Dear Mary-anne: my son turned 13 and lost all motivation

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Teenaged boys may need help learning to organise their busy lives when they reach high school.

QUESTION: My son has just turned 13 and he’s switched overnight from being a motivated boy to a disorganised one. He’s started high school this year and he’s off to a bad start. He forgets about homework and misplaces his books. He wants to quit music lessons and he never has the right kit for sport. He’s lost his new shoes, his little sister’s gadget watch and his little job of feeding the neighbour’s animals ended badly because he didn’t lock up the shed. The dog nearly died from eating too much food. He’s exhausting. What am I in for?

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ANSWER: Believe it or not, your son will be feeling anxious and overwhelmed by this sudden switch too. He won’t want to be this hopeless and he probably feels as if he’s being buried under a landslide of chaos.

Maybe try to share a laugh over this change but put some urgent structures in place. A good tool to start with might be a wall planner or a star chart. He probably seems too old for a star chart but if you set it up so his reward is age-appropriate, then he’ll buy into it. The good thing about this system is that someone has to check the jobs off — for a while. (Less danger of the dog gorging itself to an early death).

Perhaps your son is doing too much? Maybe the music lessons or some other activity have to go on hold? Your son will be finding his feet and watching his peers to ascertain his place in the new school. That takes a lot of energy, especially if he’s the first in the family to go to high school.

Have a set homework time and maybe he could work near you for a while. You don’t want to nag him, or do his homework for him, but you can help him avoid long periods of blank wall-staring or pen dismantling.

You and your son could write a checklist for mornings which include such banal things as lunch, homework, sports kit, jacket etc. Thirteen-year-old boys are universally grateful for food treats so have something ready to add to his lunch when the morning routine has been successfully completed.

And here’s a catch. Your involvement is crucial in the formation of his new habits. Where these things often fall down, is that you’ll lose motivation before he does — no one’s rewarding you for your diligence. Eventually, the checking and rewarding become burdensome and the habits don’t have time to be ingrained.

If you persevere and put the work in now, it might save anguish when the pressure comes on in years 12 and 13.

Mary-anne Scott has raised four boys and written two novels for young adults including Coming Home to Roost. As one of seven sisters, there aren’t many parenting problems she hasn’t talked over. To send her a question email with Dear Mary-anne in the subject line.

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