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.
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?
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:
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.
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