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Q. Our eighth-grader got left back last year. Now he's embarrassed to go back and wants to switch schools. My husband says he should stay put and learn that mistakes have consequences. What do you say?
A. The consequence for not doing well in school is sometimes repeating a grade. Unfortunately, added to that consequence is the social humiliation and emotional strain a child endures. While repeating a grade is sometimes necessary and wise for the long-term academic benefit to the child, short term it can cause havoc with the child's feeling of self worth, particularly for the early adolescent.
For your son, facing the fact that he must repeat eighth grade is tough enough; facing his peers makes it doubly tough. Help him save his teenaged face by allowing him to choose if he'd like to attend a different school. There's no need to add insult to adolescent injury by forcing him to stay at the same school. It might do more harm than good.
Starting the school year in a new academic environment offers him the opportunity to change, developing new habits and approaches to studying and school work. If he's forced to stay in his familiar school, it's more likely he'll fall back into his poor academic habits and routines.
In addition to encouraging him -- if he chooses -- to change schools, have him tested for a learning disability. It's a possibility worth exploring that might help you and him understand his frustrations with school work. Whether he's diagnosed with a learning disability or not, consider requesting a tutor through his school or hiring one for him. Realize that by early adolescence, a child rejects academic guidance from a parent. A respected adult other than Mom or Dad can usually do lots to put a child on the right academic path. A child who is floundering academically needs lots of adult guidance; if he doesn't receive it, he may drop out of school altogether, turn to drugs or alcohol, attach to the wrong crowd of peers, or find serious trouble with the law.
Most importantly, your son needs to know his parents, and particularly his dad, have his best interest in mind, that they are on his side. Resist making this unfortunate circumstance more problematic and complicated than it already is. Therefore, if your son chooses, support his decision to repeat the eighth grade in a different school.
Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of four parenting books, including Darn Good Advice -- Baby and Darn Good Advice -- Parenting. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for this site and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.