No Cure for Apathy

I have a bright, articulate student whose ability to think abstractly and express his opinions has occasionally left me speechless.

He is failing my class.

He has no less than five zeros in my gradebook for this past quarter alone. The assignments he has turned in lately have been way below par (one was less than half of the minimum required length).

I do not know what to do.  Nobody does.  His father has tried to motivate him.  The principal has personally met with him.  I have appealed to him to step up and do what he is capable of doing.  But the problem is apathy, and there is no external cure.

It is painful to step back and let him fail, but that is all that I can do at this point.  I will pour my restless energy into praying for him.  I will continue to encourage him when he does well (those opportunities are becoming fewer and farther between).  Ultimately, his success or failure relies not on me (nor his father, nor the principal), but on his own attitude and his own free will.

In the meantime, I am interested to know: if you were an apathetic teenager who came out of it at some point, what was the motivating factor for you?


32 thoughts on “No Cure for Apathy

  1. It was a little before my teen years, but it might help …

    In sixth grade, I just took a couple months of profound apathy. What helped get me out of it was when two of my teachers sat me down and spelled out what I can do, what I’ve been doing, and how much they see that it’s dropped off.

    Mr. Moncrief, my social studies teacher, made it very clear that he would do everything that he can to teach me, but that if I’m going to give up and stop trying, he had no time to waste on me.

    It was a combination of guilt, embarrassment, encouragement, and many other things: pointing out my potential and how I wasn’t living up to it, and how that lets down everyone else around me.

    Mr. Moncrief was one of those tough-but-fair teachers. He is also one of the five most important teachers I ever had.

  2. Ewwww, even at my most apathetic, I would just procrastinate and then do the expected. Wish I could help. I think you’re going to have to fail him and see if that cures it.

  3. The definitive causes can be extreme, simple, or varied. For me, it was a lack of purpose, rather a futility of effort without reason. A nearly impossible task, but try to find out the root of the loss. Bearing in mind, he may not know (hormonal) or denial or private. It will come down to his choice on what path he wants to take. I pray you’ll be a road sign that stands out.

  4. My 12 year-old eldest son has no such problem, but his soon to be 11 year brother is in a little danger.

    Yes, fail him — grade him on performance, altho perhaps allow him the opportunity to do extra work to get the grade up.

    New to this blog (now you’re ending it!). I’d suggest asking him what he likes, perhaps World of Warcraft or punk rock music (or drugs, or sex ?). Ask him to write / do an oral presentation / do some special assignment on what he likes.

    My sons currently like Naruto (= Harry Potter + Pokemon ninja fighting). They’re both willing to do work on it.

  5. It sounds like me. Teachers are always telling me how brilliant I am, that I have so much potential, but I just keep failing. I just don’t go to school, I hand in assignments late, and they are done poorly. My life for years has been missing motivation and ambition. This year I’ve failed all my classes so far. I don’t care. And seeing more marks on my report card that are below 50% doesn’t phase me all. I just say “Damn.” and continue on.

    I wish there was some drug to fix me. I don’t feel human.

  6. Sam,

    Oh, you’re breaking my heart!

    There is no drug to “fix” you. And there’s nothing that any of the adults around you can say to motivate you. That’s the thing that’s so frustrating for us (as your teachers, parents, etc.). We can’t make you care. It has to come from your heart, your mind, your will.

    The best thing I can say to you (ha – after I said that nothing can really be said!) is that you need to try to find something to aim at. Even though it feels to teenagers like time is suspended, that they’re going to be in that in-between world forever, time does move on. Your choices today really are going to affect the future “you.”

    Perhaps (this is a bit silly) you could imagine yourself down the road, as an adult. If you are failing now as much as you say you are, and if you continue to do so, I would guess that you’re going to wind up in a pretty pitiful job, struggling to make ends meet. What would that future you say to today’s you? Think of the worst possible job and family situation that you can imagine. Put yourself there and think of all the regrets you’d have. What would you change about what you’re doing now?

    Then perhaps you could think of the BEST possible job and family situation you could imagine for yourself. What would it take to get you there?

    To be a bit trite – “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.”

  7. Thanks for showing concern. But adults don’t seem to understand that scare tactics don’t work on teenagers. It just makes us feel worse.

  8. I’m sorry if it seemed I was trying to scare you. That wasn’t my intention. I think the issue is short-term thinking vs. long-term thinking.

    I know I’ve been a non-teenager for quite a few years now (twenty or so), and I know that I was never a teenager in this exact time period. So I don’t pretend to know precisely where you’re coming from. But I do remember skipping classes and not doing my homework. I never did it to the point of failure (because my dad’s scare tactics actually did work!). But I remember thinking that none of it really mattered. I was more interested in friends and music and all that stuff.

    I have huge regrets because of short-term choices I made, mostly in college. Lots of adults do. That’s why we get so worked up when we see teens making the same mistakes we made — we don’t want to scare you. We’re trying to spare you from doing what we did.

    I hope you’ll find something to aim at — something that will help you think long-term.

  9. Well now I at least know why adults do it, aha.
    I was told that maybe if I had someone dependent on me it would help me. Become a tutor or such or maybe work part-time at some sort of daycare that It would help me. But I’m not exactly enthused about the idea.

    Anyway, thanks for responding to my comments. It helps having someone to talk to.

  10. Sam,
    I am a mom desperately searching for some answers for my son…you sound like you could be him. My heart is already broken and I feel it breaking for you all over again.
    Is there nothing we can do to help you kids?
    I would give my life to help my son but nothing seems to affect him. He is very bright and has enormous potential yet has failed 2 years in a row and is failing yet again. He does not seem to have any self preservation.
    He is so distant and never wants to talk about his school situation. He only continues to attend for the social aspect as he has lost all outside privledges due to his lack of effort at school. It is a vicious cycle. I know us pushing him only makes him feel worse but it is not in my nature to give up.
    What is it that you feel would help you? How do you help someone to become motivated or to recognize that they are worth the effort. It is a choice you kids are making and it is so frustrating that you cannot see the lasting impact your lack of action is having on your futures. We are not trying to scare you but are very scared for you. Lord knows I do not want to lecture or preach, I am looking for ways to help. We have all made mistakes for which we pay dearly and we just want to spare you some of the pain associated with those mistakes.
    We know how different this world is today from that in which we grew up but we need your help to understand what pressures you feel so that we can help you through the rough times. Growing up was hard when we did it and it has only become more difficult in recent years. We really do want to help you but you have to let us know how. Please know that you are not alone and that there are people who truly care…you just have keep an open mind and be willing to let us and accept our help. I am not sure that you have any answers but maybe we could help one another.

  11. I still feel the same way I did when I was a teenager and I am 25. I am an artist/ designer/ musician, and The system failed me by not focusing on what I was good at. Instead they graded my “work” and not my progress or ability.

    The grading system is all wrong. For example I am excellent at problem solving, and I was always ahead of the class. I also have an excellent memory and I would get A’s on every test that I took. Why wasn’t this taken into account? They could have figured out that I was bored. and tried to challenge me but they didn’t Instead they kept telling me that I had so much potential. I would have been more into school if they hadn’t told me that I couldn’t take any electives. none. Artists need electives. It’s our life blood.

    After I was given the label “failure” I decided that they did not care if I was learning anything, they were only concerned with wether or not I could regurgitate my knowledge through asinine repetitive homework assignments. Too much homework. The problem is that The system promotes worker bee mentality while marginalizing critical thinking, and genuine problem solving. Just look at our president. Our society promotes workers and consumers. Critical thinking is not required. As I get older I realize that the system is not trying to educate you it only aims to control you and keep you working for it. Students loans etc. Work, consume, die. I think for myself. How’s that for some apathy?

    p.s. my problem lies with hypocritical authority figures maybe his does too.
    Kids are smarter these days, maybe he figured it out already..

  12. I am loving all these comments.

    I agree with ‘T’ that the system can, and often does, fail students. That possibility was one of the main factors that led us toward home schooling: our girls have the freedom to learn in their own individual ways, and to really go after their areas of interest.

    But I don’t think that the system is always the problem. In the case of my student, I’m not talking about him being creative and wanting to succeed in different ways than our school allows; he is just flat out not doing anything, even though, when he chooses to do something (like a thesis paper), he knocks it clear out of the park.

    He truly does not seem to have the ability (or the will, or neither) to see where his choices are leading him. He thinks it’s funny to say that his life’s goal is to be a hobo.

    Let me be clear: I do not think that the only true measure of success is high grades, a college education, and a nice, safe career path. But kids do need to learn to reach for goals and not blow them off. It’s much too hard, and too painful, to try to learn those lessons later.

    One final note:
    I have to disagree with T’s assertion that kids are smarter these days. I believe people are essentially the same as they’ve always been, we just have access to more information. In fact, I think our culture overestimates kids, and we wind up giving them more responsibility than they can handle. Biologically, the human brain isn’t even fully grown until the individual is about 25 years old. And the part of the brain that controls decision making, impulse control, and the ability to predict the outcome of certain behaviors is the part that isn’t fully there! So we, as adults, have to make certain that we do continue to try to guide teens — though the balance between guiding and controlling is tricky to maintain.

  13. Apathy – my personal thoughts from experience

    The primary reason people do not care enough is because they have been pampered, and given too much as a result of the ultra-liberal society in the west. In my opinion, successful people have typically suffered severe hardship in their lifetime, or more importantly, have witnessed others that they care about suffering severe hardship.

    The trick is going to be instilling in your student a sense that he/she is in debt to society, family, peers, relatives etc. For me, my parents had a terrible divorce when I was young. I was distraught, but determined to do my best to not be a burden. My motivation has therefore been making people happy that I care for. I care for them because I feel so sorry for the suffering, and so appreciative of their kind actions, that I naturally give my best. For example, I will never forget after my mother was forced to leave home with no education, no job, no skills, and no income, yet she still managed to buy us expensive birthday presents. After she left I kept thinking about this time when she had bought me fast food and I didn’t want to eat it. For whatever reason I felt so bad for… “throwing her generosity and love back in her face”. So there are some examples.

    My suggestion is to show him/her suffering. You have to show him/her another person’s misery in the hopes of making him/her feel empathy. What is better is if the suffering person still exemplifies qualities that we consider noble, such as a mother who sacrifices for her children, etc. BUT! It has to be a first hand experience. Movies, reading, is no substitute for the real LIVE thing. Empathy is the solution to apathy, and I believe it is something that everyone is able to feel. It would be best if you match the miserable person’s circumstances to something he/she can relate too.

    Hope that helps.

  14. I was reading comment no. 6 and I was asking myself – when did I write this?!

    I would write exactly the same thing about my life.

    I’m in college right now and my chronic apathy keeps me from getting anywhere with my life. Flunked out of uni twice, passed two years at another uni and now I’m about to flunk that too…

    Life is meaningless and that might be the cause. The problem is, we have to live – no way around that – and… when you think about it, what is the point of doing anything?

  15. These comments actually makes me feel better just for the feeling I’m not the only one with this problem. I don’t really care about anything. Even my family who i know loves me is so distant from me. My whole life is like Sam said – I say “Damn” and go on with my life……

    I can hardly manage to get out of bed in the morning. I barely force myself to go school. Nothing really makes me happy at all. I’ve really been thinking about trying different drugs to make myself happier. Maybe anti-depressants would help….

    It’s probably too late, but you shouldn’t fail him. Let him slip by this year and hope he’ll get better soon.

  16. I am so saddened to read the comments of those who relate to my student! Although it is a great thing to see that you’re not alone (Sam’s comment about not feeling “human” is, I hope, disproven a bit by the fact that so many feel just as he does).

    This post was originally written last year, so that particular student is no longer in my class. He did pass the class because of a sudden burst of diligence toward the end. He transferred to a different school for this year, though, so I have no way of knowing how he’s doing now.

    To those who seem to believe that life is meaningless — even though I can relate to feelings of frustration and not wanting to get out of bed, I do believe this, with all my heart:

    “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

    There is a plan and a purpose to every little thing, even though we can’t see it.

  17. I would consider myself extremely apathetic currently. I’m 16 and working on grade 11 as hard as I can, but I feel myself continuously drifting from my hard work habits and obligations in class. I am an honors student, and I feel that that honor may not continue to be mien next year.

    I believe my lack of effort in school is very simply a lack of interest in school. period. I can understand and do the work, very very well when i try. However, I am (along with many students) beginning to realize that a majority of what is being covered, truly is useless for our future goals. Yes, there are certain things that are crucial and must be covered, but the fact is is that it is assembly line schooling. They push kids in and out, and take little interest in whether or not half of what they are covering will ever be used by the majority. I know I can accomplish the work put in front of me, but I constantly question WHY this work must be done?

    In the real world, you dont need to do fruity little poems, you dont need to learn what happened 3000 years ago in another country and you certainly wont remember half of what you were taught, simply because it was useless to you.

    You want kids to work and work well? Give them work theyll actually need for a change, and for GODS SAKE, stop jamming more into the corriculum. I dont know why educators think kids can handle more and more work every year.

  18. I like post 14.
    I identify with post 15
    And I strongly identify with post 16.

    I graduated highschool with a 3.71 GPA taking AP Calc, AP English, and AP Physics.
    I entered college this semester with 13 credits that all applied to my major. This effectively made me almost a first semester sophomore.

    Since Ive come to school I have slid into a routine of apathy.
    I put in 100% effort for about the first 2 to 3 weeks of school.
    I got 100% on my first set of tests.
    I got A’s on my first set of essays.
    Then I stopped.

    I am now over a week behind in my work.
    I go to class merely to go through the motions.

    I am considering going to a counselor tomorrow to discuss the possibility of me dropping out of school.
    I’ve asked my friends and family about my situation but have received little more than “Dont drop out. Suck it up. Stay in.”
    These responses do not address my real problem.

    I suppose I have been “pampered” sort of. I mean, I was never for want of love, food, shelter, or support.
    I wasnt spoiled though. I didnt “get everything I wanted”. For the most part, i only got what i wanted if i bought it myself or somehow convinced my parents to go 50-50 on it with me as far as physical things.

    I look at the path Im on and I know it probably wont end well but… I just cant be bothered…

    Its nice to see others felt/feel the same way however it still gives me nothing in the way of a solution.

  19. Finding others who are going through the same struggles that we’re going through can be a great source of comfort. The problem arises when we allow that common thread to become an excuse to go on with the way things are and not attempt to find a solution.

    The sad fact is that no external force can be a cure for apathy. Apathy is internal, so it must be tackled from the inside — by the very individual it’s affecting.

    The problem: the individual is apathetic, so where would the internal drive to tackle the apathy come from?!

    All the parents and teachers can do is continue to parent, continue to teach, and continue to allow the apathetic individual to reap the consequences of that apathy.

    This too shall pass…

  20. I agree.

    There has to be a root to apathy though, I refuse to believe that apathy is the effect and the cause. Every effect has a cause.
    Maybe parents, teachers, and friends are too close to see the cause, or maybe they are too close for me to acknowledge that they see it.

    Maybe I need an objective observer. A counselor/therapist?
    We’ll see if I can swallow my pride enough to go through with that.

  21. Ben –

    I’m sorry I wasn’t clear about the cause/effect issue. I didn’t mean that apathy causes itself — rather, that once you are apathetic (whatever the mysterious cause might be), the apathy itself hinders your recovery. Where would the motivation be to pull yourself up from your bootstraps if you weren’t particularly interested in being pulled up?

    I wonder if your classes are not challenging enough. It is incredible to me that you received nearly perfect scores on all your very first assignments and tests at the college level. Even though I was a top student in my high school English classes, the requirements of college threw me for a loop and I wound up with C’s my first semester. I was stunned. It forced me work harder, and in my later years, I made the dean’s list several times.

    If you are willing, I would suggest going to an academic counselor at your college first. Or even to a trusted teacher from your high school who knows you, your potential, and your previous work ethic.

    I think it’s a good sign that your apathy bothers you! That is a wonderful glimmer of hope.

    I’ll be praying for you by name.


  22. dear M(r)s. Houk,

    I have been a lifelong sufferer of apathy. I don’t want to sound rude or self important, but I am by no means an idiot. I have a fairly strong comprehension skill (basically I don’t have to study much). When I want to be, I can be described as witty, intelligent, incredibly articulate, and compassionate. But most of the time I just don’t care. Life is a bore. Keeping in contact with people is a troublesome and time consuming affair, and eating is simply the most bothersome and laborious. I have recently been trying to find a way to overcome it, bash its head into a wall, whatever you name it.

    It might not help other people who have this vastly understated problem, but I feel the real solution is to realize that things DO matter, that there IS some overarching goal in life. This is a problem produced by society, but you can’t just blame it on society; a large portion of blame lies with every afflicted individual. I go to the post office, and some old guy flips the door mat over, notices, and just keeps on walking. Three people step over the mat, one person nearly trips. What do I do? I almost step over, then decide to flip it over. Because I’m a clumsy person, and if it’s not me, it’s someone else. And the guy taking down the flag actually thanked me.

    But what’s that got to do with anything? I think the idea is that you have to honestly feel that what you do matters to YOU. I wasn’t raised Buddhist, but I have the Buddhist value that what I do should be be for the betterment of my fellow humans. I don’t think that’s very different than many principles of Islam or Christianity or whatever else; while I am not a very motivated person, there are still little things that I try to do differently each day with the thought that I somehow positively impact someone else’s life (idk, like notifying grocery clerks about busted eggs, actually returning carts, picking up a cup in the parking lot, doesn’t amount to much, I guess).

    I’m not sure where I’m going with this, if anywhere. But somewhere out there, there are hundreds and thousands of people like me. We are intelligent people, with incredible written and spoken communicative skills, who have unknown potential to move the very foundations of society… but we stay home, playing video games or watching Law and Order, or working some crap job that barely pays the bills.


    There is a fundamental perception that society does not have an investment in us. Our individual input is easily replaceable. In many cases, we are subpriority to our parents jobs which pay the bills, we are subpriority to quality instruction, since numbers determine how schools get paid, we are subpriority to service people in stores, who are there not to service you, but to get paid. With this kind of feeling, we therefore feel we have no investment in society.

    Why should I care about what happens in the world, when the world doesn’t care about me?

    It’s a bit self centered, but it eventually leads to feeling that since the world doesn’t care, you might as well do whatever you want. Fail your classes. Never wake up on time to go to work. Heck, get fired, and drop out of school/college. It doesn’t matter anyway. No one will notice. You can safely fade away in some basement apartment in the city, and no one will be the worse for it. Perhaps your family might miss you, but hey, you assume they are better off without around. Better anyway, it’s pointless to call them and tell them that basically you are doing the same meaningless crap you’ve been doing for the last two, three, four, five, ten, fifteen years.

    So I guess what I mean is that, I will probably never get over this. But I took a long, hard look at my father, who is barely over 50, who decided to move into my grandparents’ place, and hasn’t worked in about 4-5 years, and is neither incapable nor actively seeking employment. He does the bare minimum. It’s likely that he will only do something if he perceives he can directly benefit from the activity (I was in chess club in grammar school… it was inconvenient for him to pick me up late so that was that :\). No, he wasn’t the greatest parent. He was the type who wants to be friends with everyone, and you just can’t do that with your kids (parent/child relationships must be tyrannies, not democracies. it’s the parents’ obligation to both shelter and instruct their children, and it is up to children to obey their parents). My mother is the opposite. They had married early (well, to my standards) at 19; she had dropped out of college (veterinary studies) to raise my sister, since dad never really helped around the house. That sort of thing went on in their marriage. She did most of the work, and he did the bare minimum. They had a small photo business; he would be there during shop hours, and she would stay until 2-3 am, after she took my sister and I home, did grocery shopping, fed us, and put us to bed. My stepfather… well, he had three daughters. All had teenage pregnancies, two got hooked on drugs, and his wife divorced him. It’s taken a while, but I’ve washed all of his bad teachings out (he claimed it was his kids’ fault, and it is… to a point. 3 of 3 is pretty bad no matter how you look at it).

    There’s that point where I realized my parents are just people. That’s pretty much rock bottom. I respect my mother, and at least my stepfather takes care of my mom. But my dad… all I can do is pity him.

    I realized that my life MUST sum up to something… anything, as long as I can sleep soundly at night. I can’t simply let my life slide by. I’m already 23, close to 24. I don’t have a plan for life. I don’t have a goal. I have been messing around in community college, with a >2.0 GPA, but when I came to the realization that what I doesn’t need to match up to some standard that someone other than >me< set up, I was able to do well. I earned an A in my Legal Env. of Business course over the summer, and I’m pushing A’s in three of this fall’s courses. I decided to major in accounting… I couldn’t decide what to do, so I simply picked whatever was at the alphabetical top of the list.

    And where will I go? Likely I’ll finish up in 2-3 years at Cal State Fullerton with a bachelor’s in Business/Accounting. Do I like what I’m doing? Not necessarily. But I’m perfectly fine with doing this seemingly boring kind of coursework, because I have a reason to do it… and that reason is, I need something to do while I wait for my life’s inspiration or whatever to crop up.

    I have made life into a game. It has no end and no purpose other than what you decide for yourself. Forcing other peoples’ goals and abstract parameters on your own life is incredibly detrimental. If you don’t give a crap about life, and you’re failing in school (especially 1-12), why not take a different view at school?

    What have you got to lose from just doing the damned work? There doesn’t have to be a reason to do it other than to do it.

    Apathy requires recognition of problem, affirmation that there is, indeed, a problem, and then finding help to live with it. It generally seems to stem from a lack of purpose in life. But I feel that you don’t need to have a purpose. Wandering can suit you just fine.

    I’m sorry this was so long. I’m not even sure if it will help you. I actually have a sore wrist now from typing all of that. The keyboards at my community college are terrible.

  23. Tae –

    Thank you for your thoughtful, thought-provoking response.

    I think that your example of your dad proves that what each of us does really does matter. It matters to you. It mattered to his marriage (it ended!).

    Even your flipping over the mat mattered to the man who thanked you.

    I think our perception that what we do does not matter, or that there is no purpose, is a false perception.

    I’m reminded again of Ephesians 2:10, which I quoted in an earlier response to this same post. God is real, and God made each one of us for a purpose. It’s an act of faith to trust Him with that purpose, and to do what is set before us to do (even if it seems minor, like doing your homework well, or flipping over a mat to keep a stranger from stumbling).

    Sometimes we have to work through our own apathy, as you are doing, and wait for inspiration to strike. At the very least, you are learning discipline and a great work ethic, which is not for nothing!

    Thanks again for your comments.

    (Mrs.) Mandy Houk

  24. Mandy
    I am a 17 year old male and I am graduating as the top academic student in my school this thursday. It is a goal that I have been working towards for more than 2 years but what worries me is that I do not feel any satisfaction, excitement or joy towards receiving this well earned award.
    For about 6 months I have had a very neutral spectra of emotions, best described as muted, numb or blunt. The onset of this problem came at a time where I lost my virginity (and did not enjoy it) and also at a time when I was consciously working towards eliminating certain negative emotions such as nervousness and anger from my emotional arsenal in order to improve my lifestyle. I must mention that another effect of this issue is my complete loss in sexual desire and ability to get aroused. I recognise the significance of this problem and so recently spoke to my GP who cleared me of ‘depression’ and took a hormone profile blood test which eventually showed up as normal and healthy.
    I am glad (without feeling glad haha) to have found your website as now I may know that my problem could be apathy. I am very determined to mend this problem!
    Is what I have described a good indicator of being apathetic?

  25. AJ –

    Well, for one thing, I think you should be very proud of your academic achievements, and I hope that it will sink in sooner or later so you can feel that joy and appreciation for a job well done!

    As for the rest of it — I am not at all an authority on apathy. I actually have been intrigued at the hits and responses this post has received since I wrote it. It is my most popular post, and most people reach my site after entering something like “cure for apathy” in a search engine.

    In fact, I built this site primarily as a website about marriage — the sanctity of marriage, and the hard work that is required to keep marriages strong and healthy.

    My first impression is that perhaps you feel that losing your virginity was a poor choice. You’ve pinpointed that occasion as the beginning of your sinking feelings.

    And this, again, would be something that I am not an expert on, since I saved myself for my husband.

    I think you made the right move in seeing your GP, and you’ve established that your feelings have no root in something physically amiss.

    But I am truly not the one to ask for an official diagnosis. I am just someone who loves to teach high school kids, and the apathy that I see in many of them breaks my heart. That was my reason for writing this post originally … and if it has somehow helped you, I am glad of that!


  26. I think an important issue that has not been addressed here whatsoever is incentive. As a 17 year old high school junior, i understand exactly what apathy is. I know I can do well in my classes, I am fully aware that I can do whatever I want. I don’t care.

    Bottom line is, I wake up, I go to school because I am told I have to, I am assigned homework I am told I have to do, and I do it because I am told I have to. And so, I have stopped to care, because why should I do it? Because I’m told to?

    If you had to get up everyday and go to work, where people gave you arbitrary problems to solve and questions to answer, and told you if you didn’t do so you would be disenfranchised from society, would you like that? To top it off, they’re not paying you. All they say to you is, “If you don’t do this, you’re future is going to be horrible.”

    If there was some reason for me to do my homework with immediate benefit to myself, perhaps I would be more motivated. If I was making $20 everytime I turned in an A paper, I might want to do it. I’m not saying we have to pay students, but there should be benefits for those who do well. Instead, we seem to be scorned, ignored, and unwanted by the rest of society.

    Teenagers are just people like the rest. A letter on my transcripts is abstract, and does not affect who I am or what I have, at least in the immediate. We live in the now, not the future, and I would rather enjoy life now and die homeless and alone then spend my whole life waiting for the future that never comes.

  27. Sam,

    You said: “If you had to get up everyday and go to work, where people gave you arbitrary problems to solve and questions to answer, and told you if you didn’t do so you would be disenfranchised from society, would you like that? To top it off, they’re not paying you. All they say to you is, “If you don’t do this, you’re future is going to be horrible.””

    Um. Sounds to me like mothering. I get up every day, much earlier than I want to, and have to solve problems and answer questions that I frankly don’t always care about (refereeing a fight about who gets the last bit of cereal, for example; answering a question about how my teenaged daughter ought to do her hair). Nobody pays me to do this–in fact, I’m rarely even thanked for any of it–but society tells me that if I do not parent my children well, they will grow up to be burdens on society, and much of the blame will fall to me.

    This extends to other aspects of daily life as well. Nobody pays adults to keep their homes clean and in good repair. Nobody pays them to keep their bills paid, their kids in school, or any of the other things that are part and parcel of every single day of their lives.

    And even in my paid position as a teacher, or in any adult’s paid employment situation, do you honestly believe that the money is enough to make the inherent drudgery 100% worthwhile? Haven’t you ever heard of people complaining that they don’t make enough money, or get enough vacation time?

    Actually, your recent comment puts this whole debate in a new light for me. Perhaps the real issue is that parents are not teaching their kids about reality.

    I actually recall believing, when I was in college, that I was much busier than any of the adults I knew. They did not have to do homework, or study for tests. They just got to go to jobs that they had chosen and then go home and relax. But that is not true. Because adults don’t always love our jobs, even when we choose them (and often, people wind up having no choice but to do jobs they don’t particularly like). And I can’t relax in the evenings until the errands have been run, the kids have done their homework, the meal has been prepared, eaten, and the dishes have been washed afterwards. And the dog has been fed and taken for a walk. And the bills have been paid, the trash taken out, the shopping list prepared for next week, the coupons clipped… and so on.

    Doing what needs to be done, regardless of the pleasantness of the task, or adequate compensation, or external motivation, is not exclusive to the lives of teenagers. It’s just new to teenagers because they’ve only recently emerged from childhood.

    I think it’s not about apathy after all–it’s about the painful process of building a life of character.

  28. Your comments are very concise, and accurate. I work a job when I don’t have school, when I’m not doing homework, feeding the dog, etc. Maybe the difference is just that we have yet to be assimilated into the machine. I for one am not content with the belief that my life is doomed to be the same as it is now until the day I die. And I understand fully that adults are just as busy as, if not more so, than teenagers, but that doesn’t make it any better; in fact, that is the source of my personal apathy. Not only is my current situation unbearably uninteresting, repetitive, and horrible, I know it will not change. It’s no wonder teenage suicide rates are on the rise: we have become disillusioned at a much younger age than previous generations.

  29. I think you’re right on target with your “assimilation” comment.

    What I hope you can realize soon–or at least trust some old person when they tell you–is that life is good even when most of the stuff you do is just stuff that you “have to do”. Your life will not always be the same. My own life has changed dramatically just in the past two and a half years. Life is always moving, changing, ebbing and flowing. It’s not just a rut that gets deeper with every passing year.

    I do think that the schools pile on a lot more stuff than they did when I was your age. I wouldn’t be surprised if your apathy was largely a function of being tired.

    You’re obviously bright, and pleasantly introspective. You’ll have a great future; hope you can find more enjoyment in your present.

    I would recommend seeking out a sense of purpose, which I found in my later years in high school when I committed my life completely to Christ. My life is far from perfect, and I still get angry, tired, depressed, etc. I am not recommending Him as a quick remedy for what ails you. He’s not a Red Bull or an anti-depressant. But He is real, and if you don’t know Him, that would be a sad life indeed.

    Here’s a great website:

  30. Apathy is a sickness that makes people regret life. Been a person that has suffered from apathy for 37 years. There is no easy answer and there is no easy solution. People that have lived with apathy for most of their lives, live in a semi-depressed life that lacks joy and gain. I think that the cure for apathy is apathy itself. If you make yourself think about it, if you use apathy against itself, it forces the mind to think and see how to get away from it. I hope this helps

  31. Wow…. this has been by far the most ineresting discussion I have read all year.

    It would appear that drawing from people’s contribution to this message board, apathy can be traced to a few certain factors.

    First up, and I believe that most would agree with me,

    Lacking motivation in life
    Sometimes it feels as if nothing can truly satisfy us. Work, school, family, friends, relationships? What does it truly matter anyway? Fact is, the only true satisfaction we can receive in life is death. If we acheived true satisfaction in life, there would no longer be any reason for living.
    So basically, we can equate being too satisfied with apathy as well.

    Didn’t Hemingway say that the rarest thing on earth was an intelligent man who was happy? Obviously, the only people who are capable of this jaded emotion known as “happiness” or even “content” or those who don’t hold the mental ability to see the true bleakness of life and the hopelessness of it all.

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