Treat your child as their own person and unique student: Little derails a productive conversation with a younger sibling than an opening statement by a parent highlighting all the ways their older brother or sister has outshined them. Honestly, if there was ever a time to pretend you have no other children, it’s when talking to the younger ones about the changes you would like them to make in their academic world. Use any other example you want, any, just not their siblings. Please.

Listen, don’t advise: Your conversations will be more effective if it assumes the identity of active listening. Easier said than done; many teens simply don’t want to speak to their parents and love utilizing simple statements like I don’t know or anything equally frustrating. But one saving grace about teenagers is that they love talking about themselves. Let them air their grievances and excuses free from outward judgment and instant advice. This warms their engines, validates their thinking, and when done properly, can open the floodgates of receptive communication.

Include your child in emails, meetings, conversations: By the time you have yourself a high school-aged child, gone are the days of excluding them, or shielding them from correspondence. It is, after all, their life. A common trap is to insulate teens (or attempt to) from negative feedback. Well-intentioned insulation tends to backfire in the long run. It’s important for them to be part of the conversation—to hear the feedback, even if it’s uncomfortable, to resolve or confront the issue hindering their academic success. The biggest change-agent in the school-equation will be your student, not their teachers or guidance counselor. Those stakeholders are integral in gathering data points, observations, ideas, interventions, but change is contingent on the willingness and buy-in of the student to get ideas and interventions out of the idea-phase and into the action-phase. If meetings feel like an ambush and not a problem-solving conversation, progress halts.

Focus on targeted conversations (think laser, not shotgun): By the time many parents get to the point where they’re sitting down, dissecting their child’s academic shortcomings, they are armed with a multitude of ammunition (grades, attitude, study habits and so on). Tempting though it may be, it’s vital that you don’t unload the entire arsenal in one conversation, or even several for that matter. Before you begin the process, make a list of what seems to be the underlying issues that need addressing. Steamrolling your teen about their report card grades, or test grades, or quiz scores do little to drive the conversation forward. Conversely, it squashes productivity. Here are some suggested targeted topics:

  • Study habits: how they are preparing, the amount of time they prepare, where they study, what resources they are utilizing or underutilizing, who they are studying with etc.

  • Communication skills: how they are communicating (if at all) with their teachers, what they are doing to (actively) seek information or solidify concepts that are giving them trouble?

  • Work/play ratio: the amount of time they spend being social versus time spent delegated to homework, studying, sleeping, working out etc.

  • Long-term goals: parents often like to get point out what their kids are doing that won’t get them to college, but spend less time helping their teen craft what the teen wants for themselves. Attaching academic performance to tangible thoughts like a specific college (even if it’s totally unrealistic based on their current results) will heighten that child’s efforts. In other words, let them self-identify college goals, it will improve their work ethic!

Avoid saying: You never study!

Instead, ask: How much time do you think you could be spending on your test preparation to earn a B rather than a C?

Avoid saying: Do you even get help from your math teacher?

Instead, say: Let’s identify what, exactly, is giving you trouble in math so we can email your teacher to arrange a meeting for extra help.

Avoid saying: With these grades, you can kiss college goodbye!

Instead, ask: Where would you like to go to college? Let’s look up information on that school so we can see what kinds of classes you need to take in high school, and what grades you should be earning to get admitted.