Her Kid's Got an Attitude

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Dear Jack,

My oldest just started fourth grade. He’s always been such a good student and seemed to enjoy learning, but something has gone terribly wrong. All of a sudden, he’s always talking about how bored he is and how much everything sucks. He plays, he has fun with his friends, but if you ask him what he did today, he snarls “Nothing!” and stalks away.

He used to be proud of his good grades. His grades so far have been mediocre at best. When I ask him what’s wrong, he says he doesn’t know what’s the point of taking all these tests, they’re stupid, and he doesn’t care if he fails. He wants to know why I make him go to school at all. He wants me to homeschool him, but I can’t.

I’ve talked to his teacher and she says she’s not seeing anything out of the ordinary. But I’m his mother and I know something’s wrong.

Worried Sick Mom

Dear Mom,

Fourth grade was the worst. We started out with a great teacher, but she was very pregnant and left in the first month. The nun who replaced her walked in the door with her hair pulled back in a celise, an crucifix made of staples and nails clutched in her claw. She wore a metal ruler in a scabbard on her right hip, which she drew like a Roman centurion. Sister Anne pretty much ruined me as a student. I still made decent grades in order to avoid the weekly edification, but I definitely flew on autopilot until the day I climbed the razor wire and fled that coop.

Anything could be going on here. He could the victim of bullying. His tough-guy shtick might be a cover for his fear. Question him about it. Let him know it’s okay, it’s not his fault. If he won’t talk to you, get him to talk to someone. Ask his teacher. If you suspect it’s happening, tell him you want to help make it stop in a way that won’t look like his mom is protecting him. To a fourth-grade boy, running to Mommy is almost worse than the bullying.

He might have fallen in with a bunch of fourth-grade hipsters. Let him invite his friends over, so you can see who he’s hanging out with. If they are too cool for school, point out how negative they are, and how their negativity is only going to make his life more miserable than it already is. Watch out for gangs. Yeah, even in fourth grade.

He might honestly be bored stiff. Every parent thinks their kid is brilliant, but let’s be honest, being bored in school is not necessarily a symptom of hidden genius. Either way, you need to find ways to fill up his day. Get him involved in things – sports, arts, music, dance, or my personal favorite, the martial arts.

Getting him involved will help with the other possible issues, as well. Activities create well-rounded, confident and assured children who are less likely to be bullied. Activities surround kids without other positive, goal-oriented kids, among whom he will hopefully make friends. Sure, filling up his day with soccer, taekwondo, and filmmaking classes also fills up your day, but that’s too bad. You only get one shot at this, because he won’t be nine forever.

However, I suspect is your issue here is that he’s a typical fourth-grader. When you’re in fourth grade, everything does suck. You’re nine years old, going on 14, you already know everything you’re ever going to need to know, and you’re smarter than just about everybody you meet. Patience and understanding are in order, but no coddling. Precocious fourth graders turn into unmanageable teenagers faster than you can say eyebrow piercing. Again, the best solution is getting him involved in something.

Got a problem? Let Jack Waggon set you straight: jack.wagg@gmail.com

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