Advice for a frustrated parent of a kid who thinks he doesn’t need help

I got this email from a member:

Hi. I am a parent of a 10th grader in Math 3. Struggled this year in math for first time in life. C’s first 2 quarters. Heard about/signed up for Thattutorguy and we were requiring our son to visit daily for 20min. Seemed to help. Grades improved, but his effort on the site and in general is just not great. He does not want to stay after for in school tutoring either. Just thinks he can manage on own. (Thinks he has it all figured out now…hmm, a 79.9 so a B barely third quarter, and a 71 on first quiz this quarter. Don’t think he has it so figured out.)

Advice for frustrated parent??

My first reaction to this story is: excuses excuses excuses!  What K.B. has here is a classic teenager.  They often complain, and many don’t want to work hard (especially in math).

I had a couple tips in my response to her, copied below:

Hi K.,

Making your son study for 20 minutes was a great idea.  Not surprised he’s trying to wiggle out of it, though!  Stay strong!

I actually went through something very similar in 9th grade myself.  I had always been very good in math, was a in an advanced group that was a couple years ahead, but when I got to high school, that first quarter of 9th grade I got a C in trig/precalc.  I also got straight B’s in everything else.  My parents were disappointed I wasn’t trying harder, and they recognized that I had zero study skills (couldn’t even do well on spelling because I never even looked over the words), so they just made me go upstairs and study every night after dinner the whole next quarter.  And they got me a math tutor who could actually explain trig since my teacher was terrible.  I was basically grounded until the grades were up, not just one or two quizzes.

The next quarter I got straight A’s, pulled up that Trig grade to a B for the semester, and throughout high school I had nearly straight A’s and eventually got into Stanford.

So keep his nose to the grind stone until he’s got good grades.  Working hard is the only way out, and by showing him that he can do better by forcing him to work harder, you’re giving him a great lesson for life.

As for HOW to make him work harder…  If he’s stubborn, it could be tough.  Part of your problem is a he said/you said thing: he says he knows everything in the current section, you beg to differ based on his grade.  One way to find out who is right is to work homework with him, like you’d be “helping” him but really you’re getting him to teach you how to do it (since he claims to know).  If he really knows his stuff, he’ll reinforce his knowledge by explaining stuff to you.  If he doesn’t, you and he will find out together!  And for most adults I’ve corresponded with, it’s kind of fun going back and re-learning some old math, so you might enjoy it too.

If he really does seem to know his stuff yet you don’t want to let him off the hook until his grades are up, you could have him go back and redo tests that he got bad grades on previously.  Basically have him re-learn previous topics to prepare for finals, since he didn’t learn them well the first time (based on him having a C).  If you haven’t seen it, check out my study tips video about “cookbooks”:  That video explains how you could have him make study guides for himself in preparation for finals.

Let me know how it goes, I should make this a blog post!

Moral of the story:  He’s satisfied with a 79.9 because he doesn’t know any better.  He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.   This is an opportunity to teach him to do better by forcing him to raise his standards and then work harder to meet those standards.  It’s an important life skill to be able to figure out your own weaknesses and work to improve them, and that’s part of why young people have to go to school.