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Why Do So Many Boys Not Care About School?

by Michael Thompson

Michael Thompson, Ph.D. is a consultant, author and psychologist specializing in children and families. Read more »

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Over the last 40 years, the United States has seen a remarkable change in the academic success of boys and girls. In 1970, 58% of college graduates were young men; now close to 60% of college graduates are women, and this gender gap continues to grow. There will always be boys who will thrive in school, but more and more, it's girls who do well academically and boys who are losing ground.

Two-thirds of the D's and F's given out in school go to boys. Boys are one-third more likely to drop out before finishing high school. Eighth grade girls score higher in both reading and especially in writing than boys do, and by 12th grade that gap has widened. Indeed, the average 11th grade boy in the U.S. writes at the level of the average 8th grade girl.

A few years ago, medical schools in the U.S. began accepting more young women than young men; soon medicine will be a female-dominated profession. I could go on and on with these statistics, but you get the point: on average girls outperform boys in elementary school, middle school, high school, college and graduate school.

Why is that? Experts disagree on the reasons. If you read Christina Hoff Sommers' The War Against Boys, you'll blame feminism for feminizing schools; if you read Leonard Sax's Why Gender Matters or Michael Gurian's The Minds of Boys, you'll think it's the brain differences between boys and girls that educators don't take into account; if you read Peg Tyre's The Trouble with Boys, you'll conclude that classrooms are unfriendly places for boys, and that teachers' techniques don't work for them. If you read other experts, they'll tell you that the "boy crisis" is overblown.

What we do know is that this is happening not just in the U.S. but in Western Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Once parents and educators removed the psychological barriers to higher education that used to exist for girls, that is, once we leveled the playing field, girls outstripped boys in school.

How can you motivate your son to do better in school? You may be asking yourself one of the questions that so many parents ask me: "My 7-year-old son hates school. It's a fight to get him to school every morning. "How do I motivate my 15-year-old son to care about school?" "My son is bright, but he's just cruising through school. He never makes an effort to do his best work."

I think you have to start by figuring out why your son hates school or doesn't think it's important. In my opinion, there are five different types of boys who aren't doing well in school.

The Struggling Boy. The vast majority of boys who get poor grades in school are not "underachieving." They are making their best effort and are struggling academically because they are of below average intelligence and the work is extremely hard for them, or they are of average intelligence in a very hard-driving school district. It is humiliating to know that you struggle with academics that other boys find easy; it's frustrating and makes you want to run away. These struggling students need teachers who can make learning fun, and they require the ongoing respect of teachers and their parents in order to stay motivated. These boys need to hear the old saying, "As long as you're trying your hardest."

The Learning Disabled Boy. Priscilla Vail, an expert in learning disabilities, used to say that one-third of boys have "funny brains." We know that boys have more variable brains than girls do, and that this affects their school performance. Two-thirds of children in special education are boys. Many of these boys have real learning disabilities. (Some are there for emotional or disciplinary reasons.) We used to call boys with learning disabilities "stupid" or "lazy." Now, we're able to focus on the areas of their brains that do not work as well as others. However, we do not have a cure for learning disabilities; they do not go away, and they are demoralizing for any boy.

The Cruising (or Good-Enough) Boy Student. These boys often feel that school is hard, and pretty boring, and that they do enough homework, and that there are other things to be interested in: girls, sports, a part-time job, cars, etc. It's not that a boy like this has a particular passion, it's just that--well, he doesn't like school all that much and doesn't see how it is related to his future.

The only ways to motivate a "cruising/good-enough" boy: 1) Continue to hold high expectations for him, and express your ideals and some sense of disappointment, or 2) Use incentives to induce him to change his priorities. (Getting a car? He must maintain a B average to drive it). Some parents react negatively to the idea of "bribes," but I call them incentives; they work in business, they work for kids.

The "Otherwise Engaged" Boy. There are boys who develop interests outside of school that are so compelling that school can no longer hold their interest. The satisfaction--not to mention the applause--that talented, athletic boys receive playing football, for example, or the sense of usefulness that other boys get from paying jobs, editing the school newspaper, being part of a band, or--gulp--computer games (or online businesses) are far greater than anything mere grades can offer them. Though it's exciting when a boy discovers a passion he wants to pursue, it can present many challenges to their parents.

The Allergic-to-School Boy. In my book, The Pressured Child, I talk about children who seem to be allergic to the school environment. There are some boys for whom the physical experience of being in a class all day, the psychological experience of having a teacher controlling everything, the frustrations of having to sit still, the humiliation of grades--or any one of a thousand annoying things about the school environment--are simply intolerable. If your boy is allergic to school in this way, it is going to be a struggle to keep him going until he finishes. He'll need teachers who understand and can work with boys who hate school without taking it personally. They have to be willing to modify homework demands and try to see the school environment through a boy's eyes--if he will let them.

Does your boy fit into one of the categories above? I welcome any ideas or questions you have about motivating boys in school.

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Once my science teacher- who me and everyone else hated- gave me a zero on a science lab about potential energy. First of all I got stuck with the most annoying group ever- a popular kid who thought he was good at everything and judged everyone based on their popularity, an aggressive girl who got in trouble a-lot but probably should have gotten in more trouble- the only reason she didn't was because she was a girl. These people were in every single class with me too. There was also this dumb kid who was in compacted math with me, he probably should have been in regular, and he made fun of my speech problem (I stutter a-lot and mispronounce things) We didn't do very well with the kinetic energy lab and then I was absent- because I didn't want to go to school and get more homework from sexist teachers who overreact to everything most boys do and underreact to everything most girls do. Fortunately though the teachers didn't like the popular kids very much, except for a couple of kids in ...more - spirit49

Grades are and I can tell you why.

Everyone tells you, "If you don't get good grades, you won't achieve anything in live"

The thing is, when they tell you about "good grades" they mean especially subjects like maths or something. The thing is, one can be really good in their theatre group, or in music, or in art and people won't see their talents. Just because don't do that well in other subjects.

A bad grade means more than a good one and this is why I hate school.

Because when people get a good grade, everyone will be like: "See, if you learn something, your effort will get paid! If you did more at home, if you learned more, you would be so much better at school."

But there are students who learn a lot. And when I say a lot, I mean horrifying much. They come home from school, they eat something and then they learn. They learn, learn, learn. It gets dark outside, it's evening. And they learn, learn, learn.

But ...more

"One B can ruin your life." I'm Indian, so everyone stereotypes and says, "Oh I'm Indian, so it is way easier for you. You don't have to work as hard to get good grades. You must love school and grades." Not true. I work so hard to get good grades and I hate it. If it was up to me, I would say screw grades, effort is what you are judged on. I know that quality of work is important, but I swear that the way they try to measure how a student's performance is flawed. Grades just add to stress, which can result in students who are very capable to look incapable on paper!

That is simply because the whole system known as school only looks good on paper. - Nanis149

Good god, the second depressing part of school. Besides having your crush taken by an ass, grades are the dramatic part and depressing part of school, I know that I'm smart, and my teacher compliments how smart I am! So what do I get for not bringing in one project? AN F.

That's right, she doesn't care how amazing my last projects were, how kind I am to her, how much work I do in class, no, I forget one project, (a pointless one) and now I'm going to have to pay the rest of my life for it. Grades push me and push me where they even pull my parents into this, so they'll argue and yell day after day, my life would be ruined because one teacher decided to be an ass.

God, what could be worse than getting worse than expected? It gives you an uncomfortable burning feeling.

It's hard to get good grades, and the pressure applied on you by the adults in your life makes it even worse. All the punishments for getting bad grades only add to the stress, and that can in turn make your grades worse. Counterintuitive, no? In addition, most universities won't accept you with lower than a B average, and to get into some of the really good (but bloody expensive) colleges, you need a 3.8 GPA or higher! Not everybody can get A's in every class, people. But they think you can and expect you to, oblivious of the fact that we have weaknesses and we have bad days too.

A very close second goes to popular girls. In 7th-8th grade a popular girl played with my heart for 14 months and the whole group basically picked on me for their amusement all through eighth grade. And they wouldn't get in trouble for reciting George Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words" routine when I got written up for telling a kid to shut up.

Grades completely ruin the point of school, school is about getting an education and learning things that'll help out in real life, but grades ruin it. Grades make it so kids don't actually learn important information like taxes and mortgages, it's only about if the kids get a good grade or not, and parents and teachers insult if you don't get a good grade. How it should work is that students should not be given time restraints and a bad grade, it should take as long or short as the student needs in order to succeed the lesson.

I think this is one of the most stressfull things about school. I got one bad grade because I was missing one paper! And the rest were 100 and 70! And the teacher will call my parents! Everyday I wake up not wanting to go to school. I label it "The Stressful, frustrating place I have to go to everyday". I think this and I am only in 6th grade so I am sorry for older people that have to deal with basically hell. And the worst part is that I get bullied, teased and humiliated by a bunch of kids and almost every kid makes me feel insecure and un-welcome. I haven' t talked to my parents about this but I have gotten through rough deep depression starting the first month of Middle School...

Seriously, grades are why kids get so stressed out, and to add more stress, bad grades happen if you don't do well and the teachers say you need to stay after school and make up these grades. Teachers need to learn that everyone has trouble in some subjects, but school teaches us in a way that they're trying to make us experts in everything. We're not superman you know, so why try to cram everything into our heads? We can't learn every single part of every subject. Grades are the most stressful part of school

My grades are okay, but I have to try hard for that. If I fail a test, I never hear the end of it. School already makes my life miserable, now when I do bad they have to rub it in my face. I will spend hours crying because I'm stressed or ashamed, or just plain frustrated or have anxiety. This shouldn't be the case, if we are really supposed to enjoy being young, then grades need to be out if the picture so we are just there to learn.

Number one stress factor for me, dude. I have anxiety issues and worrying about my grades won't make it better. I study for hours on end and it is seriously a pain. People are always boasting on how smart they are and how they are going to Harvard or Yale. Ugh! This society is screwed! - ShadowSwashy

Personally I think kids hate grades, not because they have to put in effort but because their is so much expectation and pressure on kids not only from their teacher and parents but it is then driven into them. I think people hate school because they are expected to achieve, yes that makes sense but they are pushed to much which makes them feel like failures. Also grades are used as a way of determining success, and it can be very down heartening and embarrassing when they see other kids achieving whilst they are not.

In our school they rank us and then it turns into a big competition. I could be ranked #2 out of 1000 people in my school and I would still be stressed out because I'm not #1 or because somebody might pass me... and then it stresses you out because you know your future depends on this and then it just really stresses me out.

There's no such thing as a "good grade" either. A 99 is pretty much a 0 if everybody else gets a 100. I hate the whole competition and lack of privacy with grades it's horrifying.

In short; grades are an unfair measurement of the ability, intellect and potential a student has. A student's performance in class may be exemplary, however their grades and tests, which are supposed to summarize the students performance in class, prove otherwise. So all that colleges will observe in a student will be their fabricated performance based off of exams that were taken in less that an hour rather than their overall achievements in a span of more than a decade.

It's hardly even practical anymore! Its just endless competition that keeps escalating until the expectations become too much, and a kid just can't handle that. We know how to do well on tests, and cram, and guess educationally. None of that is truly learning. It used to work, but it's a failed system now... - keycha1n

Our faculty told us a story once about how the school was implementing a new policy to help kids de-stress, and one of the kids raised their hand and said "Stop trying to get us to have fun. We aren't here to have fun. We're here to get an education so we can go to a good college."

She said it was one of the most disheartening things she had heard in her career and in my opinion, exemplifies everything wrong with what we put our children through. - keycha1n

Grades stress everyone out and makes them think that they are not "good enough." getting a bad grade on a test you studied all night for, can instantly put you in a nasty mood, and lower your self esteem. trust me, I've been there. never have too high expectations, because if you didn't get what you expected, you will probably stress out even more.

I dislike grades also. Although I do well in school, I have to put in so much effort and it is so stressing. The worst part is that everyone obsessed about your grades and that some kids even judge you based on your grades. I understand that grades are important for getting a good job, but now grades are too important as they are more important then spending family time, going outside, playing video games, and having fun.

This is what I hate the most. The grades take away the whole point of being in school. If I come here to learn that is what I came here to do. Just give me the information and let me retain it for my future. Like a number will ever define me. I know that I am intelligent. I don't need a number to tell me so. I want to be a model and a chef any way. Grades just determine how much your parents get to punish and threaten you.

It is just unexplainable the amount of pressure and fear grades provide. If I get a bad grade, my parents won't be happy. They'll be angry and say I'm not trying hard enough WHEN I AM! They don't even pay attention to my great effort grades. If you don't do well on quizzes, homework, tests and EXAMS, it will go on your record and it will be represented in your grade. It's just a huge amount of UNNECESSARY PRESSURE! - davakoh

School Sucks mainly for this reason, I mean, I had straight A's, then my science teacher says that I forgot to turn something in, turning my A to a C in Science. I mean, really!? What is the point of grades anyway, I mean, its not like we get grades in real life!?!?

I'm legit top 10 in my junior class rn and it has 170 students, but I hate everything about school because grades are the most pointless ever. You have to study incessantly for that YOU DO NOT CARE ABOUT, WILL NEVER USE, AND NEEDLESSLY STRESSES YOU OUT. We are NOT using rational functions in the real world, we are NOT using our knowledge on the plate movements of the Earth in the real world, and for Christs sake I could write pages of worthless we won't use that we learned from school if I tried hard enough. Like I see all these tryhards studying during lunch or and they VOLUNTARILY study together in groups like what is wrong with these people. Get a life enjoy it while you effing can like how molded can u be into the "good citizen" cookie cutter template. Like I know for a fact I'm not using any of the crap in school except for math because I want to be an animator or graphic artist. Like seriously Digital media classes are the ONLY thing (besides math u need that for ...more

I get good grades because I'm pressured into doing so with the threat of not hanging out with my friends... I would probably get reasonably good grades either way(sorry if that sounded conceited), in fact, all teens might if they weren't pressured into it! Hell, sometimes I want to fail a test because I'm just so damn tired and stressed and pressured! (Excuse my French) I know kids who get bad grades just because they can't put up with the stress, and kids who get bad grades to be rebels because they just FEEL stressed.

Our self worth is tested by grades. If you get an A+, perfect, you are going to do well in life. If D, then you are a failure and you are going to end on the street. Even bright and hard working people don't get what they deserve. Many famous personalities have got bad grades in school, but are doing very well for themselves and are respected, rich etc. Whoa. - JurassicJonesBink

I hate grades because I suck at math and when my parents see my math grade is crappy they seem to think disconnecting me from my only to talk to my friends because my best moved to where I live then moved back to where was moving from and the only to talk him is on Xbox so if my parents think not letting me talk to him is smart well it's not

They should grade us on how hard we work because some of use just don't get it and we're absolutely terrible anyone want to grade the damn teacher on their teaching? Like once I got a zero on something because I didn't complete the problem how the teacher showed yet I still got the correct answer grading sucks

This is my theory on why teens these days are smoking cigarettes, because they're so stressed out over grades


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