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How Can Parents Help a Teen Get Back on Track in School

By February 2, 2012

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A mom on our forum seeks advice: Before I start info on my kid: 15, Th grade, on JV soccer team, sophomore class president, Very social, Honors English, AP world History, grades not bad, but not near where they could/should be. Also, I'm a single mom.

I'm so confused. I used to think that schoolwork issues were easy. Your kid is not doing the work... punishment. Call/email the teacher, call conferences ground the kid on and on...

I never miss an Open House I even have a binder I put my own copies of every syllabus, etc... handed out so i can grab it and show my daughter look at this. I was proud of that notebook, It showed my daughter what a caring and involved parent I was and of course look out I know what the deal is, kid! It made me feel good about my parenting.

Now, I'm so confused one day a thought popped into my head after the WH teacher emailed all of the parents about making sure our kids studied more. I thought WTH? Why do *I* have to make sure a 10th grader studies, does her work? Shouldn't she learn natural consequences? I won't be there when she's away at college to make her study.

BUT do I just wash my hands of this and let her deal with her natural consequences? I guess that would be a low GPA, failing a class?? WH is a hard class I used to read the chapters she was working on (I even emailed the teacher for the actual assignments b/c my daughter was never clear about that) Oh, the SHAME. Now I tell her if she asks me ahead of time I will read and *help* her study, but only if she asks.

And now the county gives parents access (internet) to each teacher's grade book. So now I can see the real story I never got in the past except at conferences.

I had a policy of I would check the site every so often and if she'd made a 0 (obviously hadn't turned in work) I'd ground her. Low grades on tests, etc... even F's hello natural consequences. OK natural consequences does this even register with a 15 yo kid? Probably not. It's terrible but I'm starting to wish she'd get held back this year.

I feel so confused, stupid, alone. What is the right thing to do? There has been so much screaming and stress. Tonight I was going to try calmness. I think I actually showed my utter wussiness.

Today her geometry teacher left a message on our machine, ____ hasn't brought her book to class the last 6 times, isn't bringing tools, is talking...

When she got home I had her listen to it. I expected her to make excuses, but this floored me. Her book is too heavy and I she uses the classroom one. She says she's not doing it!!!

I say OK, but you did hear the part where your teacher wants you to bring *your* book to class, apparently teacher doesn't care if there's a class book. Says she doesn't care not bringing the book!

I grit my teeth natural consequence I tell myself. Meanwhile she's on her phone all night texting/talking not a care in the world. and I feel like crying.

Denise's thoughts: She seems to have hit some type of speed bump in her school work, so yes, you will have to step in and put her back on the right road. Natural consequences work, I'd say, about 85% of the time. The other 15% parents have the responsibility to steer.

Give her an action plan, using a parenting contract, where she has the responsibility of getting good grades daily, doing her work and you get no calls from teachers. You will check-in with the school on the computer, if all is well, she keeps her cell phone until 9 or 10. If it is not, you take the cell for 24 hours, when you check-in again.

Be sure to explain that you are doing this so that she has her independence when it comes to school, but you have to expect certain grades.

Good luck and know that the other side of this is a happier teen and a happier you.

Asking our parenting community: Has your teen ever wander off the 'good kid' path? How did you get them back on track? Please share your thoughts, stories and advice in the comments area.

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December 4, 2009 at 12:37 pm
(1) nanette says:

Wow.I have just been going through the same thing with my teen as well. I tried natural consequences and discipline but he just shrug ed his shoulder and turned up the music. I attempted to take the cell phone away, internet access, the music, got angry and let him know….still no luck. Finally, I spoke with a child psychology friend of mine, she pointed out a different perspective. As children get older they need a reason to engage, their focus is not school necessarily but friends, support and understanding. My teen may be showing that he is needing more guidance not less…

I started being aware of when I was correcting him, looking over his shoulder, and showing signs that I didn’t trust him. I decided I need to show more support then discouragement!

I used positive statements more often, and asked him about his work instead of telling him what he forgot. Then we met in a roundtable with his teachers. The focus, was not on what he hadn’t done but how to help him engage and reach the potential we all know he is capable! We decided the biggest hurdle is bridging the school to home gap to know what is “really” going on with friends, homework.

We are making a few adjustments to assist in his organization and focus:

1. He now uses his planner to write each assignment down and has the teacher sign it before he leaves class, I sign it when it is completed so the teacher knows if he is actually doing the work.

2. Every Thursday I email all his core teachers to see how he is doing, this gives him the weekend to get caught up!

3. He sets a timer while he does his homework for a set amount of time. When it is up he shows what he has accomplished. This is a way that he can make sure he is utilizing his time but also gives a measure of success!

4. We have a family lead game night every Sunday where he gets an opportunity to open up and share about life, and ask questions that his inquiring teenage mind wants to know in a confidential setting.

5. We also are making time each busy night to spend at least an hour together, walking if it is light, watching a short TV show together. Something that doesn’t involve his responsibilities and my job to help guide him.

We have noticed a remarkable change in him. He is still moody and the music is frequently up too loud to hear, but he is smiling and finding pride in his little accomplishments to motivate him to succeed. After the team meeting he realizes how much support he has. We are working on accentuating the positives so the negatives don’t take over.

Trial and error. Best of practice to you.

December 6, 2009 at 1:01 pm
(2) Emma says:

I am currently going through this with my 14 year old (former straight A) student. She just blew off 3 weeks of homework and had absolutely no remorse or showed no feelings about going from an A in history to an F. She didn’t even appear to care about losing her scholarship (she attends a private school). I, too, grounded, stressed, screamed, etc. but ultimately decided on the contract. She is keeping up her end of the deal but there are definitely days I have to “remind” her about the contract. I hope to implement some of these other suggestions as well.

December 9, 2009 at 3:57 pm
(3) dawn says:

I too am going through this with my 15 year old son. I thought I was doing something wrong as a parent and I feel better to know that mine is not the only one having these issues. Thank you for the ideas and I’ll let you know if they work on mine.

January 7, 2011 at 11:33 am
(4) Sarah says:

Your situation is well understood.

Have you considered your child is depressed? Maybe a visit with your doctor would be helpful.

January 7, 2011 at 12:32 pm
(5) s says:

I can relate very well to what I have read here from each of the parents. My son is 12. His guidance counselor and I have are working carefully at what motivate my son son on a level that he relates to. His connection is music and self-challenge (skateboarding, biking, chess, photography, tennis, soccer, running). I feel that it is about taking what my son loves to do and incorporating it into his interests, so with that, his guitar playing, for instance, he plays music for me and creates his own licks to lyrics that relate to spanish or math or world history. He seems to be enjoying learning more and it is his motivator. His homework is just beginning to show signs of picking up since returning from school vacation and I am elated. He actually got up this morning independently of my prodding, completed his homework, ate and was out the door on time for the bus. He told me he didn’t wake me when I was later in getting up because he didn’t want to hear me say he shouldn’t be cramming his schoolwork. I learned about what NOT to do and I continue to learn what to do by observing and doing what I would want my parent to do, time for my own reflections too! A great learning experience for both of us!

January 7, 2011 at 12:50 pm
(6) Sb says:

It may be hard to implement this now that your kids are older but my son has always done a “download” of his homework in general terms intermittently through the week and on Fridays before the weekend. It helps for activity planning both for us and him. He says I have a paper due in English on Tues and a quiz in Math on thurs.

I usually touch bases through the week and on Sunday by asking, “Did you finish your English?” and “Do you feel ready for that quiz?” I don’t ask him how long the paper was or how much time he studied, I leave it to him to do what is needed but I always know what is going on with his schoolwork. Many of my friends have no idea what their kids are doing in school or even the teacher’s names.

I feel that my son’s education is really up to him and us (his parents.) The schools provide inconsistent teachers and a real lack of guidance in aiming for college so it is up to parents to make sure the ball is rolling. Our kids only go through secondary school once, it is their only shot at getting those basic skills learned.

Perhaps you can try getting a bead on what work is required in their core classes and see if you can get your kids to tell you if they have done assignment X and if not when do they plan to do it. You want to know specifics not just “a bunch of work”. You don’t want to help them do it but you can help them get organized to get it done.

January 7, 2011 at 5:50 pm
(7) Heather Gatley says:

I am having similar issues with my 13 year old daughter. I think with the teen years comes a lot of distractions and I believe my daughter was rushing through homework, studying less than necessary and forgetting assignments, etc. Like the writer, I too believe in natural consequences but getting bad grades didn’t seem to change her behavior. With her pre-frontal cortex still developing, i am certain she didn’t fully understand the long term consequences of bad grades. It is just like anything else—you give the child more responsibility and accountability and sometimes you have to take a little of it back because they aren’t ready for it. Since we realized my daughter’s issues seemed to be about her focus, we started checking grades every Friday and if she failed to turn something in or got a bad grade, she spends the weekend reviewing the material and catching up. Sounds kind of like “grounding” but the intention was to get her to put first things first. I also bought her a big wall calendar and do insist that now on Sundays she writes down all due dates and assignments, tests for the week, color coded by class. She crosses them off as she does them. She is a visual person so I think this helps. I posted the calendar in the hallway (used the excuse of there just not being enough wall space in her room) so I can at least inquire if something isn’t crossed off or remind her about a test coming up. This way, I am looking over her shoulder somewhat but not sitting with her and micromanaging the actual homework each night which wasn’t making either one of us happy. If your child wants to suceed in school (and she probably does since her grades have historically been so good), this little bit of assistance shouldn’t be viewed as saving them from natural consequences or helicopter parenting. It should just be viewed as providing some guidance on prioritization and help with focus that all teens can use a little of.

January 8, 2011 at 3:05 am
(8) gloria says:

My niece was having hard times staying in school. Her family was destroyed when Department of Soc. Serv. took her younger siblings into custody because of inflatted lies about the mother. They kept children from kin. why????
During that time, she had a hard time dealing with the family being no more like it used to be. She would go to school once a week. She quit. I finally kept after her about getting her GED. Everytime I saw her, I would ask if she got her GED yet. Same answer was no. She finally got it when I took her to the place where they gave the test and she took it with flying numbers. two years have passed and she is in college and doing good. She thanks me everytime I see her for keeping after her and making her get that GED.The judge cussed me out for doing this. Seems like the county gets more money if the child is made to stay in school with people involved in Soc. Serv. Also the mental therapist had told me I was out of boundaries in doing this.
This is my family and family help family. We don’t need the village to do it all and make money off our children. She got the credit for doing it herself.

January 8, 2011 at 10:54 am
(9) Dorothy says:

I have been going thru this same thing with my daughter who is 14. It started with her last year in 8th grade. She was always a high honor student. She is so bright and intelligent, but for some reason seems like she has given up at school. I asked her last year what was wrong, she said the teachers would yell all day, and when she went to ask a question was told to put her hand down. I met with the teachers and was told she was wondering the halls, and being disrespectful. When I confronted her on these issues, she said she wondered the halls just so she would not have to hear the teacher yelling at other kids during the classroom. This year she started high school and now with the first semester done she was failing one class. Second semester just about done and is failing 3 classes. She says she did this work in 4th grade, and I told her because of her grades last year, they do not know she is capable to doing the work. I told her she should show them what she has and do the work, and then she can transfer to a more challenging class that she will learn something more. She always had been in the Talented and Gifted Program. When she stopped doing her work, it has of course become difficult for me to back her up by saying this work is too easy for her. She needs to be challenged. This past summer she taught herself 3 different foreign languages by free programs she found on the internet. She also has taught herself how to write in them as well. I wish she would show the same enthusiasm for her school work. I am also willing to do what I have to to help her. I did the grounding, took internet out of my home as well as tv and cell phones. Did not work. I am now trying to find some way to get her to be motivated, not for her teachers but for her. I am glad to see I am not alone in this area. Thanks!! :)

December 31, 2011 at 11:54 am
(10) Emjay says:

We had similar problems with our 15 year old daughter. Drop in grades, lack of organization, disrespect, etc. We suspected she had ADHD because our son has it (only he was diagnosed at age 6). Turns out that girls can have the symptoms between grades 9 and 11. A child psychologist and physician both tested her and recommended medication. We put her on Ritilin. Within 2 weeks her grades came up 30 points in all classes. The school was a great help with accommodations such as extra time to take tests.

February 3, 2012 at 10:02 am
(11) Sue says:

Check the link above, with my name. This book on self concept was for teachers but addressed all these same problems for me as a parent. (Don’t get self concept confused with self absorbed) it was an extremely elightening read. I think I did everything you did also feeling I was trying to be a good parent. My good intentions ended up being part of the problem..

February 3, 2012 at 10:16 am
(12) Sue says:
February 3, 2012 at 11:00 am
(13) DJ says:

My 15 year old daughter was just diagnosed with ADD (no hyperactivity). She couldn’t stay organized and as the homework load continues to increase she kept getting farther behind. She was irritable with minor depression so she asked to see a counselor who tested and diagnosed her with ADD. What teachers thought was laziness and we thought was typical teenage angst was really ADD. Diagonis for girls often gets overlooked. I’m not crazy about using drugs to address her ADD; so, we will starting a bio-feedback program with her next week. Never give up on your kids; these are the years they struggle and need our support. Do what ever you can to get to the root of the problem and do your best to address it; whether that’s with counseling, or other routes.

February 6, 2012 at 2:12 am
(14) Jeri says:

There is hope. Hang in there. Speak to other parents and you’ll realize everyone is going through the same if not worse :) My 16-year old has been to hell and back carrying us along. We are in private school No 4 in four years! But you know what, we are better for it. She even talks of writing a book some day. It took me three years to realize that she wanted to be treated like an adult and that is what it took to turn things around. Adult help. Adult conversation. Adult expectations. A contract helps a great deal in managing all our expectations of each other and our house is most peaceful. Grace to you!

February 9, 2012 at 10:47 am
(15) Lisa says:

I understand your hesitation to use drugs to treat ADHD, but I was recently diagnosed as a 40-year-old and the medication has changed my life. I have tried every kind of planner, calendar, organizer, to-do list, etc but nothing ever worked (I would usually lose them within days). Now, after taking a low dose of adderall, I am keeping up with things for the first time in my life. My bills are paid, to-do lists checked and the house is reasonably picked up. PLEASE keep an open mind about the medication. I just hate to see someone suffer like I did for 40 years when help is available.

March 30, 2012 at 7:30 am
(16) LaVerne says:

Dorothy, have you ever thought about home-schooling your daughter. If she is that bright and motivated to teach herself 3 languages (not an easy feat) then she would probably very successful at teaching herself other subjects that interested her. She is most likely very bored with school. Understand that home-schooling doesn’t mean you become the teacher and “teach” your daughter in traditional ways. Our state (FL) has an online virtual school which is part of the public school system as well. She could study at her own pace and move more quickly through some courses. We also have dual enrollment, where students can take college courses while in high school. I know students that have graduated with their AA and high school diploma at the same time.

I have the same issues with my 15 yr old son. Very intelligent, but totally unmotivated in school. He thinks school is stupid and a waste of time. Nothing we have tried gets through to him. What matters is if he is really interested in the class or subject.

December 18, 2012 at 8:00 pm
(17) Peggy says:

I’m a Marriage & Family Therapist and see many adolescents. I hear “natural consequences” a lot in the comments. IMO natural consequences are fine for younger children and where the consequences are not impacting their lives or their future. For instance, if a parent allows a student to fail in school the consequence affects their future in all areas. Start with natural consequences, however, if after a first try they don’t work go to the next level which are contracts or consequences that cause some distress for the teen. I like the controlled environment of no phones, computers, etc. after bedtime. AND probably most important do not lie to your children. If you told them they could not drive if their grades were not up to a certain standard then you would be lying if you allow them to drive. As always most of these methods assume a normal teen in a normal environment. You may need to get professional help if you suspect depression or if the problem persists after you have tried several interventions. The depression quiz on this site is a good guage, imo.

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