Helping Our Teens Make the Grade
I didn’t excel in academics while in high school. Academics just didn’t mean anything to me because I was more preoccupied by social interacting and my sport of choice, swimming. Posting good scores on my report card was for others to do; I was too busy.
After flunking out of a semester in college, I finally began to grow up and take school seriously. In fact, I actually began to flourish in college.
Then I became a dad. And when Jan and I had our two children, my whole perspective shifted. We want nothing more than to see our kids excel in school. We want them to succeed. And when they’re in grade school, middle school and high school, the only gauge for objectively measuring their success is in academics. We take their report cards very seriously, don’t we?
The Balancing Act
Our teens are faced with a balancing act every day. Every day is a performance. Not just in the classroom, but in the hallways, too. Adolescence is the season when our kids learn to build healthy relationships. Have you ever seen your son or daughter’s calendar or the number of “friends” they have on Facebook? They are hard-wired for relationship. But the balancing act gets difficult because as kids become more connected socially, they tend to become disconnected academically.
Parents, this is often where we make our biggest mistakes. When relationships overpower a child’s focus on schoolwork, we sometimes see the grades begin to slip. Incomplete assignments, poor exams, missed deadlines … these are all red flags. And for some of us, we tend to overreact.
If you have taken the time to build a relationship with your teen, then stepping in and helping your teen get back on course can help. But if the relationship has become weakened, or if it seems like your relationship with your teen is more about his academic performance than who he is—it’s a recipe for conflict. Lots of kids find themselves pushed into this corner and they decide to push away from academics altogether. The harder you push, the less your teen wants to have anything to do with you.
Once a teen loses ground in their studies, it gets harder and harder to catch up. With every grade that goes down, the student loses the knowledge that they will need to raise those grades later on. And at that point, it becomes a downward spiral.
Parents, I understand that you want to engage with your teen. When you feel like there isn’t a hobby or extracurricular activity that you can use to connect with your teen, many parents turn to academics. But academics is a risky place to have as a sole connection.
Schools are designed to value academic achievement. Families are designed to value people. If these roles are switched, then we may see our teens looking to their peers to find their value as human beings.
Any encouragement for academic growth should be couched in the arena of relationship. Parents, it’s healthy to allow your teen to assume responsibility for his or her grades. It’s not up to you whether your teen graduates. It’s up to your teen. You can support them as much as you can, whether that’s through providing tutors, study materials, or just being available for questions when they come up. But, if you put too much pressure on your teen to get good grades, they can respond by becoming an underachiever (ignoring school or just getting by), or an overachiever (spending too much time on schoolwork and overemphasizing their quest to get good grades).
Our teens are already facing a lot of pressure. School puts pressure on our kids. They face pressures to fit in with other kids. They are transitioning from childhood to adulthood. They are in a heavy season for defining their identity. And they are continually assaulted with images of what our culture says is perfection.
It’s hard to be a teen right now. And our kids want to take advantage of this time to discover who they are and to be guided and molded. But sometimes, our encouragement and guidance may sound like just another pressure. As a mom or dad of a teen, we need to be very careful on how much pressure we apply to their academic performance because it might be our pressure that pushes our kids right over the edge.
So, how should we cope with their failures? This is the hard part. We naturally want to step in and rescue a child from academic failure.
Try not to shame them or chastise them if they fail. Instead, encourage them in the things they are doing well. Our role as parents is to help our kids know their role in their own life and to help them become acquainted with their God-ordained personality. We know that we have succeeded as parents if we have helped our children grow up and become independent. As hard as that is, that means breaking away from us.
Healthy parents give their kids a chance to live, to succeed, to fail, in a safe environment. We provide a safety net for our kids, so that they know that they can turn to us when they fear failing. We can encourage them to do well, but if they fail we need to be ready to rely on the relationship we’ve built. A relationship built not on scores, but on each person’s inherent value.