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How to Help a Teenager Struggling in High School

First semester is over and your teenager’s grades are in. You are very surprised and disappointed with their report card. How could your kid do so poorly?

Let me guess your first reaction. You’re ready to jump in with advice and a study plan for your teen. Your anger might also lead you to consider a punishment for their poor grades.

Don’t, cautions Joan Rooney, who directs the tutors for The Princeton Review’s online Homework Help and is a mom herself. “Teens are at a place where they should start doing some of their own assessing and analyzing.”

Addressing Low Grades In High School

Ask questions.

Instead of advice or punishment, she suggests leading with a question, such as, “What do you think went well and what could be improved?” This approach allows teens to start thinking about factors that contributed to their low grades in high school or middle school.

Help them brainstorm solutions.

[adrotate banner=”82″]Once they’ve identified some of the reasons they are struggling in school, you can offer to help them brainstorm solutions. Ideally, you want to encourage them to use their own support systems and familiar tools. So, for example, if they are chronically forgetting to start assignments with ample time, they might decide to put reminders in their phones or set goals with friends and hold one another accountable.

“You want to help them learn to reflect and problem solve independently, which is a life skill,” points out Rooney. Not to mention, of course, that teens (in fact, all people) are more likely to own the solution if they helped devise it themselves.

“Imposing a consequence might get compliance, but you won’t be helping them for the long run,” she says.

And, she adds, don’t expect miracles. “They’re not likely to go from zero to 100, so celebrate any success you can find.”

Cathie Ericson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, and mom of three teen boys. Read more about Cathie at

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