Teen Stabilize

Teen Stabilize

You’ve been wanting things to be different for so long now.
You’re feeling all alone in this again. But trying over and over isn’t making things better like it used to. It feels like friends and family have happy partnerships with no effort- what are we doing wrong? What happened to being a team? You wonder why your partner doesn’t seem to notice you anymore. Life has its ups and downs, but coming home lately has started to feel like the job instead of the other way around.Restoring relationships
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December, and the first semester of high school is almost over.

How many times have you logged in to Infinite Campus to check your teen’s grades? How many conversations have you started with your teen about their missing assignments or low test scores? How many worried nights?

My sincere and everlasting hope is that you can answer this question with “hey, Monica- we are rockin and rollin this year!” Like you, I think there is nothing more exciting to me than a teen who feels confident at school and nothing more relaxing than a peaceful night’s sleep.

So, if you don’t need to read on because you don’t worry about this part of your kid’s life, excellent news!About Monica Campbell

But if you do…you’re not alone. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that in the beginning of the 2021-22 school year that 50% of students were behind in grade level in at least one academic subject, and improves to 36% at the end of the year. At the same time, Education Week reports that nationwide in 2022 high school students missed on average over 10% of school days, and chronic absenteeism was at 29.7% on average. Education Week points out these high levels of absenteeism point to an equally high level of student disengagement (Education Week).

This is some disheartening math, and we won’t dive further into how and why school districts and their employees are struggling mightily. However, when knowledge retention and engagement are low, poor grades are a common result, and it makes for a slippery slope into having negative interactions with your teen.

Let’s roll up our sleeves and break this down together, piece by piece. First off, clearly your teen is big time struggling and probably feels miserable. School is a teen’s job, and no-one, I mean no-one, likes a bad performance evaluation. Here’s what’s going on:

  • Teens are highly vulnerable to avoiding problems, and when one like failing has snowballed on them, they run like mad in the opposite direction. They don’t yet have the neurological development to calm down, break the problem down into smaller bites, methodically tackle each bite and bring their grade up on their own.  For most teens, adults are doing this planning for them most of the time, so they don’t have to learn how just yet; they usually take that on independently after high school.
  • Have you noticed how hard it is for a teen to talk to their teacher, or miss lunch? Teens generally avoid in person conversations, and experience anxiety when they need to have one. They would much rather stick to their routine of seeing friends at lunch instead of feeling exposed and inadequate in front of a teacher. So they don’t ask for the extra help they need when they missed that class or didn’t understand the topic the way the teacher taught it.
  • For multiple valid reasons, teens are experiencing anxiety and depression at record levels. Both of these mood states feature in spades the inability to concentrate for sustained periods of time. Teens struggle with disrupted sleep, which eats into their focusing and attention (and also exacerbate feelings of depression and anxiety). Lastly, all humans have a decreased attention span thanks to our tiny little computers we carry everywhere called cell phones, and  phone use (texting and social media primarily, which creates the action of clicking rapidly through screens) decreases attention. Decreased attention, coupled with tasks that require sustained attention = disengagement or a perception of “I am stupid, I don’t understand”. This is not a teacher’s fault.
  • “I don’t care” is most often a mask for much bigger worries and emotions. We all say I don’t care sometimes and truly mean it. But when a teen is failing they are most likely feeling embarrassed, helpless, angry, disappointed, sad, and lonely in their problem, and sometimes all at once. It’s so big they don’t know where to start. And they don’t want you to know how bad it’s gotten and they don’t have it under control, so they hide.
  • Your teen may have a barrier to learning that has gone undetected.
  • Your family may be going through big changes or unexpected emotions, and tensions in your household are at an all time high.

Aaah, this is such a big problem! What is a Parent to Do?

“How do I turn this locomotive around? It’s like they don’t even care, and they look at me like I’m some sort of monster for having an expectation that they are studying! I’m so stuck.” Here are some tips on how to Stabilize and Strategize failing grades:

  1. If you have a coparent, have one or more conversations with them about how to move forward. Agree together on how you are going to help. Agreeing together that you are both worried and stressed out is not enough help; you need to have some concrete ideas in place.

You can do things like email the teacher(s), meet with the Dean of Students or teacher (s), consider tutoring, arrange for some time to be present with homework, or consider family or individual therapy for underlying emotions or low self esteem.

2. Give them information you know before asking them for their information. Tell them when and why you are checking Infinite Campus. Share your authentic emotion about the situation without blame. Tell them how you intend to help and what action steps you are taking.

3. Radically change the conversation from one that asks closed ended questions to open ended questions.

Closed-ended: Did you do your homework? Did you talk to your teacher about turning in the missing assignments? Do you have a test coming up in that class?

Open-ended: What did your teacher say when you asked about the missing assignments? Can we look at Infinite Campus together now? How are you feeling about the upcoming test?

I can hear what you’re thinking: “Monica you don’t even know how this kid takes my open-ended questions and closes them, girl!” You are so right. But what YOU don’t know is the magic isn’t in the answer they give; the magic is in the level of curiosity and trust you communicate when you ask them open-ended questions. Open ends to questions assume the person you are talking to has information and wisdom to impart. Even if they say to “I don’t know”, what they hear is “I am interested in how it’s going”, instead of “you are not doing enough.”

4. ENGAGE YOUR COOL TEEN. A lot of the time, adults try so hard to give a teen solutions without first determining if they WANT your help. Teens crave and prioritize autonomy (like yea I’m failing..but at least it’s MY fail!) and peer inclusion (everyone else hates the social studies teacher and is failing too, why should I care?) so the first order of business is to figure out if they want help, and then what kinds of help they will commit to because they want to. This doesn’t need to come at the expense of you and your coparent actively intervening as parents (see #1) but faster improvements are more likely when a teen is engaged in acceptable solutions. One mom I know has worked so hard to support her kid with ADHD by building confidence at home, building relationships with her kid’s teachers,  and giving lots of opportunities for alternative learning for more self confidence. But when the grades got really bad, she took screen time away. Because she had shown them she trusted them to succeed, they trusted her back and ultimately bought into needing more time to study and less access to video games.

Now that you know more about stabilizing failing grades, come back to the blog for Restoring Relationship’s next post; How to Respond Emotionally to your Teen When They are Failing.

More : When You are Hit with a Parenting Challenge with Your Teen, Turn on Your Parenting Power Together