1) Let your child talk to the teacher first.

The two people best fit to resolve a classroom conflict are the student and teacher. Swooping in prematurely will cause defensive posturing and complicate matters. Redirect this energy and help your teen think through, organize and properly record their thoughts in an email. Student-teacher emails are often efficient in problem-solving; or at least begin the process. Emails memorialize communication, while providing insight into the student-teacher interactions from a healthy distance. Teens need effective communication skills, and parents should teach, but not supplant those skills. After giving the two a chance to work it out, it may be time to become (responsibly) involved.  

2) Don't circumvent the teacher.  

Many parents avoid direct teacher contact in fear of retaliation against their child and instill similar passivity in their child. Part of this avoidance involves heading straight to the administration; a move that causes more harm than good. Circumventing teachers denies teenagers (and parents) an opportunity to practice dialogue and problem-solving skills. Tense conversations function similarly to training wheels on a bike. Hearing feedback and listening to others is vital to personal growth, even if that only means agreeing to disagree. Often, both family and teacher walk away with a better understanding and more respect for one another. That said, if yout student feels they are being subjected to retaliation, immediately report it to administration; for it’s only when behaviors are exposed, that behaviors change.

3) Let them breathe.

Reflect on the end of a long work day; there’s an element of decompression required to transition from work to home. The same is true with teens; they need time to decompress too. Although they’re thinking about school, they aren’t ready to discuss it. Teens require the mental real estate to operate without immediately being asked to rehash school with their parents. Without a school-free buffer, teens will avoid talking to parents at all costs. Once the norm of school-free discussions is established, teens can become more willing to communicate, which in turn, provides a natural segway into school-related topics.

4) Bad grades are warning signs of deeper problems.

School performance is a portal into the teen psyche; it has little to do with school, and really is a reflection of their mental and emotional state. Parents mistakenly focus too much on specific grades rather than trigger points. Parents can instead attempt to ignore the small stuff, and subtly look for deeper issues causing the manifestation. Teens will only engage with parents for so long, so don’t waste it nitpicking. With enough patience, parents can find an approach that yields enough honesty to eventually reveal the root cause. Without a cause, there will be no solution.

5) Foster lifelong skills.

Can you imagine if you still had to run next to your teenager whenever they wanted to ride a bike, like you did when they were younger? So, why embrace this practice with school? Your bike-riding child was appropriately supported and protected (think helmet, training wheels, hands-on assistance), but gradually, you scaled back until no longer needed. Strive to do the same with school, to groom an independent and capable being. Instead of emailing a teacher first, help your teen articulate thoughts; instead of rushing to administration, prepare your teen to speak directly with their teacher; instead of nitpicking assessment scores, create dialogue that will reveal root causes of poor performance. In so doing, you can take your hands off the bike and watch them ride successfully, and resiliently, off to college.