10 Ways To Help Your Struggling Teen At School, From A HS Teacher

10 Ways To Help Your Struggling Teen At School, From A HS Teacher

The couple sat down in the desks I had pulled together at the front of the classroom into a semi-circle as I opened my lesson plans and grade book. Their son, Adam, was in my 10th grade English class and we had just finished the 1st semester.

“He’s just not doing his homework.” They sighed. “We don’t understand! How can he let his grades drop and not do his homework?”

It was more of an accusation than a question. But it was desperate.

“I know exactly why.” I said calmly.

They leaned in close for the answer.

“Because he is 16.” I stated simply.

Crickets chirped momentarily while they let that sink in. I went on to explain that often times, teenagers simply don’t grasp the “big picture” of how doing tonight’s homework is truly the foundation for their work ethic years down the road in the future.

So what’s a parent to do when they get frustrated by their high schooler’s lack of motivation and immaturity? What can you do when their grades are slipping?

Here are 10 tips to help you keep your sanity and hopefully equip your teen to be successful too!

1.) Understand That They Are Immature

I saw the gamut of parental involvement as a teacher for nearly 10 years. The worst kind of parent was the one who required that their child behave like a 30 year old and expected them to make the same choices they would as a parent-even though the teenager had not had the advantage of years of maturity!  Keep your expectations reasonable! On the flip side, don’t be dismissive that “teens will be teens” and throw all standards out the window. Balance is key! Evaluate yourself as a parent to determine if your expectations are reasonable at this age.

2.) Don’t Punish Them. Enable Them!

Parents often have a knee-jerk reaction to a low report card or some other indication that their child is falling short. They dive head-on into restrictions and ground their child or take away a privilege until their grades improve without really getting to the heart of the matter. Then the student feels completely defeated and becomes bitter and hardened. Not exactly fertile ground for growth either personally or academically.

Is your child spending too much time playing video games? Then lovingly explain that game time will be decreased or rearranged temporarily so that you as the parent can help them focus and get their work done. Consider carefully to determine what needs to change, instead of drastic changes in one fell swoop. Go back to some of the basics and make sure that your child has a quiet place to work at home, encourage them to get better sleep, and monitor their grades online if your school has that capability.

3.) Negotiate

Now that your babies are no longer babies-they have arrived at a new level of independence. As they mature, I believe that it is more important than ever to give them a VOICE.

Instead of approaching conversations about school as an authoritarian who tells them exactly what to do, allow them to be part of the conversation. Ask them what they think needs to happen in order to improve. Give them an opportunity to evaluate what is going on and share that with you.

Propose a few options that you think will equip them to finish their homework or improve in a subject area and then ask them their opinion or for ideas they may have to help themselves. When I did this as a teacher, I was never disappointed in the options the students themselves proposed, and often they were more restrictive on themselves than I would have been! Plus, you are not suddenly the “bad guy” because they joined you in finding a solution.

4.) Reevaluate Often

Once you have had a good plan in place, don’t go on autopilot. Take the time to set up a bi-monthly call or email with your child’s teacher to follow up. Check to see if the new changes you have made are having any effect or not and if something is simply not working, then try a different approach. Be careful not to smother your child in this process. The goal is not to make them feel like a little kid whose every move is being watched. It’s simply diligence on your part-you don’t even have to make your child aware of the parent/teacher interactions!

Again, bring your child into this process and have them reevaluate themselves too. It will take some tweaking along the way!

5.) Enlist The Insight of Their Teachers

I’ll admit, conferences with parents at the high school level were far and few between. But sometimes, it is necessary. Go into the meeting optimistic, give the teacher the benefit of the doubt until you have a decent conversation with them, and look at them as your advocate and resource. There are rare exceptions when it becomes clear that the teacher is not holding their end of the bargain as a teacher, but typically, teachers love their subject matter and their kids. Go into the meeting as a listener first, and then share with them why you are concerned. Ask them for their expert advice and opinions.

And don’t be afraid to politely ask them to consider changes. One time, I had assigned a major paper and given the students a month to complete it. The last week of that month was a vacation. After the assignments were due, one parent approached me and very nicely suggested to not assign papers after a vacation because their immature child spent the whole time writing instead of working ahead of time. It ruined their family time together. That made a lot of sense to me. I never assigned a paper to be due after a vacation again.

6.) Find A Tutor

Personally, there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t set appointments with my students or offer hours for kids to come in and work with me one-on-one or have quiet study time in my classroom. I knew that the bottom line was that some kids were going to need that kind of focused attention.

Not all teachers can or will do that. If your child is struggling with a particular math concept or can’t seem to organize their thoughts for an essay, then do not hesitate to hire a tutor, or find a peer or local college student who would volunteer to help your child. I had a peer in my own grade in high school who tutored me in math for several years and eventually, my highest grade in college as an English major would be from my math class. I went on to teach math as part of my 6th grade classes my first two years teaching and I loved every moment of it. There is hope! Tutors can be pricey, but in my opinion, they are worth it.

7.) Lose The Frown. Use Positive Reinforcement!

When those moments of failure or setbacks come, even if your child seems indifferent, train yourself as a parent to focus on positive reinforcement. Watch your body language when you are talking through what happened with your child. Give them hope instead of simply coming down hard on them.

Become a champion and a cheerleader of your child’s progress, no matter how small. Find the good and let them know that you notice. They may seem too cool for school or mom and dad’s affection, but do not make the mistake of believing them. They NEED your affirmation, encouragement, and steadfast love for them more than ever. Not your disappointment. That never motivated anyone! Even if it seems that they are not responding to your positive reinforcement, it’s not about you. Trust me, it’s working. Give it time.

8.) Reward Them

I’m not opposed to setting up some form of reward system but don’t dangle it like an unattainable carrot. Offer rewards of some nature in small doses instead of telling your C student that if they get straight A’s that you will take them to the World Series. That can easily backfire! You may not have an A student. That’s okay! I’ll take a D student who is working their tail off over a prideful and lazy A student any day of the week.

Honestly, I believe that the rewards should be based on EFFORT and by achieving the standards you agree to together-like doing homework right after school or completing homework well for a month at a time. I know it’s easy to focus on the grades, but turn your attention instead to measurable growth. It will empower your child to feel successful instead of overwhelming them and making them feel helpless to achieve an enticing reward.

9) Just Do The Good Parenting

If there is one thing that I hope you will hear the most from these tips it’s this: Take the measure of success off of the results in your child and place it on yourself and how you handle your child personally. Take the focus off of performance and onto relationship. I’m not saying to do away with standards; I’m simply saying that it’s critical to keep your bond with your son or daughter at the forefront. Above all else, give your kids your best instead of simply requiring theirs.

Don’t get exasperated by their lack of care or motivation-just keep doing the good parenting!

10.) Let Them Go

Ultimately, your child is on their way to becoming an adult in a few short years. Their choices will be totally outside of your watchful eye. Don’t let them go too soon, but know that you have to give them freedom to fail and freedom to succeed.

What will you have when they are gone? You will have a relationship. Protect that now. Speak to them with respect and make choices together so that you are keeping that relationship intact. Acknowledge their maturity and the good choices they make. Even if you advised them to choose college A but they want to travel 1,000 miles away to college B. Allow them to make these kinds of decisions and send them off into the world feeling empowered.

Parenting in the teen years is not easy, I know. But as a teacher of pre-teens and teens for nearly 10 years, all I could ever see when I looked across the classroom was potential.  These challenges are not the end of the world, but the springboard into a new one.

Make it a time neither of you will regret.

YOUR TURN! How many teens do you have at home? What tips would you share with other parents about helping them navigate junior high and high school? If you enjoyed this post, please SHARE it with others!



Amber Lia

A former high school English teacher, Amber is a work-at-home mom of 4 little boys under the age of 10. She is the best-selling author of Triggers: Exchanging Parents’ Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses and Parenting Scripts: When What You’re Saying Isn’t Working, say Something New. She and her husband Guy own Storehouse Media Group, a faith-friendly and family-friendly TV and Film production company in Los Angeles, CA. When she’s not building sand castles with her boys on the beach, or searching for Nerf darts all over her house, you can find Amber writing to encourage families on her blog at Mother of Knights (www.motherofknights.com).