For now, forget the HS diploma for stepson

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  April 23, 2012 06:00 AM

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Just googling to find something that might help our situation. My step son has been failing more classes than passing all through high school. He will be 18 this month. He is diagnosed with ADD since just prior to high school but I think rather than finding ways to help him cope with ADD, he has been using it as an excuse all along. Technically, he "should" be graduating this year but was re-enrolled as a second year Junior. He is attempting 30 units this semester and looks like he may attain 15. His average semester units have been about 12 rather than the 30 or so required. At this point, he has a multitude of core classes left to pass next year. Since he has only been able to pass maybe one core class ( the kind with homework..English, history, science, math) per semester, he has enough elective credits but need the hard stuff. I don't see this happening at all. We enrolled him at a boarding school as a Senior last fall in an attempt to get him the help he needs but he was expelled after 3 months resulting in a huge financial loss. Upon returning to public school he is again failing as before. He does smoke marijuana and makes no bones about it. He says everyone does and he will smoke if he wants to. He has about 65 credits in hard classes yet to pass, but keeps insisting he will graduate...a year late..but will graduate. There is no way, short of a miracle, that he will do this considering his past record. He doesn't do homework unless he is made to sit down and do it. If he would take responsibility and see the reality maybe something would change, but I don't see any changes happening. I think the school is about ready to suggest he drop out and go to adduct [sic] school since this environment is clearly not working for him. Can you help? Advice please?

From: Concerned stepmom, Napa, CA


Dear Concerned Stepmom,

He's 18? The best advice I can give you is to back off. Nothing is going to happen until he is ready to assume responsibility for himself. Not all kids graduate high school in the proscribed period of time. Some go out and work before they realize that diploma is something they want. Then, like magic, they are motivated to apply themselves or to get the help they need to make it happen.

You and your husband need to be on the same page about how you back off -- how much emotional, psychic and financial support you provide -- and I suggest you present it as a contract that he needs to sign on to. Basically, a contract would say that you are willing to sign off on his academics -- that it's up to him to manage his academic achievements. If he wants help to figure it out, to make a plan, whatever, you're available; otherwise, you'll stop nagging, coaching and otherwise asking him about it. In exchange, as long as he's living under your roof, he needs to contribute $x amount to the household and abide by x rules. The contract needs to include details (how many nights does he eat dinner with you? does he shop for his own groceries? do his own laundry?) as well as consequences (what happens if you nag him? what happens if he doesn't pay on time?).

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11 comments so far...
  1. The marijuana use may be a very significant issue too. If he is at the point of making "no bones about it", he could be using a lot, which is not going to help him motivate to finish anything. "Everybody else" actually does not smoke marijuana, especially not on a regular basis. The last thing he needs in order to get homework done and focus on getting something accomplished is daily marijuana use, which sounds a lot like what the LW is describing. The contract MUST address his marijuana and any other drug or alcohol use, and it is OKAY for parents and homeowners to expect their child not to use, AT ALL. Believe it or not, parents are the strongest influence on kids regarding drug use, if kids know that their parents strongly disapprove and would definitely be upset if they knew about use.

    Posted by katemc April 23, 12 08:43 AM
  1. I like the contract idea, but suggest an amendment. He has 3 choices. He may be a full time student, actively working on his studies, he can find a full time job and contribute to the household or he can join the military.

    Posted by boys' mom April 23, 12 09:18 AM
  1. "He doesn't do homework unless he is made to sit down and do it."

    There's your answer. Make him sit down and do it.

    What should be discussed is what the couple is going to do with the young man. If they're not ready to kick him out of the house, they will be housing and feeding him, and doing his laundry, for the next decade. Without a diploma, he's not going anywhere in this economy.

    Posted by Mister Beasley April 23, 12 09:33 AM
  1. At 18, my ex-boyfriend's brother could throw a fastball at 93-96 MPH. I've seen it with my own eyes, on many occasions.

    But instead of applying himself and pitching in the major leagues today, he still sits home and still gets high all the time. He's now 27. No job, no ambition, no thing ... except a dormant arm that could have made him tens of millions of dollars.

    Such a waste.

    Posted by mps April 23, 12 10:35 AM
  1. Just a few words. He cannot join the military without a diploma, those days are over! He needs at least a GED for the Army.
    His life is focused on his need for marijuana, and he is making no bones about it. Kick him to the curb! Tough love! I was clear with this with my kids, even though I admitted to them that I had smoked weed at one time. Weed does not make anyone smarter, or open any doors employment wise, so it's not worth anything.
    If junior can't, or won't, get his act together, he needs to be out in the real world, learning the facts of life! By the way, the complaint that his ADD is holding him back is a lazy boy's cop-out!

    Posted by patches2 April 23, 12 10:43 AM
  1. Has he been evaluated for depression? We had similar struggles with our son, although he did graduate high school. After failing out of college, where he used marijuana & alcohol heavily, he came home, working odd jobs & trying to get back on track with school. After several fruitless efforts, he had a psychiatric evaluation and was diagnosed as severely depressed.
    Now that he is being treated through therapy and medication, the turn around has been signficant. Back in school, making future plans and no longer sef-medicating with drugs.His life isn't always rosy and continued treatment is key, but he no longer feels "stuck" and is getting on with his adult life.

    Posted by Hanging In There April 23, 12 11:19 AM
  1. Chances are if he's telling you he smokes weed, theres probably a bunch of other drugs he's doing and not telling you about. I told my parents I smoked weed occaisionally in college. What I didn't tell them was that I smoked weed several times everyday, experimented with Acid, Mushrooms, tried some other drugs, and got drunk several times a week. I grew out of it on my own, and I am now a productive member of society, but It took a while and I wasted my undergraduate degree by getting all Cs. It wasn't until I got out in the real world and had to be responsible for myself that I grew up and started working hard. Assume the worst of your step son. It's probably for the best. Tough love can be necessary.
    You've got to practice tough love on him.

    Posted by M April 23, 12 03:37 PM
  1. I'm a 10th grade teacher. It is heresy around schools to suggest that kids drop out, but some kids are simply not made for school. If you really think he won't pass his core classes, see if he wants to get a GED and a job. Nothing good comes of having 20 year old adult men sitting in sophomore history class. Honestly, the older boys sometimes only come to school to deal drugs.

    His teachers won't tell you, but they are now focusing on the kids who want to learn, not your son. He will get little help from teachers, and a lot of attitude from students 2 and 3 years younger who look at him as a stupid loser. Leave him there long enough, and that's how he will see himself, if he doesn't already.

    My husband was a pothead in his teens (serious, daily problem). His parents pulled him out of school and sent him off to work on a ranch, away from his friends and dealer. It took years for him to shake the "stupid" feeling, even though he is incredibly intelligent. He is an amazing husband and provider, a professional, and no one cares that he has a GED because all they see is the professional certifications and college credentials. His friends who stayed in town are either in jail, dead, or junkies heading one way or the other.

    On both a personal and professional level, I really think it is better to get boys like this into a job where they can regain a sense of self worth.

    Posted by DC April 24, 12 11:08 AM
  1. What is your stepson GOOD at? Not everyone's brain is cut out for trigonometry, literature, and history. Maybe he should consider an alternative vocational program, instead.

    And they live in California, so the pot thing is null. It's California.

    Posted by AP April 24, 12 12:20 PM
  1. Forget the diploma -- whether he gets one or not is the least of your problems.

    He is a drug addict. And from what he is telling you, he doesn't even KNOW anybody who isn't a drug addict. He doesn't even realize that most people follow a different path.

    Fix that first, then help him find a meaningful (if menial) job so he can start supporting himself. Stop enabling.

    Posted by TF April 24, 12 12:58 PM
  1. It is probably too late for an 18-year-old, but parents of younger kids who are struggling with their "academic" high schools should seriously look into Vocational schools as an alternative. These provide a high-quality educational option for those who probably would not benefit from 2 or 4 more years of the same kind of academic education, while instead teaching a valuable and employable trade.

    Posted by Mister Beasley April 24, 12 01:04 PM
 
11 comments so far...
  1. The marijuana use may be a very significant issue too. If he is at the point of making "no bones about it", he could be using a lot, which is not going to help him motivate to finish anything. "Everybody else" actually does not smoke marijuana, especially not on a regular basis. The last thing he needs in order to get homework done and focus on getting something accomplished is daily marijuana use, which sounds a lot like what the LW is describing. The contract MUST address his marijuana and any other drug or alcohol use, and it is OKAY for parents and homeowners to expect their child not to use, AT ALL. Believe it or not, parents are the strongest influence on kids regarding drug use, if kids know that their parents strongly disapprove and would definitely be upset if they knew about use.

    Posted by katemc April 23, 12 08:43 AM
  1. I like the contract idea, but suggest an amendment. He has 3 choices. He may be a full time student, actively working on his studies, he can find a full time job and contribute to the household or he can join the military.

    Posted by boys' mom April 23, 12 09:18 AM
  1. "He doesn't do homework unless he is made to sit down and do it."

    There's your answer. Make him sit down and do it.

    What should be discussed is what the couple is going to do with the young man. If they're not ready to kick him out of the house, they will be housing and feeding him, and doing his laundry, for the next decade. Without a diploma, he's not going anywhere in this economy.

    Posted by Mister Beasley April 23, 12 09:33 AM
  1. At 18, my ex-boyfriend's brother could throw a fastball at 93-96 MPH. I've seen it with my own eyes, on many occasions.

    But instead of applying himself and pitching in the major leagues today, he still sits home and still gets high all the time. He's now 27. No job, no ambition, no thing ... except a dormant arm that could have made him tens of millions of dollars.

    Such a waste.

    Posted by mps April 23, 12 10:35 AM
  1. Just a few words. He cannot join the military without a diploma, those days are over! He needs at least a GED for the Army.
    His life is focused on his need for marijuana, and he is making no bones about it. Kick him to the curb! Tough love! I was clear with this with my kids, even though I admitted to them that I had smoked weed at one time. Weed does not make anyone smarter, or open any doors employment wise, so it's not worth anything.
    If junior can't, or won't, get his act together, he needs to be out in the real world, learning the facts of life! By the way, the complaint that his ADD is holding him back is a lazy boy's cop-out!

    Posted by patches2 April 23, 12 10:43 AM
  1. Has he been evaluated for depression? We had similar struggles with our son, although he did graduate high school. After failing out of college, where he used marijuana & alcohol heavily, he came home, working odd jobs & trying to get back on track with school. After several fruitless efforts, he had a psychiatric evaluation and was diagnosed as severely depressed.
    Now that he is being treated through therapy and medication, the turn around has been signficant. Back in school, making future plans and no longer sef-medicating with drugs.His life isn't always rosy and continued treatment is key, but he no longer feels "stuck" and is getting on with his adult life.

    Posted by Hanging In There April 23, 12 11:19 AM
  1. Chances are if he's telling you he smokes weed, theres probably a bunch of other drugs he's doing and not telling you about. I told my parents I smoked weed occaisionally in college. What I didn't tell them was that I smoked weed several times everyday, experimented with Acid, Mushrooms, tried some other drugs, and got drunk several times a week. I grew out of it on my own, and I am now a productive member of society, but It took a while and I wasted my undergraduate degree by getting all Cs. It wasn't until I got out in the real world and had to be responsible for myself that I grew up and started working hard. Assume the worst of your step son. It's probably for the best. Tough love can be necessary.
    You've got to practice tough love on him.

    Posted by M April 23, 12 03:37 PM
  1. I'm a 10th grade teacher. It is heresy around schools to suggest that kids drop out, but some kids are simply not made for school. If you really think he won't pass his core classes, see if he wants to get a GED and a job. Nothing good comes of having 20 year old adult men sitting in sophomore history class. Honestly, the older boys sometimes only come to school to deal drugs.

    His teachers won't tell you, but they are now focusing on the kids who want to learn, not your son. He will get little help from teachers, and a lot of attitude from students 2 and 3 years younger who look at him as a stupid loser. Leave him there long enough, and that's how he will see himself, if he doesn't already.

    My husband was a pothead in his teens (serious, daily problem). His parents pulled him out of school and sent him off to work on a ranch, away from his friends and dealer. It took years for him to shake the "stupid" feeling, even though he is incredibly intelligent. He is an amazing husband and provider, a professional, and no one cares that he has a GED because all they see is the professional certifications and college credentials. His friends who stayed in town are either in jail, dead, or junkies heading one way or the other.

    On both a personal and professional level, I really think it is better to get boys like this into a job where they can regain a sense of self worth.

    Posted by DC April 24, 12 11:08 AM
  1. What is your stepson GOOD at? Not everyone's brain is cut out for trigonometry, literature, and history. Maybe he should consider an alternative vocational program, instead.

    And they live in California, so the pot thing is null. It's California.

    Posted by AP April 24, 12 12:20 PM
  1. Forget the diploma -- whether he gets one or not is the least of your problems.

    He is a drug addict. And from what he is telling you, he doesn't even KNOW anybody who isn't a drug addict. He doesn't even realize that most people follow a different path.

    Fix that first, then help him find a meaningful (if menial) job so he can start supporting himself. Stop enabling.

    Posted by TF April 24, 12 12:58 PM
  1. It is probably too late for an 18-year-old, but parents of younger kids who are struggling with their "academic" high schools should seriously look into Vocational schools as an alternative. These provide a high-quality educational option for those who probably would not benefit from 2 or 4 more years of the same kind of academic education, while instead teaching a valuable and employable trade.

    Posted by Mister Beasley April 24, 12 01:04 PM
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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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