Tuesday 28 January 2020

Hardest question on Leaving -- how do I get my son to study?

Picture posed. Thinkstock
Picture posed. Thinkstock
David Coleman

David Coleman

How can we encourage our bright young son to make an effort and put some serious work into studying (even at this late stage) for his Leaving Certificate? I have heard all the excuses, watched deadlines come and go and now here we are with approximately seven weeks remaining.

He seems to have an inability to focus on the task in hand and seems oblivious to the fact that a college place will not be handed to him without sufficient effort. His rugby, Facebook and all his other activities get their attention -- anything but the books. I am tired of the rows and the constant requests to study because he is a lovely young man and I feel we are just ruining our relationship with him.

I am also more than aware of the fact that it is his life, he has to make his own mistakes, but as a parent it is really hard to watch him throw it all away.

Do we just say nothing? I don't think that standing back and saying nothing is going to help your son. However, you do need to be measured in how you approach him. As you are finding, conflict is not motivating him to study and you are right to acknowledge that at his age you cannot force him to study.

Like every parent you are aiming to find some nice middle ground where you can still advise and guide him while accepting that he may choose to ignore you and make his own decisions.

There are several reasons, usually, why youngsters don't study for their exams. Sometimes they may be genuinely disaffected and feel that school and exams offer them nothing.

They don't intend to pursue any further education and believe that their Leaving Cert results are unimportant. This doesn't sound like your son's perception.

It may be though that he has a fear of failure. If he believes that no matter how hard he works he won't get the results everyone expects of him he may choose to do no study.

Students can feel huge pressure from teachers and parents and the weight of expectation can lead them to freeze.

Whether he consciously or unconsciously decides to do no preparation, he will be able to justify his performance on the basis that "I did no work so no wonder I did badly."

This allows him to divest himself of some responsibility for not doing well.

If this is the case for your son then you and he may need to readjust those expectations that you each have.

Talk to him about what he believes are his realistic chances in the exams.

Talk about your own hopes for him but ensure to be moderate and to fit those hopes with what is achievable for him (based perhaps on his performance in school over the years). He may need to feel that the pressure is off to free him up to try his best. A further block to study can be a belief that he has already left it too late and the sheer volume of study to be accomplished is overwhelming. This can set up an "I can't do it all anyway, so what is the point" attitude.

Equally, he may now have so much stress built up about the impossibility of his task that it further impedes him getting down to effective study.

You can try to help him to address this by helping him to create a reasonable study timetable that divides the work to be done into manageable chunks.

Let him know that some study and preparation is better than none.

So, rather than expecting to cover a whole course, focus on the most relevant sections or the highest scoring elements.

This can help to revive a belief that he can actually get through enough of it.

A final block to studying that is worth considering is a fear of the unknown that some teenagers experience with regard to exams. If he carries some anxiety about what the exams will be like he may also have built up stress to the point that it interferes with his performance.

Distracting himself with Facebook, sports, music and the like could be the equivalent of sticking his head in the sand and hoping that it all goes away.

Preparation and understanding the process of the exams helps to reduce this kind of anxiety.

So, alongside any study that he might do, make sure he knows how the papers are laid out, how they are scored and what kind of timing he will have.

Hopefully he has sat some mock papers in school and will be familiar with the exam hall environment.

How did those mock exams go for him? Is his current lack of study similar to how he approaches every exam or is it different this time around? What message does his school give him or you? For example, are his teachers worried (and pushing him), or do they feel he is on target despite his apparent lack of effort?

This may just be the way your son is. I think the best you can do is to just make sure that he knows you are there to support him.

Keep showing him that you care about him and you care about the options and opportunities that he creates for himself in his life.

It is his life and he can make choices, even unfortunate choices like not studying. You may clearly see the likely negative outcomes of not putting in any effort, but unless he too sees and fears those outcomes, the threat of doing badly will not motivate him.

So perhaps he may need to be inspired about some of the really positive outcomes that can come of putting in the effort.

If you feel that he no longer listens to you then see if you can draw in the support and the inspiration of an uncle, family friend, rugby coach, teacher or anyone else that you know who has a positive influence on him.

Definitely don't give up on him. He sounds like he has great potential and needs help to focus it wisely.

Even if he makes a mistake by not studying this time around there are always options, later on, like repeat exams.

If he does make a mistake and learns from it then he may be more motivated the next time around.

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