When Kids Coast Through School

Is your middle schooler's passion for learning fading? Here's how to relight the spark.



When Kids Coast Through School

Maybe it's the fact that your middle schooler seems to ace all his tests without studying. Or maybe it's that when you ask him about his classes, he shrugs and says they're boring. Whatever it is, something is telling you that your child is simply going through the motions at school — a phenomenon also known as coasting. In elementary school, children tend to be naturally curious and eager to learn. But preteens face so many other pressures — social, emotional, and physical — that learning can take a back seat if it doesn't excite them enough.

How to Tell if She’s Coasting

  • She gets As with little to no effort. Since building self-esteem is especially important for middle-school students, succeeding easily in one area of school can be a good thing. But breezing through almost every subject can do her a disservice. Look at your child's assignments and tests. Are they mostly rote worksheets, or is she being asked to make more interesting connections, such as applying math problems to real-life situations?

    Being the biggest fish in the pond has its advantages, but it can also lead to a rude awakening in high school, when academic demands are likely to increase significantly.
  • His grades have gone down. Schoolwork shouldn't be grueling either. If your child is struggling to keep up, this can lead to frustration, underachievement, and, ultimately, boredom, because he just gives up and begins to dislike learning.
  • Her energy seems directed elsewhere. When academics aren't engaging or fulfilling, kids often seek excitement or approval in other ways by acting out, say, as the class clown, or by succumbing to peer pressure to try drinking or drugs. If your child seems to be heading in this direction, try to find out what's at the bottom of it.      

What You Can Do

  • Get the teacher's perspective. Set up a meeting with your child's teacher to find out his take on the situation. Note that your child doesn't seem engaged or excited about his work. Approach it as a joint problem: what can we do about this?

    Most schools offer enrichment in the form of after-school clubs, lunch clubs, or pull-out programs during the day. Another option for high-achieving kids is for them to take higher-level classes in subjects like math or foreign languages. Sometimes school districts (especially in rural areas with limited opportunities) will allow kids to enroll in an online class instead of taking one offered at school.
  • Talk to your child directly. Ask her what her current interests are. What does she want to learn more about? You can supplement the curriculum and broaden her horizons by taking her to museums and performances, starting a book club, or encouraging volunteer work.
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