Tips for parents when dealing with a child’s declining grades and performance:

★  It’s okay to reflect on the past, but live in the present: What your son did in 5th grade means little when he’s a junior in high school. The immense physical, emotional, cognitive changes that teenagers experience from middle school through high school is wicked, and entirely unpredictable. Reflecting on the past is mildly productive when done correctly. Boosting a teen’s ego, or attempting to rebuild their confidence by bringing up projects or assignments from years ago stem from old thinking that’s obsessed with product. I bet you remember the grade they earned, the score. That’s great, but it’s not now, here in this present moment of their struggling life. Is there anything now, regardless of how teeny-tiny it seems—that they are doing well? Not grades! That’s product. We’re focusing on a shifted emphasis on process. Maybe they are on time every day? Or give 100% every time they step foot on the lacrosse field?

★  Embrace shoulder time: By the time you arrive to a place that warrants a conversation regarding their academic vibrancy, I imagine there is a lot you want to say and address. Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Too much too soon will kill the conversation. The goal here is dialogue and not a parent monologue. Sitting down at the kitchen table is also an effective way to suck the productive air out of the room. Instead, use shoulder time. As the name suggests, it’s carved out of time spent next to your child. Think chairlift skiing, at a baseball game, on a road trip (only if they’re riding shotgun), at a loud and large restaurant dinner. Pick a time when their guard is down, and you can simply pick their brain to get some form of self-reflection or self-assessment. Please do not confuse this with an ambush. It is not the time to list all the ways they are dissimilar to their 10-year-old self. This is, however, an excellent time to ask some open-ended questions. For example: what class do you feel most successful in right now? Why? What makes it different than a class you’re feeling unsuccessful in right now? Oh, really, what’s that class? Where are you feeling frustrated with that class? What can I do to help you? And so on. Gentle. Subtle. And then zip it. You get a maximum of 8 minutes.

★  Engage influencers and positive role models: You’ll find I mention this a few times in this book, and that’s because teens respond better to third-party influencers. Sometimes doing your homework doesn’t seem so damn annoying if you get to do it at with your uncle at Starbucks while he works remotely. Sometimes you cannot for whatever reason articulate your hopes and dreams, or regrets and fears, to your mom and dad, but can easily reveal them to your little league coach – turned neighbor. If you feel stuck, or ignored, turn to another trusted adult to deliver your message and retrieve your information.

★  Change the routine: Nothing changes if nothing changes. Sometimes raising teens calls for a batch of shock and awe. We’ll address this in more detail later, but teens are creatures of habits and operate in strict habit loops—their standard operating procedure. Where they study, when, how long, with whom, distractions, how or if they seek extra teacher support, their level of communication etc. Breaking their ineffective habits sometimes needs to be part of a habit loop disruption, whereby their overall routine is disrupted, deconstructed, and rebuilt. You already do this when you ground them, or take a phone, or keys to the car.    

  • Examples of changes in routine:
  • Earlier bedtime
  • Earlier wake-up time
  • Location where they study
  • Proximity to technology and other distractions
  • Ability to participate in extracurricular activities
  • Access to social events and friends