Being a high school Freshman and Sophomore is hard. They’re caught between childhood and adulthood and many don’t look beyond the next lunch period.
Their emotions run high and social groups are important.
Their efforts in the classroom take an “I don’t care” attitude.
Thinking about college or what they want to do after high school isn’t even on their radar.
While academics aren’t the only part of a student’s life, grades during these years are important for their overall GPA. Their GPA affects college acceptance or scholarship eligibility. Underclassman grades can detrimentally affected a student’s hopes for post-high school plans.
So how can a parent help underclassmen succeed academically?
- Talk with them about their future. Talking with your teen about what they want to do after high school is important. Let it be a conversation, however, not a lecture. Affirm their skills and talents. Connect them with career-exploration websites. Excitement about their future can be the self-motivator they need to care about grades.
- Don’t pressure them. Parental pressure doesn’t motivate a child. Instead, it fosters anxiety, rebellion, or causes a teen to shut down when they feel they can’t succeed. Instead, guide them with gentle and open conversations about grades and their future.
- Teach them to do their best. Part of the academic struggle for teens is seeing the relevance of school to real life. Instead of demanding good grades in subjects they struggle with, set the expectation to do their best. It’s a skill they’ll need in any job. For high-achieving students who put pressure on themselves to get A’s, expecting them to simply do their best gives them permission to bring home a less than perfect grade in a difficult subject. It’s a win-win for both students and parents.
- Be aware of their developmental struggle. Emotional and social intensity is part of an underclassman’s natural stage of development. One minute they’re adult-like and the next minute they’re not. The emotional side of their developing brain is still dominant at this age. Be patient with them as they navigate through their academic roller coaster, giving grace when needed.
- Choose your battles. If your teen’s attitude towards grades or school has changed drastically, or if they are showing signs of rebellion, depression, or self-harm, don’t make grades your primary battle. Their social, emotional, or mental health needs are more important and should be addressed. However, if your child is not struggling in these areas and doing their best results in poor grades, investigate their academic struggle. Do they have an undiagnosed learning disability or a mental health condition that affects their learning? For any of these behaviors, include teachers, school counselors or mental health professionals to help you and your teen identify their struggle.
These are just five things to keep in mind when talking to a young teen who’s struggling academically. Most importantly, listen to your teen when talking about their academic struggles. These techniques are best utilized when your teen knows you’re on their side.