Why is my teen slacking in studies

My 14-year-old son, now in class IX, was very academically inclined and performed above average until class VII. Last year though, he became tardy and does only last-minute study, his average exam score has come down to 50 percent. Please advise. — Benetta Lobo, Bangalore

Adolescence is a period of intense physical and psychological change, a time when children are developing self-identity. Because of a flood of physical-psychological changes, an emotionally charged brain finds risk-taking rewarding. The role of parents is to support their children through this turbulent phase. To support him in his studies, I recommend that together with your son, set a study time table and draw up academic goals. It’s important that you do this together so he is less likely to feel overwhelmed or rebel. Supplement this with lifestyle changes, including a healthy diet and regular exercise to help balance the hormonal fluctuations that affect learning and behaviour in adolescents. 

Moreover it’s vital that you spend quality time with your son in a non-threatening, non-judgemental and non-interfering environment. You need to be supportive but firm — a parent, not friend without boundaries. Listen to his point of view so mutually acceptable solutions can be worked out. 

My nine-year-old is scared to venture into another room in the house to the extent that he asks his eight-year-old sister to accompany him. Otherwise he is an extrovert and makes friends easily. How do I help him overcome this fear? — Vanitha A, Chennai

Fear of darkness is one of the most common fears in children. His ability to communicate with others is in no way connected with his fear of darkness, neither is it going to change because his sister is bold and unafraid. We all develop phobias at different times in our lives. Leaving on a night lamp/ low-voltage LED or gifting him a torch to shine the way as he walks into a room, may help. Simultaneously, make help him feel empowered to change the apprehended outcome instead of expecting him to suddenly overcome his fear of darkness. If he becomes confident that he can control possible outcomes, it will be easier for him to overcome his fear of darkness. 

My eight-year-old daughter is uncomfortable in crowds, including family gatherings. This could be because her elder brother is light complexioned, while she is darker skinned. Relatives tend to harp on this difference, so she shies away from family gatherings. At school too, her friends compare her complexion with her brother’s. I want her to feel confident and proud of her skin tone. Please advise  — Bindu Cherian, Chennai

There is no quick-fix solution to your problem. The notion that beauty is synonymous with light complexion is deeply ingrained in the psyche of the entire nation. Lecturing her about inner beauty is unlikely to help. On the contrary it may make her feel like an object of pity and negative messages could become louder. As her mother your action plan should be to encourage her to discover hobbies, skills and talents that help self-expression and build confidence. Encourage skills or talents that bring out her creativity, rather than focusing on competition. Helping her focus on her own strengths is the key to building her self-esteem and self-confidence. Also encourage open communication and listen to her challenges and support her in finding ways to deal with them. Most important, in family discussions discuss ethnic pride and reiterate that brown/black is beautiful. 


(Aarti Rajaratnam is director of the Child Guidance Centre and Counseling Clinic, Salem/Chennai)

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