My son’s Entrance Exam Is Approaching, But His Academic Performance Is Lagging

Dear Troubleshooter:

I’m a single mother in my 40s. I need advice regarding my son, who is in his third year of junior high school.

The high school entrance exams are approaching, and it’s a critical time for him to study hard. However, he is far from reaching the level needed to pass the entrance exam of the high school he wants to attend. He is not studying enough. He attends a cram school and seems to think that what he is doing is adequate.

I try not to simply tell him to study, but also offer specific advice and encouragement, saying things like, “If you work hard now, it will benefit your future.” But when I say this, he responds grumpily, just telling me he understands.

I realize it’s his life and I might be overly fixated on the problem, but I truly wish for him to attend the high school he wants. It’s frustrating and disappointing to think that he could do more. Please advise me on interactions with my son and how I should manage my feelings.

— H, Hyogo Prefecture

Dear Ms. H:

It’s commendable that you are raising your third-year junior high school son on your own, including sending him to a cram school.

You have done well in the face of unimaginable struggles, and I admire your efforts.

From your perspective, your son’s attitude toward his exams seems careless, and it appears difficult for him to pass his desired school’s entrance exam. Your view may well be correct.

Frankly, I don’t think anything you say will motivate your son to study. It would be the same even if his teachers at his school or cram school talked to him about it.

Studying requires the individual to have the motivation and passion to learn; without it, studying quickly drops in efficiency. In other words, if he doesn’t wake up to his passion for studying, anything you or his teachers say will be in vain.

For example, however, some boys significantly improve their academic performance in the latter half of high school. It’s something I saw among my classmates.

In your son’s case, I doubt there is a way for him be motivated to improve his academic ability unless he strongly feels, “I want to study! I want to go to this high school.”

You should brace yourself and patiently wait for the day your son finds his motivation to study.

— Eiko Yamaguchi, writer