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Often when teens are struggling with grades, parents tend to either go into full drill sergeant mode and "ground" or yell at their teenager OR they may get into helicopter parent mode and try doing the teen's homework for them. Neither of these options tends to work well for the teen or the parents. Control battles, trying to "make them" do their homework, and getting indignant and lecturing usually just weakens a teen's self-concept and lowers respect in the relationship.

Why teens lack motivation

Teens get tired of keeping up with demands

High school is a time of intense competition, academically and socially. Few teens are not tired of high school by the time it's over! If your teen is getting burned out, see what parts of their schedule you can cut out, and have a talk with them about ways they would like to recharge.

Depression or learning disorders

If you suspect your teen is depressed or has a learning disorder, seek professional testing + counseling. Berating a student who has problems like these will make things worse! Make sure you check with your teen's teachers and do your due diligence.

A sign of unconscious rebellion

If your teen is rebelling, ignore the grades and get right to the rebellion. What is it that they are rebelling against and why? If you focus on the grades, the teen may start to dig in their heels and begin doing even worse just to prove a point to you. Read more about this pattern here.

Some teens do poorly because they're preoccupied with something else.

Some teens work full time, are athletes, or have an obsessive hobby. If that's the case, support your teen in having boundaries around those subjects and perhaps take a second look at their schedule - is there a way you can lower school expectations so that they can pursue this outside activity?

Peer pressure

When teens have a peer group that doesn’t value school, teens will usually try to fit in with them and lower their academic performance to match.

What you can do about peer pressure:

Let teens own their grades.

You can minimize a lot of control battles by allowing your teen to own their grades. Teens must be taught to view their own success or failure in school as belonging to them. Typically, the more responsible the teen, the less involved the parent - this structure allows for easy incentives and motivation for your teen to start doing better in class.

Best to let our teens know we hope they graduate, but if they reach a point where school is unimportant to them, we will interpret that as they are ready for full-time employment in order for them to live with us, or they are ready to move out.

The most common mistake with grades is to try and shove your high schooler all the way to graduation. They will likely fail in college or at their first job if you do this. No adult can push another adult into success! When we let our teens own their problems, it allows them to become more responsible and sets them up for success.

Example of handing their problem back to them:

“I love you and want to provide all the stuff you enjoy around here - the food, heat, etc. is all because I do an above-average job at work. Since you're not doing above average in school I find myself getting resentful and I love you too much to let that continue. So, I’m wondering if it's time for you to make your own way in the world. Or, if you choose to stay here, start working and pay for room and board. You know? I don’t want to have bad feelings about you. Why don’t we give it one last quarter? if you get a b in school, and I keep getting a b at work, were’ even. But if grades are still low, I’ll expect you to start getting a job and pay room and board within 3 weeks. You’re a great worker, you’d be great at Mcdonald's. Well, good luck - I hope you work this out."

When we allow teens to be in charge of their own grades, it gives them the opportunity to take responsibility for their lives. This can sound very scary as a parent, and remember, some of America's greatest entrepreneurs dropped out of high school to start a business. Not everyone's professional development is the same. This is not to say that dropping out is encouraged and it's not the end of the world. In short - if your child has a good self-image, they will likely get a GED or attend college later in life. if the teen has low grades due to drug use or depression then the issue is your teen's mental health, not poor school achievement.

Do you like these tips?

We are taking a strong stance on grounding teenagers.

On behalf of all our teens in our programs - parents- please stop grounding them! You don't have to do it. Discipline can still work great without it.

Grounding simply doesn't make sense to teens. They don't get it. It feels like senseless torture and often ends up deteriorating the relationship you have with them without creating the desired results.

From a teenager's perspective, grounding is extremely confusing. They don't see grounding modeled anywhere else in life. Adults don't ground each other. If you argue with your spouse, you can't ground your spouse. Why is that? Your spouse would never agree to be grounded. They would push back against that. In fact, asking your spouse to submit would be seen as extremely patronizing and inappropriate.

Parents who use grounding effectively, often already have a great relationship with their teens. In those relationships, the teen will likely do anything for the parent, so they put up with the grounding. It doesn't work for parents who are trying to control or overpower their teens.

Try to save grounding as a once per child per lifetime thing. Soon they realize they can not listen to you and there’s nothing you can do about it - and grounding sets them up for more sneaking out and even greater push back. Save grounding for the worst thing they can do - and use it sparingly.

So what does work?

Read more about what does work for teens here and here!

Teens love trying out a wide range of values and then seeing how the people around them respond. This is an essential part of teen self-concept building and is very developmentally appropriate. Often, teens love seeing their parents react to these new values negatively. Once the parents have a negative reaction, the teen will double down on the value and use it as a way to differentiate themselves from the parent.

Why do they do this?

  1. Sometimes they want to hear what's right. They want to hear you give them a healthier and more mature perspective and this is the only way they know how to ask for it.
  2. Sometimes they want attention and engagement from you. If the teen isn't getting enough healthy attention, they will act out and try to get negative attention.
  3. They may want their parent to feel pain because the relationship isn't going well.
  4. They may want to feel in control because they are used to feeling out of control.

Parents, it does not matter what the teens say their values are while they are this age. You must play the long game here. By the time they are 30, the majority of them will wake up and realize they have the same values as you do. You do not need to lecture or drill them into your worldview.

We can not transfer all of our values to our teens. However, we can place them in situations where they discover their values on their own.

Things you can say in response to teen value testing:

Ways we can support teens in maturing their value systems:

Not all drugs are created equal and neither is all drug use.

Drug use falls into 3 categories:

Most teens experiment with substances at some point. However, of those who experiment, most will not go on to use or abuse drugs.

How to set boundaries with your teen about drug use:

When talking to your teens about drug use, it's important that you can take a hard stance without becoming angry. You want to be clear and calm. Anger, shouting, and ranting harms the relationship you have with your teen and your teen's self-concept. When teens have a bad relationship with their parents, drug use is more likely. Prioritize keeping the lines of communication open.

At the same time, be consequential and do not rescue your kids. Instead of giving them orders, let your teens know your thoughts on experimentation, use, and abuse of substances. Find fact-based articles about drugs to give to your teen. Provide straightforward and informative evidence. We love this collection of scientific articles from NIDA. Let them know about why people engage in drug use and the consequences of substance use. Girls in particular need to understand the effects of drug use during the first trimester of pregnancy. Also, let them know your limits with substance use and the consequences they may encounter if they cross your limits.

Parents have an obligation to take care of themselves, so make sure you communicate that to your teen. If drugs are found in the home, parents are an accessory to the crime. Let your teen know that if necessary, you will call the police and grant them permission to search the premises. Similarly, if your teen is drinking and driving, let your teen know you will simply phone the sheriff and give them the license plate number. Risking their and others' lives on the highway is not something you are willing to participate in. Let your teens know about your limits with the law. We recommend you communicate very directly that all drug users must deal with the law on their own. Be clear you will not bale them out.

State these realities in a matter-of-fact and loving way. They need to know that you don't want to live with the guilt of having them kill someone or hurt themselves. Statements about yourself and not being an accessory is more effective than lecturing your teen.

Signs of teen drug use:

What to do when you suspect drug use:

Guidelines for finding professional care:

Interested in learning more tips like this?

Entitled teens believe that it is their birthright to have whatever they want, whenever they want it. And, they are never satisfied.

Entitlement starts young. It happens when the parents treat their child as an honored guest in their home, and they act as service providers rather than parents. As the years go by, this strips the child of the ability to act responsibly. These parents fail to set limits for behavior and fail to establish the difference between a want and a need.

As a reaction to their parent's over-giving, the child develops the belief that their happiness is dependent on how well others provide for them, rather than based on their own effort. This belief places her as an eternal victim - always dependent on others for her wellbeing.

Often entiteled teens….

If your teen is acting entitled, there are three things you need to do:

  1. Hold tight to the belief that kids need to learn how to get what they want through their own volition and effort. This is the only way they’ll build self-esteem
  2. Acquire skills for setting and enforcing limits and boundaries
  3. Surround yourself with like-minded friends so you don’t have to listen to the mistaken beliefs of others who are raising entitled children

We live in a culture of self-indulgence and it can be challenging to overcome. However, parents can dramatically influence entitlement behaviors in their teens. The earlier you address your child's entitlement, the easier it is to support them in outgrowing entitled behaviors.

Teens do not know who they are, and they are working like mad to figure it out.

Adolescents are…

Often, anytime a teen looks at themselves, something is wrong. They’ll ask “What does a normal teenager look like?” or “How would a normal teenager act right now” or “What should I be thinking about?”. These questions drive them crazy. Because they haven’t built their self-concept yet, they are always in doubt. Often, we know when they are most insecure because they are acting the surest of themselves.

Additionally, teen cliques are changing constantly - they are competitive and unusually inconsistent due to the rapid changes each individual is going through.

Sometimes, especially when teens have “Drill Seargent” or “Helicopter” parents, teens will do anything to prove that they aren’t their parents because they feel so stifled and controlled. However, sometimes instead of finding their own voice, they will end up following a stronger peer. This is still them listening to a voice outside of themselves. We want to encourage teens to find their own voice and their own way in life, without having to follow someone else.

Things that damage teen self-concept:

  • Excessive criticism
  • Overprotection
  • Neglect
  • Perfectionism
  • Excessive or inadequate control
  • Pushing kids into school before they are ready
  • Learning disabilities

Parenting technique: Minute-to-minute self-concept building

Self-concept building gives your kids the message that they are ok. It lets them know that they can compete at home, in sports, in school, and with their peers. It tells them, “I’m ok”.

Another way to let teens practice and build their self-concept is to slowly start surrendering power to them by offering them choices.

Give teens a choice if:

It is natural to want to control your teenager - however, you must resist the urge to do that if you want to keep your sanity. Slowly and thoughtfully, surrender by offering choices to your teen. Do it often, and especially do it when they’re in a good mood.

Examples of choices:

Strong self-concept building prepares our teens for future leadership

Leadership often runs in families. It’s not genetic however it is built into the culture of the home. It’s never too late to bring it into your family system. Next-level self-concept building tips:

It is disorienting, as a parent, going from your chatty child who tells you about every minute detail of their life, to a distant teenager who doesn’t want anything to do with you. Sometimes, teens can take this to the extreme and give you the silent treatment.

Teens give their parents the silent treatment for a few reasons:

  1. They may assume we can’t handle what they are going to say. (Often they are right about this. If your teen frequently gives you the silent treatment, check out these communication tips).
  2. They may not have the words to say how they feel. (This is developmentally appropriate)
  3. They are seeking independence. “If I share everything with my parents, that means I’m not independent.

It is normal for teens to think that they’re the only ones who have ever had the unique thoughts that they are having. Usually, because of this, they feel strange, confused, and like something is wrong with them. Teens can torture themselves ongoingly with thoughts like “What would a normal 15-year-old do in this situation?” or “What should someone who looks like me be thinking right now?

If your teen is giving you the silent treatment, here are a few things you can do:

Sometimes teens go quiet if they have lied or have done something they know they shouldn’t have. Your teen may be ashamed and not want to admit it. If they do come clean, instead of berating them, stay calm. Say something like “That is sad. I’m glad you shared it with me. How can I help you?” This kind of response keeps communication lines open. This is so important - you want your teen to be able to talk to you about challenging, scary and painful experiences.

Remember, you are also able to share your limits with your teen around their behavior. If your teen asks you for something after having given you the silent treatment for days, feel free to respond with something like... “We haven’t spoken in days and I am worried about you. I would be happy to give you the car if we can touch base about how you are doing first. Take your time, I’ll be available when you’re ready.

One more tip…

We recommend that parents have routine alone time with their teens each week. This time can look like joining a parent-teen sport, going on a walk, grabbing a tea together, going to the gym, volunteering, gardening, or playing a game. Whether it’s during the activity or on the drive home, this routine time is a good place to check in if you are worried. It can also reassure your teen that if they ever don’t know how to tell you something, they will have an opportunity to talk to you in a safe, and private place if they need to.

The goal of parenting teens is to create responsible adults who are equipped with tools that will enable them to make wise choices throughout life.

Responsible teens feel good about themselves

The best way we can do this is by allowing teens to own their problems and the solutions to those problems. Teens who enter into adulthood knowing “I can find solutions to the problems in my life” have an edge.

As parents we can support them in doing this by:

The best solution for the problem lies inside the person who created the problem. If teens are going to learn how to make responsible choices, they need to learn how to live with their bad decisions.

4 steps to responsible teens

  1. Give your teen a responsibility (such as negotiating their curfew or monitoring their own technology time)
  2. Trust they will carry it out (but secretly hope they’ll blow it)
  3. When they do blow it, express empathy, stand back and allow consequences to occur
  4. Turn around and give responsibility all over again. They hear “you are so smart, you can learn and figure this out” when we do this.

When we say “allow consequences to occur” we mean…

As the parent, you have your limits. If you are taking your teen's behavior seriously, you must stand by your limits and follow through with enforcing them.

Wishes vs Limits

After you share your limits, you then hand the problem back to the teen. Here, it is important we don't rescue teens from how painful the consequences of their decisions are. We let them figure out how to move on and where to go next.


One way you can help your teen to own their problems is to express sorrow instead of anger.

Don’t tell your teen what to do - this robs your teen of opportunities to grow up, and usually doesn't work.

Instead, tell them what you are going to do.

When children grow into teens, as parents we suddenly cannot tell them what to do anymore. The truth is we can’t force them to do anything - just like you can’t force any other adult in your life to do anything. We can, however, tell them what we’re going to do in response to their actions.

Often when we tell teens what to do, they clamp down. They think we are trying to control them. They start thinking “You will never control me!! I will get my way!”. This is often paired with deep sadness for teens. When we try to control our teenagers, not only are their needs not being met, but they feel like they must be seen as stupid or fragile, otherwise, in their eyes, we would let them handle it. They want to be responsible.

We want consequences to hurt from the inside out, not the outside in. When we come down on them, it only gives them the opportunity to blame us, rather than to grow. If they are burdened with coming up with their own solutions, they will feel the “hurt” from the inside.

Often our attempts at controlling our teens look like us using fighting words. Fighting words are like tinder on an already burning flame. Avoid using these!

Fighting words: Don’t call your teen to battle

Thinking words: Call your teens into responsibility

You can do this parents! Go slow, and know that these skills take practice. Raising responsible teens is 100% worth the initial discomfort and fear of relaxing and letting go.

Need help with your teen?

Contact us for 1:1 or group support here.

Parenting teenagers can bring out the best and worst of us. Knowing which parenting style you tend to use when you're upset, anxious, annoyed, or trying to cope with your teen growing up can be a game-changer. Which style do you use?

The Helicopter

The helicopter parent makes a lot of noise, it hovers, and it doesn’t go very fast. Helicopters are built to hover, rescue, and protect. This is why emergency response teams couldn’t function without them. But what if you are parenting this way when there is no emergency? Your teenager interprets this as “you’re fragile and you can’t make it without me.”

Parents often helicopter out of guilt. They refrain from imposing or allowing consequences because they themselves are uncomfortable giving consequences. When their children hurt, they bail them out because they hurt too. In short, they won’t let their kids fail.

These parents confuse love, protection, and caring and struggle to tell them apart.

The Drill Sargent

These parents are all about getting into action right now. They believe that children need to grow up to be obedient. Threats are their main tool - such as “clean your room right now or you're grounded”.

Teens with parents like this often end up not knowing how to make decisions because they are always barked orders. They never develop an internal voice. These teens are often prone to rebellion, however, will find other rebellious teens to copy, because they’re still struggling to find their own way.

The adult world doesn’t operate on punishment, it operates on consequences. Teens interpret their punishments as “you are too dumb to think for yourself”.

Laissez-Faire Parent

These parents let children raise themselves, by themselves. The idea is that if left to their own devices, teens will grow into successful, creative people if parents just would not interfere.

Other times these parents believe that they need to be their teen's best friends, and struggle with holding them accountable.

This is not a parenting type - it is an abdication of parenting responsibilities.

Teens interpret this as “you don’t care about me” and will often start acting out to get attention or a rise out of their parents, so they know that they do care.

The Consultant Parent

This parenting type asks questions and offers choices. They put the burden of decision-making on the teen while being clear about their limitations. They do not allow themselves to be abused. They do not shout or scream at their teens, and they do not perform rescue missions.

They understand that their teens are captains of their own fate.

Three rules of consultant parenting:

It is challenging for parents to shift from raising children, where you are essentially benevolent dictators, to raising teenagers and stepping into a consultant role.

To help make that transition:

Read more about these four styles from Jim Fay!