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Sleep Problems and Poor Academic Performance

Hi Mark,

It has been a while since I have been able to get to my “social” emails. My life has been full of change over the past four months. Two of which I believe have had a very positive influence on my now, sort of, in control teenager. I took my son (15yrs) overseas to meet his Italian family he had never met and when we got back I sold the house I had bought from my X and moved to a new town house. Should have done this when we divorced two years ago. Now my kids and I can start over. I stayed, thinking it would give them some stability through the divorce. I was wrong – it had too many memories for them.

Your book made a huge difference in my life as it gave me the tools to start the process. I must admit it wasn’t easy doing it on my own and I did fall off the rails a few times, but I seem to have mastered the poker face bit and it does work. I now get accused of be hard and not care any more. Well I know this isn’t true but it certainly does make for less arguments and more acceptance on my son’s behalf in the end. Your guidelines gave me what I needed to take charge of our lives.

The only problem I still seem to be battling with is that my son as lazy as they come and although he has started doing bits at home I can’t seem to motivate him in his school work and this past year has been a total loss. I have put him in a home schooling environment in which he is much happier but he brought home a very bad report. I know he did not study at all for any of the exams so I was actually surprised that there were even digits on the report, but he seems to have good intentions when we talk about it and then just doesn’t produce. He disrupts the class, sleeps in class (he has bad sleeping pattern which I can’t control as he gets up after I’m in bed and arguments or even discussions where he agree with me don’t help on this) he doesn’t hand in work in other words does less than as little as possible. Unfortunately his father is an alcoholic, so he is of no help, as my son doesn’t respect him at all and in fact lands up being his father instead.

What I have told him now is that he has the first three months of next year to prove to me that he wants an education which means he must put in the effort it takes and produce results or he will no longer be going to school and will have to go into the working world. I am tired of carting him around and giving him all the opportunities and he just won’t take the responsibility. Do you have any advice on what would work for this?

Thanks for your support.

Have a peaceful Xmas and a fruitful new year,



Hi L.,

It was great to hear from you. It sounds like most things are on a good track.

I hear two significant issues in your email: (1) poor academic performance and (2) poor sleep pattern. Let’s look at each in turn:

Re: poor academic performance—

Unfortunately, you can't motivate your son to perform well in school (unless you receive a miracle)! Do yourself a big favor and get out of the business of playing principle, vice-principle, dean, school counselor, teacher, etc. It's not your job - school is your son's job.If he were working at McDonald's, for example, you wouldn't show-up there to see whether or not he was putting the pickle between the top bun and the beef patty, that he was frying the fries at the right temperature, that he was putting the right amount of ice in the cups, etc. You would know that your son's performance - or lack thereof - is between he and his boss. And if he gets fired - it's all on him.

The same holds true for school. What goes on there is between your son and his boss - the teacher.If the problem is behavioral, that falls in your court. If the problem is poor academic performance however, that should be the teacher's concern alone.I know teachers will want to recruit you to help them with their job (e.g., check that homework, sign this slip, etc.). (Your garbage man would appreciate it if you got out of bed at 5:00 in the morning, put on your robe, and went out to the curb to help him load your trash in his truck, too.)

Simply say to the teacher, "Poor academic performance is a significant source of tension in my home ...I'm not going to monitor it anymore. If he's misbehaving - call me. Otherwise, his poor performance is his problem."The more you take responsibility for your son's academics, the less responsibility he will take. The problem is an ownership problem. Let go of ownership of your son’s education. No more nagging about homework. No more asking about assignments. This problem belongs to your son. When you give up ownership, your son will have to make a choice - he'll have to decide if he will or will not accept ownership of his schoolwork. And he'll lose the power of pushing your education buttons, to frustrate and worry you.Out-of-control kids intentionally get low grades to push their parents’ buttons.

Often parents are in a never-ending cycle of their kid’s sabotage. Since parents are continuously telling their kids how important grades are, their kids use this information to anger them. The more parents try, the less out-of-control kids work.Many people who are successful in life performed poorly in school. Remember your high school reunion, and remember the people you never expected to do well -- but did. Your son is not going to end up sitting on the street corner with a tin can waiting for coins to be handed him from sympathetic passersby. Get rid of the fear that poor school performance will damage his future. When he decides it's time to succeed, he will. I've never meet a kid yet that didn't realize - at some point - that he at least needed to get some form of education.

Re: poor sleep pattern—

1st - Try to maintain his sleep routine by not allowing him to stay UP too late -- and sleep IN too late the following morning -- on the weekends. An extra hour or two is fine, but any more than that will throw his sleep cycle out-of-whack for the rest of the week. Also, make sure that he's not staying up extra late in his room after you think he's gone to bed.

2nd - If he as a computer or TV in his bedroom, take them out of there! Make his room as boring as possible.

3rd - Establish a consequence for NOT getting ready on time (e.g., must go to bed an hour earlier; cannot have any friends over on the weekend, etc.). And establish incentives for getting up on time (e.g., can have pizza Friday evening, can go to a Saturday afternoon movie with a friend). You get the idea – be creative!

4th – In the morning, tell him – ONLY ONE TIME – “it is time to get up,” then make a very Very VEry VERy VERY load noise that startles him. Slam his door, smack the door with the palm of your hand, drop something heavy on the floor, yell “YEEEEHHAAAAAWWWWWW” – you get the idea. This will get his blood pressure up which will make it very difficult to settle back into alpha (warning: expect him to pretend that you did not startled him and that this strategy has no effect). I know this may seem like a ridiculous strategy, but it works. After several mornings of this, he will tend to not dawdle as much.

5th – Finally, use the strategy in the ebook: “When You Want Something From Your Kid” (in the Anger Management section of the online version of the ebook).

Here’s to a better home environment,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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