therapist will give her the perspective she needs to make a good choice to help her son success on and off the ice.

    Posted by Jen June 8, 10 11:58 AM
  1. The amount of hockey he is playing is not enough to adversely impact his grades. It sounds as if taking away hockey is merely a punishment for not getting good grades, not a solution to a problem. My boys get their work done with far less nagging when they are heavily involved in sports and other activities - there is little time for procrastination or getting in trouble. If hockey is his only recreational outlet, at 13, this boy should be getting MORE than just one day a week and on the weekend, especially if he is truly passionate about it. Kids need a passion, heck, everyone needs a passion.

    Posted by Cordelia June 8, 10 01:18 PM
  1. I completely agree with Barbara. It is inappropriate to take away an activity that provides pleasure. I saw this happen in my own family when my stepsister (who received Cs in middle school) was told by her own academically-oriented father that her grades were abysmal and as a consequence he was pulling her from her dance programs. I watched as my stepsister spiralled into depression, failing grades, dropped out of three colleges, and was finally hospitalized for alcohol poisoning before pulling her life together, all because she was taken away from the activity she loves..

    Posted by Musicteacher June 8, 10 01:31 PM
  1. It is ABSOLUTELY correct to take away that which takes up the majority of the extracurricular time when his grades are poor.

    Posted by Crystal June 9, 10 02:08 AM
  1. I'm getting the impression that mom doesn't really like her children playing hockey--it's a dangerous sport-- and is looking for an excuse to stop the activity. In that case, when it comes to safety, Mom usually gets what she wants!

    Posted by momof2 June 10, 10 02:07 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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