Mixed Up in Michigan
anonymous Asks ...
My son is a smart kid who never does as well as he is capable of in school since he is so terribly disorganized and sloppy and since he is always starting 10 projects at once and rarely finishing any of them. He in his first year at Michigan State and he is not doing very well. I can see that the things he struggled with in high school are becoming more of a problem for him now that he is expected to take more responsibility for himself. I should stress, it is not laziness that plagues him – if anything he has too much energy and excitement and that’s what gets him into trouble since he is always getting pulled in a thousand opposite directions at once. I am not sure how I can help him from afar. I am contemplating hiring him an older student who can sort of mentor him along, sort of like a life coach but for school. Sort of what I used to do for him when he lived at home. Do you think this is a good idea? Is there anything else or anything better that I could do for him?
Rob Danzman Says ...
This is a tricky situation since you want your son to start accepting responsibility for himself, yet at the same time, his distractibility is making it very challenging for him to do this.
1. Get Buy-In From Your Son
You want, and will need, your son to not only let you find help for him but he will also need to agree that he has a problem that needs fixing. You do not want everyone working harder than your son to help him. Additionally, any professional that works with him, even if you pay or your insurance pays, will not speak with you unless you have an Authorization to Release Information.
2. Reframe the Issue
I encourage you and your son to view this as a project with a start, middle and end. This will help him conceptualize this as fixable rather than a life-long problem which might make him feel hopeless. I would present this also as a project that needs a team of professionals to create a good game plan. Your family is clearly investing in his future with a great education. If he does not seek or accept help, you all will see a poor return on investment.
3. Get an Evaluation
Next, get a psychological and education assessment by a licensed psychologist (not a Master's level but a Doctorate level clinician). Then, make sure the evaluator reviews the diagnoses, outcomes and, most importantly, recommendations which may include medication, counseling, and family support. This is really where you want to be - Clear support and direction from mental health professionals that can move your son forward. My guess is his diagnoses will be a huge help in determining the best treatment.
4. Identify Boundaries
It's also a good time to decide how much help you are willing to give him. At some point he may choose to not accept help. Does he have to maintain a certain GPA? Does he have to graduate by a certain date? These are expectations that I would encourage you all to clearly state. A good counselor can help articulate this during individual and family sessions.
5. Parenting Help
Piggy-backing on number 4 - You will need support of your own in the form of some parenting consultation or counseling. A consultation is typically more expensive per hour but gives you a whole lot of info in a short amount of time. Counseling will help you and your family members process their thoughts and feelings associated with your son's issues.
This all is a starting point. From psychological evaluations to parenting work, our agency often supports families across the country in situations similar to yours and I can honestly say there is a very good chance your son will get back on track with the right help from friends, family and qualified professionals.
Best of Luck