Picking up on my anguish, with his ever-sympathetic eye, Harold Jarche sent me a link to this site, which addresses the issue of bright boys whose scholastic results don't reflect this.
I homed in on the section titled 'Tips for parents', which I'd like to reproduce here, verbatim, for the benefit of other parents in similar situations, with a thinking out loud reaction to each:
- Ask your boy, “How was your day?” Do it every day, and of course listen to his response. If you get too short a response for two days in a row, ask a follow up question. Do not always inquire about homework or school as the only area of concern.
Check. I do this every day in the car on the way home, and at various other moments when the context is right.
- Every day, tell your boy, “You are a good kid.”
Check. Several times a day. Together with "I'm proud of you, you know."
- Allow and encourage computer work. Instead of saying “playing on the computer” ask your boy “what are you working on your computer.”
Check. Except my son appears to have developed an addiction to a particular game and times supposedly allocated to work often wind up being spent in the game instead. We're pretty flexible on the subject of Internet access, social media and computer usage in general, but we've had to put a ban on this game - it was taking up every waking moment!
- Minimize punishment for behavior that does not hurt others.
Check. But we also point out how it might hurt him. At 17, he needs to start swallowing the 'big boy pill' and facing up to reality.
- Give him $10. Immediate, unexpected reward is great reinforcement.
No. No. And thrice no. I will not bribe my children to produce what they're perfectly capable of. If he's not prepared to do something because it's important to him, bribery isn't going to change that, and it will send him all the wrong messages.
- Advocate for your boy. It is important for your boy to know you are supportive and willing to help.
Check. But he must not abuse this knowledge. When he has misrepresented the situation to me and I am left defending a position on a false premise, I become incandescent. I will not tolerate dissembling. My view is that when you screw up, you man up.
- Talk to teachers. Engage with teachers as often as you need to.
Check. And this isn't always easy.
- Talk to your doctor, and get a second opinion if you feel it is warranted, on medicine. This is not medical advice, nor advocating medicine.
Ha! On the NHS? Don't make me laugh.
- Guys are critical. Dads, older brothers, male supervisors at work, help your boy have a male role model. Guys don’t need to do a lot, they just need to do and say a little and it goes a long ways. Talk to your husband/companion about a few positive things to do or say. Explain the ‘deal’ with boys (neurology).
Hmm. This point seems to presuppose that only mothers are reading this article. Interesting. My husband is pretty good at this - it is something for which he been commended on many occasions by other dads.
- Explore alternatives to your current school. Not every situation is right for everyone. Explore other public schools, virtual schools, home schooling, tutoring.
Worth considering. Sadly, a virtual school would require a higher level of self-discipline than he possesses, home schooling is out, since I work and tutoring is very pricy. Nevertheless, it is an option we're considering. We might also have to consider another school. The school he attends at the moment is very highly regarded, but he just doesn't seem to be a very good fit with its ethos. This is not a new scenario to me. In fact, it takes me back 30 years to my own high school years!
- Talk to school counselors. If you get a good school counselor, use her or him when you need to. They can be a positive help in working with teachers.
Good point. Need to get on this right away.
- Ask about modifications. Changing a teacher, course subject, day or time. Just as your boy has a certain learning style, a teacher has a given teaching style. Not every teacher can respond to every student. So see if you have options.
Sadly, this is not an option. I say sadly, because there is at least one teacher who has pigeonholed my son in the 'naughty boy' slot and will not acknowledge anything he does at all.
- Talk to other parents. It helps.
Check. But I find other parents in this school are totally married to traditional mores. I find parents in the blogosphere far more informed and helpful.
- Let your boy know what is up with Smart Boys, Bad Grades. It’s not an excuse, but it is a reality. Go with your hunch. As a parent, you know the most about your boy.
Check. He also knows that my own grades in high school were little better than mediocre, even though much was expected of me. He knows that school isn't his last shot at it, but he also knows that later shots at it will be undertaken under far less conducive circumstances. It's tough trying to get your degree while earning a living and raising a family - ask me, I know!