Dear David Coleman: My 15-year-old seems to be heading down a bad path

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David Coleman

Q I've just got back from my son's parent-teacher meeting. He's in third year and we'd been happily believing that he was getting on great, but it turns out he isn't handing up homework, often sits day-dreaming in class and his teachers have little confidence in him doing well in the Junior Cert. He started palling with a new crowd this September and I'm now thinking they might be a bad influence on him. How can I get him back on track?

David replies:  If you want to be able to discuss his school performance, and the nature of his new friendships, then you have to approach those topics calmly and with genuine and authentic interest in your son and his needs.

You can't appear to prejudge him. Perhaps these friends are very important, if he hadn't ever felt accepted in a group before now. Maybe they are not a bad influence at all and his apparent lack of interest in school is actually about his own feelings about school, teachers, work and so on. You can't appear to have prejudged him or them.

So, showing open curiosity and a desire to understand him might be a far more effective way to find out where his head is at (about school) and why. Only then can you open a dialogue with him about your fears and worries about him missing out on opportunities or slipping down a bad path. Ultimately, it is up to him to find a better path, and he needs to want to change, if change is required. If he feels you are willing to be understanding, he may be more likely to accept your help to do so.