Underachievers present some of parents’ and teachers’ greatest challenges.
The typical underachiever is a bright, often well-above average in intelligence, youngster who chronically earns grades well below expectations. Months turn into years of low grades with the student promising to do better next time. Underachievers tend to work inconsistently, doing homework one day and none the next. The result is that grades fluctuate dramatically.
Underachievers like to make excuses and to blame others for their lack of success.
These explanations often are very creative and representative of the child’s intelligence. Underachievers are also expert procrastinators, and they often wait so long to complete a task that they miss the deadline. Parents and teachers usually respond by talking with the youngster about the importance of school and homework, as it prepares children for college and adulthood. When that doesn’t work, they try offering rewards for completed work or good grades. This may succeed in getting the underachiever to earn good grades, briefly. Once the reward is attained, though, the child reverts to the old pattern. Then, typically, parents start taking away privileges and “toys”, such as cell phones and computer games. If this approach works at all, it is only briefly. In most cases, this approach only drives the student deeper into intransigence. Teachers usually suggest homework assignment sheets on which they make sure that the homework is written down, and the parents sign off that it has been completed. Yet, the underachiever might not turn the completed work in when it’s due.
The problem is that parents and teachers focus on grades and completed assignments as the issue.
Actually, these are only the outer layer of underlying conflict having to do with autonomy, independence, and the future. By getting us to focus on homework and grades, the underachiever successfully moves the attention away from the underlying issues which cause anxiety and discomfort. And, by getting parents and teacher to worry and take charge, the student can remain dependent and allow others to take control. Underachievers can be helped to succeed once the underlying problems have been resolved.