Dear Dr. Linda,

Finals are here and I’m afraid our Christopher, a ninth grader, is going to fail math and Earth science. Over the year I have met with his teachers, emailed them and texted them. They all kept telling me that he’s capable of passing, but he’s just not doing what he has to do to learn the material.

He says that it’s not that he’s not doing what he has to do; it’s that he has no idea what to do. He refuses to go in after school for help because he claims that he’s done that and it doesn’t help. To make matters worse, we are taking a family trip to Iceland in July. My sister’s telling us to leave him home and my sister-in-law says he should go with us and that it’s our fault if he fails. He’s such a good kid. We don’t want him to miss this trip, but he needs to pass those courses. What should we do?

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Jillian and Rick

Dear Jillian and Rick,

A family trip to Iceland is pretty special. You need to do whatever you can to be sure Christopher goes on that trip with you. You also need to review what went wrong last year so you don’t find yourself in this situation next year.

Before reviewing what happened, though, I need to say that I have never met a student who intentionally fails. Everyone wants a gold star. When a child is struggling in a subject, it needs to be addressed immediately because there’s always a reason.

First, many students are not mature enough to understand the consequences of what will happen if he fails. Instead of parents yelling, lecturing, grounding and punishing, they need to sit down with their children and walk through the actual consequences in terms of what’s important to their lives now.

Secondly, many students, even high schoolers, don’t keep track of their grades. They know that they once got 100 percent on something, so they think that will cover their bases when then get 0’s for not handing homework in. Again, it’s a matter of maturity. Parents need to stay aware of grades and teach their children to average their own grades (it’s a real-life math problem). Yes, there are students who do this themselves, but a large number of children not only don’t keep track of their grades—they don’t know how to.

Thirdly, most parents ask their kids: “Did you study?” The child answers, “Yes,” and then fails. The parents’ reaction is shock, but in reality, their child thought they studied. The real issue is that most middle and high schoolers have no idea how to study. The ones who do know are getting the high grades.

Finally, parents need to contact their children’s teachers when their child is struggling in a course. You obviously did that. But, instead of focusing on how to help him understand and retain the material, you opted to zero in on why he wouldn’t stay after school for help.

Now, as far as Iceland is concerned, unless you’re going for the whole summer, you have plenty of weeks before the summer Regents to prepare. Contact Christopher’s counselor to get names of tutors or summer classes so you can organize around preparing Christopher to retake the final in August. I hope Christopher surprises everyone and passes.

Have fun in Iceland,

Dr. Linda