By Nancy Ryburn

Q. My son failed 3 classes his first year of college because he says the teachers do not explain the material. He had good grades in high school. He lives at home, and I know he studies. He denies any depression. Should I call his instructors?

A. Since your son is in college, I would suggest you speak with him and not his instructors. If someone fails one college class, he could potentially have difficulty with a subject or even the instructor. However, if he failed three classes, you must place the responsibility on him and attempt to discover why he allowed this to happen.

You son could have what psychologists term an external locus of control which means he blames other people or fate for his failures. He must learn to take responsibility for his actions and realize that his parents, teachers or friends are not going to solve life’s problems as he matures. College students who realize that their education is their responsibility tend to understand the expectation of their courses, study more, have more contact with their instructors, achieve better grades and graduate sooner.

Since you imply that this is a new pattern for your son, you should question him further about possible depression. Many young people who go to college become depressed because they must make new friends and find the academic atmosphere more challenging. Since he is living at home and attending college, he may feel less successful than his classmates who went away to school.

If after a conversation with your son, you feel that depression is the issue, then he needs to meet with a mental health professional. If he is not depressed, he needs to stop making excuses and assume responsibility for his actions.

As a parent, you need to seriously discuss his interest in continuing college. It’s not for everyone, and he may be happier working for a few years. If he decides to return to college after working, he will most likely be a much more diligent student.

Q. My son is out of school for the summer. He’s 15, and he doesn’t seem interested in anything. I’m afraid he will get in trouble if he’s home all day alone while we are working. What do you suggest?

A. You say that your son is not interested in "anything." Your first assignment as a parent is to talk with him and make a list of activities he enjoys.

Since he is young, you need to help him find those resources in your community. If he’s interested in sports, find a place where he can participate. If he’s interested in theatre, find a local community theatre. If he’s interested in fishing, ask an older friend or relative to take him fishing several times during the summer. Get him a gym membership, and set some exercise goals for him and your family.

There are low-cost camps for teens. If there is not one at your church, there are probably several in your area. You may also encourage him to enroll in summer school at a local community college. That will keep him busy and lessen his academic load once he gets to college.

Businesses and organizations are always looking for volunteers. A summer volunteer job would strengthen his college application and give him work experience for next summer when he is old enough to have a paying job.

What he should not be allowed to do is sleep until noon, watch television and play computer games all day. If you notice that this is happening, I’m sure you have several friends who would like their lawns mowed and their gardens weeded.

Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City where she maintained a private practice. She now teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College in Pine Bluff, Ark. E-mail your questions to The questions cannot be answered personally, but could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.