Another call came just yesterday. "My daughter is
capable of getting good grades. She just doesn't."
Why does this happen? Michael Whitley, in his book
Bright Minds Poor Grades describes reasons why students who are
bright don't always succeed. What it often boils down to
According to Whitley, there
are several general characteristics to look for if you suspect
your child is an underachiever (pp. 25-41).
are bright but they don't put out the effort necessary for success.
Failure, underachievement, and the resultant discouragement originate
in a lack of effort, not in a lack of intelligence.
lack persistence even when they want to do well. They fail
not from a lack of desire but from a failure to persist in the
pursuit of their desires.
is a chronic problem and will not go away by itself. In
my experience, children who are underachievers become adults
who are underachievers unless there is some intervention to break
the cycle of failure.
usually occurs in more than one area of life. It's a pattern
of living in which an individual backs down from challenges across
many different situations and life circumstances.
often do not complete ordinary tasks. Even those tasks
that are within their reach, they frequently don't achieve.
How do parents and teachers
deal with underachievers? Typically, they try to come up
with a system to solve the problems. They often agree to
develop a check system. The teachers sign off on assignments
each day so the parents can check if the student is keeping up.
It works for a little while and then the old patterns emerge.
"I forgot to get it checked." "The teacher
never asks for it." "I'm not a baby; I
don't need this." The solution isn't the student's
so he/she doesn't follow through.
Underachievers wait for
others to create ways to find solutions to their problems and
then fail to follow through with the solutions. It
doesn't do any good to offer solutions to the underachiever.
We must attack the underlying character issues such as lack of
persistence, irresponsibility, and dependence.
The student who underachieves
needs to be taught how to solve problems on his/her own. He/she
needs to be taught that actions result in consequences, whether
good or bad.
are afraid to achieve because success would then be expected
of them and they don't have the confidence that they could be
Many underachievers have
never experienced real, long-lasting success in school.
They have not learned good study skills or can't seem to keep
track of their belongings or assignments. These students
will benefit from a course which teaches the skills taught in
Study Smart. Others need remediation in specific areas
such as reading or math.
can be a long, difficult process. If your child needs help
with school issues, consider enrollment in a program such as
Study Smart. If your child needs more in-depth help, consider
counseling with someone experienced in working with underachievers.
Don't give up on your child! In the long run, your efforts
will be worthwhile.
--Gina Johnson © 1999 The Smart Parent
D. Whitley, Bright Minds Poor Grades: Understanding & Motivating
Underachieving Children (York, Maine: Response Publishing, Inc.,