5 Ways to Help Underclassmen Be Successful (Part 1)

How To Set Your Teen Up For Success

The freshmen and sophomore years of high school are difficult. Ninth and tenth graders are highly social and emotional. Their maturity level is hit or miss. They’re helping your teen with high school successcaught between childhood and adulthood and have the capacity to make poor choices that affect their future.

Academically, a lot of underclassmen mess around. Most of them don’t think about college or what they want to do after high school. Their efforts in the classroom can reflect an “I don’t care” attitude. It’s common for kids in 9th and 10th grades to perform below their academic ability because they lack effort and focus.

While academics aren’t the only part of a student’s life, grades during these years affect a teen’s overall GPA, which determines college acceptance or scholarship eligibility. As a former high school teacher, I saw many upperclassmen whose overall grades in the underclassman years detrimentally affected their ability to get into the college they were hoping to attend.

So how can a parent help underclassmen succeed academically?

  1. Talk to them, but don’t lecture. Talking to them about goals after high school is important, but it needs to be a conversation. Foster their interests and goals in a way that motivates them to pursue their passion and dreams.
  1. Don’t pressure them. Fourteen to sixteen year-olds naturally don’t want to be told what to do. Having open conversations with them about grades and their future should be filled with guidance and motivation. A child who feels pressure to get good grades may shut down because they feel they can’t achieve the expectations. Guide them and be gentle.
  2. Promote the life skill of doing your best. This expectation is a win-win for both students and parents. Ninth and tenth graders don’t always give their best in the classroom and later regret it. Teens can have an “I don’t care attitude” about subjects that aren’t relevant to their interests or future. Having the ongoing expectation of doing your best is a life skill that isn’t attached to grades, but a work ethic.
  3. Be aware of their developmental struggle. Freshmen and sophomores are caught in their natural development. One minute they seem adult-like and the next moment they’re like a young child. They’re emotional beings making decisions from the emotional side of their developing brain. Be patient as they navigate through their emotional roller coaster, guiding them firmly and gently as needed.
  4. Choose your battles. If your teen shows signs of rebellion, depression, self-harm or if their attitude towards grades or school has changed drastically, don’t make grades your primary battle. Their social, emotional, or mental health is more important. There may be underlying causes for these behaviors that need to be addressed. If your child is truly doing their best and they’re getting C’s and D’s, investigate their academic struggle. Do they have an undiagnosed learning disability or mental health condition that affects their learning? For any of these behaviors, include teachers, counselors or mental health professionals to help you and your teen identify their struggle.

We’ll share five more tips next week on helping your underclassmen survive these years. What is your underclassman struggling with?

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Brenda has a Masters degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and a BA in education. She's a speaker, freelance writer, author, counselor and teacher who's spent two decades working with and raising teenagers. She's a mom of four, from middle school to young adult, and lives with her family on a farm in Indiana. She writes about life, faith, and parenting beyond the storybook image at Life Beyond the Picket Fence at brendayoder.com.

Brenda Yoder

Brenda has a Masters degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and a BA in education. She's a speaker, freelance writer, author, counselor and teacher who's spent two decades working with and raising teenagers. She's a mom of four, from middle school to young adult, and lives with her family on a farm in Indiana. She writes about life, faith, and parenting beyond the storybook image at Life Beyond the Picket Fence at brendayoder.com.

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