Can you make teens achieve if they don’t want to?

In another story that just depresses me: A Tampa mom made her son wear a sign announcing his 1.22 GPA.  (With this story and the judge story, I feel like going back to bed and repeating “Find a happy place. Find a happy place!”.)

Here’s the background in case you missed it:

The Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. — A Tampa mother is defending her decision to stick her teenage son on a street corner with a sign that says, among other things, “GPA 1.22 … honk if I need education.”

Ronda Holder says she and the boy’s father have tried everything to get their 15-year-old to shape up academically. They’ve offered help, asked to see homework, grounded, lectured him and confiscated his cell phone. James Mond III’s indifference at a school meeting last week was the final straw. The next day, Holder made the sign and made her son wear it for nearly four hours.

Experts criticized the move as humiliating and ineffective, and someone reported Holder to the Department of Children and Families.

Holder insists she’s fighting for her child’s education.

I totally appreciate her frustration, and I’m not sure how you make a teenager do well in school if they don’t want to. I am very interested to hear from our parents with older teens about how much control you can have and what you do if they are failing school?

A lot of books talk about natural consequences – do you just let them fail and when they don’t graduate and are working fast food will they then figure it out? Or do you let them fail at smaller things so they’ll want to achieve the bigger stuff?

How do you make a 16-year-old, 17-year-old study? (Take away the car?) Or was that battle lost long before that age? Did this mom do anything that the state should step in on?

39 comments Add your comment


February 22nd, 2011
1:21 pm

Well, I feel like a lot of this story is missing. The parents say they’ve offered “help” but I can’t find examples of the help they’re talking about -tutoring, counseling, what? Surely they have asked him simply, “Why? Why don’t you want to do well in school or why aren’t you at least trying to pass your classes?” I certainly hope they’ve asked him that. I also hope they’ve had a sit down with the boy and the school counselor and his teachers. IF they’ve done all of those things, then they need to look at something other than a punitive approach, because it’s clear he doesn’t care about that. They need to work on getting to the bottom of WHY he either doesn’t care, or the more likely answer -why is he exerting this control over them to the detriment of himself? Either the kid is pathologically lazy (and I’m not discounting that -those folks exist) or he sees this as something that drives his parents nuts, but that he has control over. They need to examine their relationship with him and their approach. Perhaps mom and dad are a bit helicopterish and Jr. is tired of every single little decision being made for him. Since we don’t have all of the background -who knows? Ultimately they need to hand this problem back to him and ask him what he plans to do to solve it. He obviously knows where flunking out will lead him -no graduation, few job options, no college, etc. They may want to give him the choice of 3 or 4 different jobs he can choose from that will be his options if he never graduates or gets any post-high school training/college. At his age though -backing off and letting this be HIS problem is probably going to be key. I get the feeling he’s had every problem solved for him in the past, so just by doing that alone they may see a surprising upswing in the GPA. And yes, I’m a great believer in failing and learning lessons from poor decisions when very young instead of when you hit high school and beyond and it can REALLY hurt you, but they obviously haven’t done that.

What she did is humiliating, but not a matter for CPS/DFACS. She taught him nothing by doing it except that if this is indeed a control battle -he is winning and a little humiliation is probably a very small price for him to pay at this point. The key is in her statement that SHE is fighting for her son’s education when it should be HIM “fighting” (at least trying or striving) for his own education. You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink -and he may be so stubborn and determined to control something in his life that he dies of thirst.

[...] Can you make teens achieve if they don't want to?Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)(With this story and the judge story, I feel like going back to bed and repeating ?Find a happy place. Find a happy place!?.) The Associated Press TAMPA, Fla. ? A Tampa mother is defending her decision to stick her teenage son on a street corner with a …and more » [...]

Longtime Educator

February 22nd, 2011
1:35 pm

I am always puzzled as to how situations with kids reach this point. I was by no means a perfect parent. I was a full time working mom so my husband and I did the best we could to be involved in our kids’ lives and keep communication open. Since we were both in education (elementary and university level), we had high expectations but not unreasonable ones. We did not expect straight A’s but we did expect their best effort. Both of my kids got part time jobs at the age of 15 and balanced work, school, and school activities (marching band consumes a LOT of time!). Neither of my kids ever gave us major problems (though the boy did have his moments!). So many children these days seem to have little purpose in life and give very little effort at anything. I’m retired after 33 years in the classroom but I still sub, and I can’t believe how disinterested elementary aged children are about school and learning. That’s just sad! If we’ve lost them at such a young age, how can we expect them to care later? So, you have to wonder…is it today’s American culture as a whole (entitlement, quest for things, given too much too early), lack of faith and family ties (dinner together at the table, going to church, learning manners and civility, actually engaging in conversation), or the hopelessness in America these days with such a bad economy and lack of jobs that young people don’t see any hope for themselves and their future? It seems like the harder we try to “improve” education, the worse things get. I have no magical answers but we have to wonder, how did we get here, and how do we turn it around?

Longtime Educator

February 22nd, 2011
1:39 pm

@JATL, you certainly did a better job of replying to the questions at hand. You have very valid thoughts and questions, and we don’t know enough about the situation. My long ramblings were thoughts I’ve had for a while and this article seemed to unleash them!!

TnT's Mom

February 22nd, 2011
1:59 pm

I have a 17 yo about to graduate. He has struggled with school his entire high school career. He is graduating with an overall B average, but not in HOPE classes. He is attending college. He is a smart kid, he scored well on the SAT, but doens’t like homework. We fought with him through last year, taking away phone, tv, priviledges and all sorts of other chores and punishments. Noting worked. We finally gave up and let him learn the consequences on his own. He will now have student loans to pay for school instead of HOPE.

Now, his younger brother who is in 7th grade has watched all of this for the past 4 years and is behaving very differently. I think he saw the stuff his brother went through, being yelled at and etc…. he doesn’t want that to happen to him.


February 22nd, 2011
2:06 pm

If a parent waits until the kid is a teenager to do something the battle has already been lost.


February 22nd, 2011
2:18 pm

I was going to comment, but JATL took everything and more right out of my brain.
Great post and spot on true.


February 22nd, 2011
2:22 pm

Even if you DO something before that, kids are not little pieces of software that can be programmed to achieve. They have natural talents and deficiencies all on their own, as do parents, and teachers, and schools.

I’ve been struggling with my kid since second grade and she’s now a high school freshman. What finally seems to be getting through is the concept that she is extremely weak in executive skills, like organizing and memory (tell me another reason why a kid will do homework without complaint — I’ve checked it — and then NOT turn it in??!!?). So a certain amount of so-called “helicoptering” is necessary, because if you fail too often at something, the lesson you learn is that it’s stupid to keep practicing failure.


February 22nd, 2011
2:26 pm

The problem is that the MOM wants the good grades — the child couldn’t care less. There’s a lot more to this story than meets the eye, because this kid is hip-deep in passive-aggressive rebellion.

In my house, he would not be getting his driver’s license. His cell phone and computer privileges would be defunct, and his video games and TV privileges would be non-existent until his grades come up. At least, that’s what would have happened in my house — not that it ever did.

On the other hand, maybe he’s just one of those kids for whom traditional academics are a no-go. Fine. Stop beating a dead horse and change tactics. What’s the saying: “If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.” So change tactics. Find him a good vo-tech program and teach him how to be a mechanic or a computer network designer, etc. Maybe he’s artistic and is only interest in graphic arts. Maybe he had a learning disability that hasn’t been diagnosed. And maybe he’s just one of those people who have to go through life learning things the hard way.

We don’t know, but I guarantee you there’s a lot more to the story than just a GPA.


February 22nd, 2011
2:38 pm

I see this everyday as a high school teacher. Parent who are more willing to fight for their children’s grades (or flat out ask for them) and the students are content to let the parents fight for them.

I’m only 27, so I’m actually still teaching a lot of the kids that were part of my generation and it’s amazing to see the difference between my mom’s style and the style of those parents I see today. If I made a bad grade on something my mother asked me what I did wrong and what was I going to do to fix it! She also told me that she’d give me enough rope to hang myself with but that she’d let me “hang” a few minutes before she’d reel me back in if I needed help!

A lot of the parents I see today (those that are involved) fight when their kids aren’t willing too. I’ve told parents before that we can only take a child so far down a path while they are dragging their feet.

I applaud what this mom did. Sometimes, when everything PC has failed, the only route to go involves the harsh truth. Hopefully it will awaken something in this kid and he will atleast take some interest in his own future.


February 22nd, 2011
2:39 pm

Good response JATL.

I have a teenager and we gave her everything she needed to succeed. Good home, school, church, tutoring, chores, etc. However, the choice was hers. Her grades started falling in the 11th grade. We took the phone, tv etc. No drug, alcohol, etc problems. We have always parented. She just started smelling herself as my grandmother would say.

Now, she didn’t get into the colleges of her choice b/c of her decisions. NOT OUR FAULT. She has to pay tuition (in the form of loans) and we will pay room and board. Now she is beginning to see what we were talking about.

I am not depressed by the story. The mother hasn’t violated any laws.

Doom and Gloom

February 22nd, 2011
2:58 pm

Can you make teens achieve if they don’t want to?



February 22nd, 2011
2:59 pm

You start to lose the battle at 18 months. From then on, you can still salvage it for a while, but there comes a point at which, since you have never established authority and respect in your child, you have lost for good. MAYBE they will see the error of their ways before they end up in legal trouble; maybe not.

I am not depressed by the story.

I can sympathize

February 22nd, 2011
3:02 pm

While I hate to hear of a situation reaching this stage, I can really sympathize with where this Mom is. Our son is bright and capable, but when he was in high school he didn’t perform in school. He said he wanted to live for today and not worry about tomorrow. Would that we all could! Unfortunately, as parents my husband and I knew he had to think about tomorrow – college, career etc. We tried the carrot and the stick, we had him tested we went to counseling and to multiple intelligences sessions – nothing worked. He told the counselor there was nothing we could do to make him work in school – no matter what he did we would feed and clothe him and he knew that. Can you imagine how frustrating it is to watch a child going through a phase like this? If the thought had occurred to me, I might have done the same thing this Tampa mom did. She is trying to find something that will motivate her son to perform enough not to cause himself harm in the future.

Fortunately, one of the counselors told us to stop…stop trying to keep him from failing; stop trying to insulate him from the natural consequences of his actions. It took a lot for us to do that – and we are lucky it worked fairly quickly. We set structures, but allowed him to decide what he did within the structure. Not all kids will respond the same way, but our son did. He graduated with the Hope scholarship, finished college in 4 years and is now employed! We had a happy ending, but I wasn’t always sure it would turn out that way.

BEND OVER -Here Comes the Change

February 22nd, 2011
3:19 pm

You can if you start being their parent instead of trying to be their “Friend”.


February 22nd, 2011
3:26 pm

So you’re saying don’t be their friend instead be their parent?

I swear I think I’ve seen that somewhere before….frequently….like as the answer to almost every problem ever put out on this blog.

Old Sandra but with a new carpet

February 22nd, 2011
3:44 pm

A lot of teenagers live for today because they can’t see tomorrow. That is why so many of them take risks. It could be at school, in a car, with alcohol/ sex/ drugs, on the internet or while crossing a road/ train tracks. Most parents can see where it is/can all leading to as we have all been there. But that is a case of 20/20 hindsight. If my memory isn’t faulty from old age :-), I wasn’t that interested in the future when I was a teen and couldn’t see at that time what a good education would give me. My parents could and now I can when it comes to my kids. I do expect that, just like I did, my kids to come to us when they are adults and say, “Mom and Dad, I now understand what you both were trying to do and I am sorry for the times I was a pain in the rear end.”


February 22nd, 2011
3:48 pm


I must take credit for coining that phrase, not just here but wherever you hear it. I know it was a stroke of genius.
Please send your cash only donation to my PO Box for more shaggyisms. I am both cheap and brilliant. I think a $100 or $150 “donation” per shaggyism should cover it ;)

@I can sympathize..

February 22nd, 2011
3:54 pm

We have a similar problem with out daughter. After many years of counseling, worry and stress. I have finally come to accept she is just a child that will need to learn the hard way.

She is now attending a local college, living at home, she just missed getting HOPE. She tried to convience us to let her go away to school next semester. Not on my dime, she is more than welcome to move out, in fact I’d help her pack, but I refuse to support her.


February 22nd, 2011
4:06 pm

I think the first thing adults need to recognize is that kids do not have hindsight and do not realize where a lack of education will lead them. Secondly, kids do depend on the adults to motivate them. How to motivate them, though, sometimes must be innovative. When a boy I know began to let things slip, his parents changed his environment. They had him retested for gifted (turned out he wasn’t motivated the first time he took the tests), changed his church environment to one that was more discussion-based rather than “rule-oriented,” and encouraged more service projects and history travel for the whole family. He ended up graduating high school with enough credits to pass his first year of college and has his doctorate planned. Would this method work for everybody? Of course not. But tailoring an education to a child may work much better than attempting to force a child into one educational method.


February 22nd, 2011
4:07 pm

I live this every day. I have 3 teens. Same parents, expectations and upbringing. Two will do anything and everything to succeed. The 3rd will not put forth more than minimum effort. When a teacher calls to tell me that he hasn’t turned in something I thank her for her concern. Then tell her that at 17 there is little I can do other than take away the cellphone, driving privileges, etc. Which we do. If he does not turn in the work, I ask her to implement the natural school consequence of a zero. If he fails the class, he will need to repeat the class in summer school.

Like the mother in this article, he is very capable, just not at all interested in school. And as my husband says, he can’t see further than the end of his nose despite all of our efforts.

So for all of you who haven’t dealt with a child like this, it is easy to say you would never “let” your child do this. The reality is far different. You cannot force a student to try or do the work.

Old Sandra but with a new carpet

February 22nd, 2011
4:09 pm

My husband and I have talked about when the kids move out of the house and we have come to the conclusion that we will miss them. We love our kids because they are our kids but we also like them as people.


February 22nd, 2011
4:29 pm

I looked the story up in the FL paper. The child said prior to DCF coming to talk to him he had already agreed to get tutoring, to start doing his homework, and to do what was necessary to not have to wear the sign or be embarassed.

I say GOOD JOB MOM!!!! There should be more folks like her in the world. The child would be a lot more embarassed to be at the Men’s Shelter or something.

Why on earth would this send you back to bed TWG?

This Mom should be given a medal of honor in parenting.


February 22nd, 2011
4:29 pm

BTW the AP story missed that was on the AJC yesterday was crap…he missed alot of the details.


February 22nd, 2011
4:33 pm


February 22nd, 2011
4:34 pm

“”She was trying to teach me a lesson,” he said. “I should have been working harder than I was in school.”

He pledged to improve his grades if it freed him from the sign.

The principal said “he is a really sweet boy,” said Linda Cobbe, a spokeswoman for the Hillsborough County School District.

People might wonder if James has a learning disability. He has never been tested, his mother said. Until the middle of seventh grade, his grades were fine.

On Thursday, amid attention over the sign, she got a letter from her son’s history teacher claiming his grades are improving. He got a D on his last report card, she said.” (tampa bay)

Mom of older kids

February 22nd, 2011
4:39 pm

I would like advice from others about what to do when you take the cell phone, tv, computer away and then you are afraid for you life and your house because your teenager gets violent. We have been to YEARS of therpy, he lived at Eagle Ranch for 3 years, have all different kinds of med. combos and nothing works.

What do you do then?

Sad Grandfather

February 22nd, 2011
4:44 pm

My grandson was/is this same boy. His parents moved from the town where he was born when he was in the 7th grade and he never got over it. His good grades went to horrible once in his new school without the friends he had known and gone to school with before the fateful move. My son and daughter-in-law stayed on his case 24/7 and there was not one ounce of difference in his wanting to learn and better his grades. Due to trouble he got into his senior year of high school, he was kicked out of school and finally did get his GED diploma a full year later than he should have. During the “I don’t give a $hit phase”, he got into more trouble and is now in a State Correctional Center. Even though he tells everyone that he’s learned his lesson, I don’t know what kind of job he will ever be able to get now that he has a felony record. He will celebrate his 20th birthday in June, with the promise of a long life in front of him, yet he’ll never be able to support himself nor a family because of his reckless, stubborn and lazy life style from his 13th year of life through his18th. I as his grandfather am in contact with him on a weekly basis and still see his laziness shining through. He, to this day, still thinks he has the world fooled and he has fooled no one but himself.


February 22nd, 2011
4:58 pm

I just have one question for all the so-called experts who said this mom’s approach was damaging: where will you and all your opinions be when this kid is still lving at home at 30 because the only job he can get is flipping burgers for minimum wage? Yeah, that’s what I thought.


February 22nd, 2011
5:07 pm

Mom to older: how old are we talking about? It matters. If you tell me 15-16, I would consider placing him in some troubled youth facility (yes, again). At 17-18, sorry he doesn’t get to live in my house. We are done.

I have lived in fear from an SO before and I will be DAMNED if it will ever happen again, either with spouse, child, parent, or what have you.


February 22nd, 2011
5:08 pm

Kat: you said girl. Whatever has happened before, this mom is trying! I applaud her for that since if we were to wait any longer, you can be sure it would be OUR problem (jail, welfare, etc)


February 22nd, 2011
5:12 pm

@FCM -thanks for the link! I was a little surprised that the AP story gave so few details!

@shaggy -thanks -or should I be warped now that I’ve extracted something from your mind?

@LWA -thanks -and Longtime Educator -what you say is so true! I really see a disconnect with a lot of parents my age and younger (40 down into 20s) and their very young children. Many seem to put little or no value on education and school or the importance of it all, and therefore their kids don’t either.


February 22nd, 2011
5:14 pm

What I don’t “get” is how this mom was able to MAKE her son stand out in public with a sign of humiliation around his neck for 4 HOURS, yet all the other things she said she TRIED TO MAKE him do never worked!

Something tells me we aren’t getting the whole story. Better late than never? How about too little, too late! You have to be a parent EVERY DAY, not just on bad days.


February 22nd, 2011
5:57 pm

Until you walk in her shoes……we have a son who “doesn’t care”. Doesn’t care about school or homework. We have taken all priviledges away, doesn’t help. Got him tutoring help. He still “doesn’t care”. School is hard for him, he has learning disabilities, but he is fully capable of getting B’s.

I don’t know if I would do that, but if it changed his attitude it would be worth it. It is always easy to criticize when you are looking in the window, rather than having to live it daily.

Enemas for Christ

February 22nd, 2011
9:59 pm

Let the word of Christ be his guide.


February 22nd, 2011
10:12 pm

I’ve continually asked people, how do you motivate a child who is NOT self motivated? You can only take away privileges or give external rewards which works great when he/she is young but at some point the kid has to have some internal motivation or initiative. My son has none. He makes half-decent grades so that I don’t take every privilege away or he’ll perform well in order to receive some reward but it’s not because he wants to get good grades or cares about his education; it’s simply b/c of the consequences we impose. I can only hope that at some point he’ll see the value in working hard and putting forth effort (maybe a pay check will be motivation???)

Longtime Educator

February 22nd, 2011
11:26 pm

I never “rewarded” my kids with things for good grades. Since one child was brighter than the other and constantly made straight A’s, we praised their hard work that resulted in good grades. Usually we had a report card celebration and the kids chose which restaurant we would go to for the celebration. Thankfully, they often chose something like Chili’s or some Italian restaurant that was affordable!


February 23rd, 2011
9:04 am


shoot him full of JESUSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


February 23rd, 2011
12:24 pm

Be clear…SHE is not fighting for the grades…at no time has she said he got a grade he did not deserve. SHE is trying to get it through his skull that he needs to come to the plate and do the work. SHE is trying to get his attention that his refusal to do the work is the issue. In essence SHE is trying to make him care.

That is why I support her.