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Underachievers: Capable, Not Successful

       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 is underachievement.  
       According to Whitley, there are several general characteristics to look for if you suspect your child is an underachiever (pp. 25-41).
       1.  Underachievers 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. 
       2.  Underachievers 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. 
       3.  Underachievement 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.
       4.  Underachievement 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.
       5.  Underachievers 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.  
       Sometimes underachievers are afraid to achieve because success would then be expected of them and they don't have the confidence that they could be successful. 
       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. 
       Overcoming underachievement 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

Michael D. Whitley, Bright Minds Poor Grades: Understanding & Motivating Underachieving Children (York, Maine: Response Publishing, Inc., 1996).

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