Ask the Experts

Q: Should I Allow My Tween to Fail Middle School?

Remote learning simply does not work for all students; those with ADHD and learning disabilities are having a particularly difficult time without their steady scaffolds and routines. If your child is floundering, should you swoop in to save the day or let the consequences flow naturally?

Q: “Should I let my 6th grade son with ADHD fail school? His grades were going downhill earlier this year; he tried raising them before schools closed and made a good start. All of that work is now out the window and he has lost all motivation for continued virtual learning. I don’t want him to fail, but I can’t do the work for him.” — Lisa


Hi Lisa:

Thank you for asking this question. It’s one that parents are asking me over and over again. It’s a tough one for sure. However, my answer is pretty simple: Yes, you should let him fail.

Before I dive in to explain why, though, I need to ask if you’ve spoken directly with your son’s teachers to discuss your concerns. His guidance counselor? The head of special education? Does your son have a 504 or IEP? And if so, are his accommodations being followed at home? If not, I would set up a meeting to communicate to them immediately the struggles you are seeing at home and perhaps brainstorm with them some effective solutions and strategies.

Next, please understand that I’m not suggesting your son sleeps until noon and plays video games all day. That’s not my intent at all. Nor am I basing my answer on the typical parenting commentary that urges us to let our kids fail so they can learn from the mess of their mistakes. That’s not what this is about either.

This is about that, for whatever reason (and there are probably many), “crisis learning” is NOT working for your son. And that’s okay! Please remember that this situation is not one you, his teacher or your son prepared for. For those who choose to homeschool their children, the choice is made very carefully while studying and preparing learning models.

[Click to Read: Your Child’s Educational Rights While Crisis Schooling – IEPs and 504 Plans in a Pandemic]

You mention in your question that before the schools shut down, your son was beginning to make good strides to bring his grades up. So clearly there were supports and scaffolding in place that allowed your son to be successful – at school.

And now that school districts have shifted schooling to home, you son my not be able to simply school at home. Perhaps he had accommodations in place, one-on-one help, or specific scaffolds that don’t translate to your home environment. I believe that a more traditional school environment provides students with consistent and effective motivating factors that promote successful learning — structures and schedules, transitions, visual cues, accountability, and socialization — particularly for those with ADHD and learning challenges. Some families have been able to successfully mimic these factors at home to help support their students. For others, the environment just doesn’t work.

So, here’s my advice to you: As the parent, you are in charge now. You know what is best for your son, what he needs, what’s working, and what’s not working. You get to set the schedule, the priorities, and the agenda. These are the things I would prioritize:

  • Choose your relationship with your son over routines and rituals.
  • Focus the learning on his natural interests and energy.
  • Promote life skills over school skills.
  • Have your son teach YOU something!
  • Understand that your child’s future won’t be determined solely by this moment.
  • Practice “seven daily intentions” to give your son’s day structure and meaning.

I completely understand that you want to do right by your child; we all do as parents. Give yourself some grace. You’ll know in your heart if you are making the right decision.

Good Luck.

[Read This Next: “My Daughter’s Learning Disabilities Fall Between the Cracks in Google Classroom”]


ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

Submit your questions to the ADHD Family Coach here!

Updated on August 7, 2020

Leave a Reply