Coming right out the gate with frustration and blaming can push your high schooler to shut down. Remember how deflated it felt to see that lousy grade in blazing red ink? Teenagers exist in the part of the brain known as the amygdala—the emotion headquarters. When their emotions escalate, they can’t think clearly, and you won’t get an honest answer. Patience is key. Ask questions to understand and listen to your high schooler’s words.
Having calm, open, and honest dialogue allows your high schooler to feel heard, something they are often searching for at this age. Seeking to understand these questions gives your high schooler a voice and helps them process what went wrong.
Helpful resources may surround high schoolers who need help finding them or what to do to start using them. Adolescence is a perfect time to practice advocating for oneself, which they will need to do in college and the workforce. When grades start slipping, this is a great time to talk to your high schooler about the resources around them.
Since the pre-front cortex of your high schooler’s brain isn’t fully developed, they still have not mastered skills like planning, prioritizing, and anticipating consequences. They rely on you to create opportunities for them to develop their pre-frontal cortex. They may not think to set up study schedules, proactively work on long-term projects, or predict how poor choices negatively impact their grades.
Inspiring educator Rita Pierson shared a beautiful story in a TedTalk about writing “+2” and a smiley face on a student’s quiz instead of “-18.” This shocked the student, who wondered how a failing grade could cause a smile. Pierson responded that the youth was on their way to improving and emphasized what they achieved rather than what they did not.
When your high schooler struggles, they will feel shame and disappointment. Even when they mask those emotions under indifference or carelessness, all youth want to succeed. Remind them that failure is the beginning of growth and progress. When they say they can’t do something, remind them that they can’t do it yet and that all knowledge and talent can grow. Try to focus on youth educational development rather than youth educational deficiencies. Try saying things like:
You can find more information about Growth Mindset under the Parent Resources tab of our website.
Perhaps patience and hope are the most important things to remember when communicating with your high schooler when grades are dropping. Your youth depends on your support and belief that they can do better to build their self-esteem and motivation. This takes time; many youths are adjusting to high school life while confronting the learning losses they experienced during the pandemic. Schools may be stretched thin, and it’s easy for everyone involved to get overwhelmed. Speaking of overwhelming, it can feel like talking to a brick wall the 50th time you remind them about an assignment they haven’t started. Remain patient. Your consistent directions are essential, and they are important even when they seem fruitless. And when all else fails, loop in a support system of your own by reaching out to teachers, counselors, mentors, and teen development programs.