Parenting Teenagers

How Do I Get My Teenager to Try Harder In School?

empowering your teenager family enrichment May 18, 2022

Declining or poor grades can become a source of conflict during the high school years. Especially if your teenager has always been a good student. Let’s say that up until eighth or ninth grade your son or daughter always was eager to go to school. They focused on their homework and breezed through tests. But now things have changed. Now, you never see them studying and when you ask how they are doing in their classes, you get the classic response: Fine. Then the report card comes home and instead of the usual A’s and B’s there are C’s, D’s, and even a F. Can we agree that in this situation, life is putting the squeeze on you?


As with all of our parenting challenges, we have an opportunity to choose how we will respond. For now, I am going to focus on the circumstance of seeing the report card and the initial discussion with your child.


If this has happened to you, think back to the moment when you were opening the report card and seeing the declining grades. If this hasn’t happened, put yourself in this situation. What did you experience (or what do you imagine you would experience)?


For most of us, the initial experience is going to be a combination of disappointment, anger, and frustration. As we have discussed before, these emotions are reflective of a fear-based perspective and in a moment like this it is natural for us to be pulled into a fearful perspective.

So what happens next? This is one of the many moments of truth we face every day in which we have the opportunity to choose between control and empowerment. Between fear and love.


If you respond or engage out of your frustration or anger, there will be conflict. You will demand that your teenager share all of their homework assignments with you so you can check their work. You will inform them that they will not be able to go out with their friends on the weekends until there has been an improvement in their grades. Your teenager will either yell at you, saying things a teenager should never say to their parents, or they will sit non-responsive with their arms folded. Does this sound familiar or seem realistic?


Or you can create a pause. A pause gives the opportunity for you to make a choice. You can ask yourself the following: Do I want to engage from a fear-based control perspective or do I want to engage from a love-based empowerment perspective?


In order to make the shift to a love-based empowerment perspective, ask the following:


  •    What am I grateful for?
  •    What is my teenager going through or what does school look like from their perspective?
  •    What do I need to forgive them for?


Once you are grounded in gratitude, compassion, and forgiveness, you are in a position to ask the important question:


  •    How can I make a difference?


Once grounded in your intention to empower, you will see this situation differently. First, you will see this shift in behavior as a sign that your teenager is feeling isolated or disconnected. You may never be able to understand why or what happened, but you can always look for ways to deepen your connection with them. Secondly, from an empowerment perspective, you see that these are their grades. Your teenager is responsible for the results and the consequences. Your role is to support them along their journey. Here is an example of how the initial conversation might go:


Parent: (in a calm and compassionate way) I saw your report card. Obviously, I was surprised. To be honest, at this moment I am not as concerned about the grades as I am about how you’re doing. It just seems out of character for you, so I want to make sure that you are okay. Are you feeling overwhelmed? Or are there issues with your friends?


Teenager: I’m fine. My classes are just stupid.


(Note: Your teenager will rarely open up on the first attempt, but know that they did hear your concern and they did appreciate your support.)


Parent: (in a forgiving and non-judgmental way) Okay. I want you to know that I am available to talk if you want and that I will try really hard to just listen and understand what you are going through. Also, now that you are in high school I know that these are your grades. Again, I am here to support you, but ultimately they are your responsibility. I am curious… What do you mean when you say your classes are stupid?


With this approach the parent has set the stage for their teenager to open up about any issues they are dealing with, while at the same time they have transferred responsibility for the grades to their teenager. They have made the transition from control to empowerment.


 Jim White

Family Enrichment Coach





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