High School

Q: “Can I Help My Reluctant Learner See the Benefits of College?”

Your adolescent says he hates school and won’t attend college. Before trying to change his mind, stop to ask: Is something impeding his learning?

Portrait of redhead student looking at camera between two stacks of books
Portrait of redhead student looking at camera between two stacks of books

Q: “I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until age 44. My husband (who likely has undiagnosed with ADHD) and I were both college dropouts. In hindsight, I wish I had graduated. My husband couldn’t care less about earning a college degree. This sends a message to my 11-year-old son that higher education is unnecessary. He has already said that he won’t attend college and hates school. How can I get my reluctant learner to see the benefits of a college education without my husband’s support? I want to help him see that college might sound difficult, but moving through the adult world successfully without a degree could be even harder.” FullhouseADHD

Hi FullhouseADHD,

As an academic and life coach for teens and college students with ADHD, I spend my days talking with high school students about their future plans. Truth be told, I never assume their plans after high school include college. Instead of asking, “What colleges are you thinking of attending?” I prefer to ask, “What are your plans for after graduation?” Plans is the operative word.

I don’t believe that college is for everyone. But I do believe in having a plan. A wise man once told me that experiencing life, working toward a goal, taking care of oneself, learning to problem solve, and becoming a critical thinker were all components of a well-rounded “education.” I absolutely agree.

[Read: You Don’t Have to Start College Right Away (Or At All!)]

Now I’m not saying that college can’t provide that. Quite the opposite. However, there are many other avenues to explore. Trade school, internships, military service, employment, travel, community service, and entrepreneurship can yield the same results.

It’s tempting to lecture our children about the importance of education. Remember, your son is only 11. He’s years away from making any long-term decisions. More importantly, he has many years of learning ahead of him. You mention that he hates school and is a reluctant learner. Let’s shift your energy and focus on figuring out what is getting in his way.

Does your son communicate the sources of his struggles to you? What do you notice when he’s doing homework? Have you discussed your concerns with your son’s teachers? Does your son have a 504 Plan or IEP? And, if so, are his accommodations being followed at school? If not, I would set up a meeting immediately with the school.

Here’s my advice: Put the college conversation on the back burner for the next few years. Instead, focus on ensuring that your son has the support and scaffolding he needs to be an avid and successful learner. Focus his learning on his natural interests and energy, and promote life skills over school skills.

[Self Test: Could My Child Have a Learning Disability?]

And, most importantly, understand that his future won’t be determined solely by this moment.

Good Luck!

Reluctant Learner with ADHD: Next Steps


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