My Son Is Failing (Different Stages & Ages Addressed)


Having a son is the dream of most parents worldwide and once you do, you feel euphoric, but will that last? Not a chance! Because life isn’t perfect, neither are sons, and most parents at one time or another will confess, “my son is failing!”

My son is failing is a sentence most parents think or say at some point, but it’s not hopeless. Sons fail at school, sports, relationships, careers, and life choices at one time or more in their lives. Parents should maintain tough love to properly guide their sons back onto the right path.

As a mom of three sons, I’ve seen them through many failures, big and small, and I guarantee it will happen again. But as long as sons have a strong family network, failure doesn’t have to derail them for long. In this article I’ll address sons at different life stages and ages who fail, and how to handle that!

My Son Is Failing At School

Though it bucks against most modern parenting advice, financial advisor and conservative radio personality Dave Ramsey says parents shouldn’t foot the college bill for failing sons.

As a teacher, I have talked to many parents (and sons) about sons failing at one way or another in school. So what causes sons to fail at school and what can be done about it?

It’s not uncommon for sons to fail in school from time to time, but all’s not lost. From hiring tutors to helping sons with time management, parents can take action to mitigate negative consequences and improve academic standing of sons who fail.

While working in public schools, I’ve taught kids from 1st grade to through high school. I’ve learned that the reasons for failure across grades are often common and repeated no matter the age. You’d think this would make it easier for parents and sons to tackle, but not always.

It takes open-mindedness and diligence from both parents and sons to address failures, and then make a plan to combat it. Let’s look briefly at what this means for elementary, middle/high school, and college levels.

If you are interested in helping your son learn the value of money, and saving it, I highly recommend Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace Junior Kit: Teaching Kids How to Win With Money (available at Amazon).

Sons Who Fail In Elementary School

Many think that sons (or boys) have it easier in school, especially when it comes to math and the sciences. But as a teacher, I can tell you boys struggle often, and sometimes this failure is not all their fault.

Why Boys Fail: Saving Our Sons from an Educational System That’s Leaving Them Behind by Richard Whitmire, former editorial writer for USA Today, shook the educational system by exposing, that contrary to what many thought (‘girls were underperforming in schools’), boys suffered from inequity in education and this inequitable system followed them through college.

In fact, statistics corroborate this proclamation, showing that almost 60% of college graduates from 4 year colleges and universities are female, not male. And to further compound this, according to this 2019 NPR report, college-educated women now outnumber college-educated men in the workforce, showing the consequences can be longlasting.

So what’s the problem for many sons in elementary school particularly?

Research, like Whitmire shares, explains that the standard school environment isn’t designed with typical boys in mind. For example, most boys are active and need movement frequently whereas the school setting frowns upon this. True, the education pendulum has shifted somewhat over the years in regards to learning styles, encouraging more kinesthetic learning and incorporation of movement inside the classroom. However, this is still ‘trending’ and not common in most classrooms. And the modern emphasis on standardized testing has been counterproductive to physical activity, causing some school systems to decrease Physical Education, as well as recess time, not to mention ‘additional movement’ inside the classroom.

Tips to help your son who is failing in elementary school:

  • Discuss concerns with his teachers and try not to be judgmental or defensive. Ultimately, his teachers want exactly what you want: for him to succeed.
  • One thing to bring up is how often your son has access to physical activity during the day, with most research saying kids should move frequently during the hour, to support learning.
  • Teachers should also allow students to use alternative seating like a standing desk or yoga ball, too. If none are available, ask if you can provide your own for your son. I let my students do this!
  • Take time at home to monitor and supervise his homework. Go over it together before he starts working and look over it together afterwards.
  • Make sure he has a good study area. Most teachers recommend kids work in a quiet space with good lighting and minimal distractions, but I also think it’s important that he’s somewhere you can keep an observant eye on.
  • Talk with your son about his concerns and set up a plan to help him with whatever he feels is an issue. It could mean he needs an outside tutor, too, but often just extra support and help from a willing parent or older sibling is enough.

Special Note: The section above has focused on academic failures in elementary school, but sons may instead have failures with relationships (not romantic kind either). It’s possible that a son’s troubles are with forming good friendships, resisting bullies, or having a conducive bond with his teacher.

If this is the case, much of the same advice above can be taken, such as discussing concerns with a teacher or guidance counselor or becoming more involved in school activities as a family. For instance, you can attend the montly PTA meetings and/or signing up as a room parent yourself or think about allowing your son to join after school clubs.

Sons Who Fail in Middle and High School

During the pilot episode of The Cosby Show, extremely popular during the 80s, the issue of bad grades is addressed by father Cliff with his teen son, Theo.

Often trouble doesn’t rise up until sons enter puberty or their teen years, which is during middle or high school. And this stage requires a different approach from parents in most cases, but key is that parents must act sooner rather than later, because ‘waiting’ at this stage only lets failures escalate.

As a teacher who’s worked in both middle and high schools too, I can tell you that parent involvement at school certainly decreases at this stage, and not usually for the better.

In some ways, it makes sense, though. Teens are better able to take a proactive stance and communicate with teachers on their own, and most teens relish in the independence (and parents taking a backseat role). But it doesn’t mean parents should be completely absent. Oh no! And sons need to be aware of this!

Parents can and should utilize email or some other unobtrusive way to contact teachers early on, introducing themselves. This is a subtle invitation to teachers to open up the lines of communication and demonstrates to them that you want to be involved. And again, your son needs to know it too!

By keeping your son in-the-know that you are in contact with and easily available to his teachers, you’re pre-empting a lot of problems early on, and minimizing potential for him to slack off and ‘fail’ in academics, behavior, or other.

Some frequent areas where sons fail in middle and high school:

  • Often subject areas at the middle and high school level require more out-of-school involvement from sons who are used to teachers spoon-feeding the material.
  • As well, testing is more structured and frequent in middle and high school in contrast to elementary and usually counts for a large percentage of a student’s grade (in elementary, grades are generally participation oriented).
  • Sons in middle and high school are often invested in sports, too, which can compete with homework/study time.
  • Relationships at this level may start to interfere with learning, causing sons to experience academic failures for the first time.

What can parents do?

Parents need to stay connected and involved, but can be more behind the scenes about it. For instance, let your sons know your expectations and that you are following his progress (often parents can sign up to see grades ‘in real time’ via School Portals, so ask your son’s school about this). When you notice an issue, speak up and discuss it. As well, keep up with what your son is working on, asking about classes, required reading, test schedules, and so on and make it a routine, even listing it out on an activity board like this one from Amazon, and posting it in a high-traffic area such as the kitchen or family room.

But there is something else different about sons’ failures in middle and high school in contrast to failures in elementary school. Unlike elementary school failures, failures in middle and high school can have major life consequences that can affect plans to go to college or even graduate high school, if left unattended and not rectified.

For example, these kinds of failures are ofttimes related to teen romances. However, parents should be very concerned if their son gets involved in romantic entanglements.

Romance at this stage can be catastrophic for all teens because teens in general are not capable cognitively or emotionally equipped to handle such intensity or ‘strings’ that come with grown-up relationships.

This viewpoint isn’t aligned with Hollywood teen rom coms or even some mainstream psychologists, but as a mom of four kids, two of whom are now adults, as well as a teacher of thousands over the years, I have no qualms in saying this: Teens shouldn’t date or have romantic relationships. Leave that to the adults!

Sons Who Fail in College

Like with middle and high school, not being prepared or having proper focus is commonly the root of sons who fail in college. As well, for some sons, college is the first time they’ve experienced unsupervised living and this leads them to go a bit drunk with freedom, both figuratively and literally.

However, the college stage is also the stage when sons are deciding their adult careers. This can lead to some trial and error moments with college courses, as they figure out their strengths and shortcomings. In this regard, failure is something to learn from, not fear.

Failing Up: How to Take Risks, Aim Higher, and Never Stop Learning (available free with an Audible Membership) is an autobiographical account of failures and achievements by Tony award-winning performer, Leslie Odom, Jr., of the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton. It’s a great book that shares the trial and errors that Odom (someone’s son) takes on his path to success.

So sons who fail at college don’t have to always be a concern. It’s a matter of recognizing the whys of failures and then planning accordingly. Maybe your son just needs a new focus. Instead of engineering, he could be destined for teaching or business.

Or perhaps failing at college is a step towards succeeding at being an electrician or plumber! Many sons’ college failures have led to trade school careers they wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, change for any degree!

Tips for sons who fail in college:

  • If it’s due to not attending class or socializing too much at dorms, then a change in living should be in order. Bring your son home to attend a local school if you must!
  • If courses are ‘too hard,’ have a serious talk about your son’s major and make sure he’s in the right lane. It could be he’s really more apt to another career path.
  • If your son is having problems with the emotional/mental stress of school that’s affecting his grades, help him set up an appointment with his college counselor as a first step.
  • Sometimes medical issues can affect our performances as we enter adulthood, so if there’s any worry along those lines, your college-aged child should see his doctor.
  • Finally, keep communication open and non-judgmental. Even in areas of ‘partying,’ talk frankly with your child and be clear, and calm, about expectations.

My Son Is Failing In Sports

As a stereotypical mom, I’ve never been too concerned about sports, but unlike a lot of dads, neither has my husband. But for some parents, having a son who fails at sports is a big disappointment. If this happens, what should parents do?

There are healthy ways to help a son who fails at sports. One is for parents to support with guided practice, coaching, and unconditional encouragement. Another is to provide sports alternatives like learning to play an instrument or do computer coding to their son so he can work on other strengths.

The main caveat, however, is that parents talk to their son about why he’s failing at sports. It could be that the son doesn’t enjoy sports, so his performance shows it. If that’s the reason behind the failure, then parents need to think long and hard about having their son participate in something he doesn’t like.

For example, we enrolled our twins in little league football when we moved to Virginia from California. It was the same little league team my husband was in as a child, so certainly nostalgic for him and personally, I thought they looked adorable on the field in their football gear! However, neither boys enjoyed it. Ronin was happier reading books and playing Legos than being outside on a field; and the more we learned about Ethan’s disability, it became clear to us that tackling and other football-related interactions were just too challenging for him to accept. So ultimately we pulled them out, and chalked that time up to a learning experience for all of us.

However, sometimes sons want to do well in sports but they’re having a hard time. There are several ways to handle this kind of situation, and the most successful approach is probably a combination of them.

One, parents can support their sons’ efforts with suggestions that are practical for their family and life style. If parents can afford more coaching or practice lessons, then that might be something useful to try. If that’s not in the budget, then parents can help their son with figuring out more practice time for his schedule or maybe even utilize local community centers for help.

Another thing parents can do to help their failing son is to have a heart-to-heart talk. Parenting is not just parenting when things are good, but also when tough talks need to happen. After all, parents, more than anyone else, are responsible for helping their son with his shortcomings, too, and how to deal with that positively.

All athletes, including professionals, can learn from failures and use that to either become better players in the future or as motivation to move on to other interests.

The heartfelt talk can certainly address a son’s practice time and efforts, but should also be about helping him look at his involvement in sports realistically. A son may need to face that he won’t be the best player, MVP, or go pro, or even be college-bound, with his sports.

It doesn’t have to mean, however, that he abandons sports. Rather, he can accept sports as a fun activity to unwind, stay fit, and be on a team if he wants to continue to play.

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My Son Is Failing At Life

Besides school, sports, and relationship failures, there are sons who just seem to fail at life in general. From wrong career choices to selecting bad apartments or piling on credit card debt, what can parents do about sons who seem to constantly make poor decisions?

Adult sons who seem to fail at life, from relationships to careers to finances, need parenting, too, but are prone to ignore it. Parents should resist the urge to judge, but instead provide advice to help guide their son to better choices, even if it means directing him to other sound mentors.

Unfortunately, some sons may struggle with good judgment, even if they were raised in healthy, secure homes with caring and loving parents. Whether it’s due to lack of ‘common sense’, gullibility, impulsivity, or too much pride, there are sons who seem to make one bad decision after another.

Here are some suggestions if you find yourself parenting a son who fails at life:

  • Talk calmly about the problems and discuss his options.
  • Help him make a plan for getting out of his failures…for paying off debt, or changing from a dead-end job, renegotiating a too-high lease…
  • Address reasons for bad decision-making. He may need a confidant to talk to first, and if he doesn’t like the idea of mom or dad, help him find someone responsible who can act in this role.
  • No matter what, resist the urge to treat him like a child. Even though he’ll always be your son, he is an adult and should be treated that way.
  • And don’t bail him out! It’s important that your son earns his own way, and pays for his own mistakes. You can provide some small support, but the bulk of any restitution should be his own making!

Bonus: Adult Sons Who Fail At Relationships

Jordan Peterson credits overparenting as one reason sons and daughters fail in relationships.

I’ve briefly addressed sons who fail at relationships in school, from making friends to dealing with bullies to romantic issues, in the first section. And those are all situations where parents must be involved directly. However, what should parents do about adult sons who fail at relationships?

Adult sons who fail at relationships need parental support too, after all parenting is a forever position. However, parents should be thoughtful and purposeful with dispensing advice about relationships for adult sons since adult sons are prone to resist it.

Adult sons may fail at relationships for dating, in marriage, or with friendship choices and they, just as much as kids, need support from parents. The difference, of course, is that whereas parents can enforce their advice with kids, adult sons can take it, or leave it.

Suggestions for parents of adult sons failing at relationships:

  • If fails are with friendships, how destructive is it? Talk to your son about maintaining his moral and ethical convictions no matter who he is friends with.
  • If fails are in dating, talk to your son about his dating expectations. Hopefully, you raised him with proper ideals about finding a wife and traits to look for.
  • If a married son is failing at marriage, urge your son (and his wife) to seek council from clergy ASAP. There is nothing more important for your son than saving his marriage, and it should be taken with the utmost seriousness it deserves.

My Son Is Failing Take Away

As a parent, I know there’s almost no harder feeling than what comes from watching your son fail. However, none of us are perfect, not one. And we all know that sometimes life’s failures are giant opportunities for success, so keep that in mind, when your son fails at anything.

To recap, sons are going to fail. Whether it’s in school, sports, relationships, or other, parents have to accept kids will make bad choices. Sometimes these choices can be mitigated easily; other times, bad decisions are life-changing!

But no matter what, sons are always our sons, and just because they grow older, it doesn’t mean they don’t need us (whether they like it or not is inconsequential). And that goes for sons who fail, too!

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Jackie Booe

Jackie Booe is a Catholic mother of four, grandmother ("Oma") to two, and wife to Mat since 1994. She is a former public school teacher of 18 years, licensed in 3 states and certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners. In addition, she also taught education courses online as an adjunct professor, mentored numerous education interns, hosted professional development for educators, and tutored, as well as homeschooled.

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