Dear Dr. G.,
I need your help badly. I’m in grade 11. Over the past 2 years I feel like my mother and I are growing farther apart. She strives for me to do good in school and I’m trying but more and more it seems that she comes up with outlandish means of punishment/help. It started with the basics of taking my phone away on occasions to now taking my phone away for multiple hours so I can review and even when I tell her I have nothing to review, she’ll still make me do it. Now she has faced me with a challenge that I cannot beat. She said to me that I must raise my grades in my classes from 68% to 80% in one month or I cannot do the play which is after school. I personally think that her punishments are getting more and more unfair because she told me I’d have to find a job but she let me do the play instead so now my question is if I had a job instead of doing the play would she make me quit my job if my grades were low? I don’t know what to think anymore or how to put it in words that I don’t like all these issues without it getting turned around on me. So if you could please read and respond to this honestly, if you think it is fair or not because I want someone that is out of my family’s opinion.
An Upset Teen Boy
I am very happy that you reached out to me. It is wonderful that you are concerned not only about the conflict that you are having with your mother but also about the quality of the relationship between the 2 of you. Ultimately, that is what is most important. You state that you feel that you and your mother have been growing apart. In my attempt to help you I will also be attempting to help you repair your relationship with your mother.
I don’t have much history information about your grades and school performance. I also am not aware of how much effort you are putting into your schoolwork. This would be helpful. Nonetheless, I am going to address this issue without a history of your school performance. I can tell that your mother is frustrated with your grades and is attempting to motivate you to get better grades. I am not sure why you are convinced that raising your grades from 68% to 80% is impossible. Is it hard for you to concentrate? Do you struggle with schoolwork? Is schoolwork not a priority? I will keep these questions in mind as I move forward with my responses.
Your mother is using a punishment model to motivate you. I am more in favor of a motivational model where you earn rewards for accomplishments. I suggest that you sit down with your mother and set up a contract of expectations. This should focus on effort rather than grades. Perhaps you can earn more screen time if you spend 2 hours per day on your homework. The specifics of what you are expected to do and what you earn should be decided on by you and your mom in a collaborative manner. This will make you feel more empowered and less like you are being coerced into action by your mom. I hope that your mother agrees to this type of plan moving forward. It is especially important for your mom to be aware that rewards generally work better than punishment in terms of producing behavioral change.
Your question about the play versus the job is very interesting. I don’t know if your mother would tell you not to go to your job if you were not earning good grades. That is a good question to ask her. What is more important is that you work with your mother and try to meet the expectations of the contract so that you are able to continue to be in the play. Explain to your mom that the play like a job is an important commitment. In addition to setting up a contract of expectations with your mother I also suggest that you work on setting up a schedule for yourself so that you have balance in your life. This might require the input and help of a guidance counselor, your mother or even the school psychologist. I wish you luck as you move forward and onward.
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