Recovering from Report Card Shock

Q: My 17-year-old daughter is great! She has made excellent grades, been mostly a pleasure to raise (I am not unrealistic about adolescence!) and is a good friend to others as well as connected to her family. We just got her grades for last semester.

What a shock! It seems like they must belong to someone else. Here it is her junior year and she dropped two letter grades in over half of her classes. My A and B student is suddenly a C and D student! What is a parent to do when your child knows what to do and just quit doing it?

A: Your question sounds as if there has been a good relationship between you and your daughter in the past. It also sounds as if you were totally surprised by what happened and that you think you should respond in some fashion, yet you are confused as to what might be most helpful. Your good relationship with your daughter will help you through this difficult time.

Let’s start with your daughter. What was her response to her grades? Was she surprised, too? Believe it or not, we all can make assumptions and think of ourselves one way, only to discover we’ve missed our own mark. She might have thought she could breeze through this semester and been caught unaware.

If that is the case, then she can be your guide as to not only how you can help her, but how she plans to help herself. Your part may be in helping her take the time to develop a plan that fits her and will keep both of you from being caught by surprise about her grades.

Enlisting her teachers’ help in developing and carrying out this plan can be essential. They may or may not have been surprised at your daughter’s grades, depending on their previous experience with her. I hope both of you want them to see your daughter as a successful student who cares (as she has in the past).

Most likely, the semester grades are final and no special projects can pull them out but, who knows, there might be the possibility of taking an incomplete and raising one of the grades. The only way she will learn is if she asks.

As her parent, it is appropriate for you to have a useful response to her grades. Determining what is useful is the hard part. Did the grades signify a need for a change or modification in your house rules and expectations for her activities and hours? Often, adding structure to routines can help us get back on track.

When evaluating areas for potential change, look at patterns of sleep and eating. Have these changed this semester? Look at times when school went well. What worked then that hasn’t been part of the current routine. Are there new people in her life that might be distracting her? What is her plan for learning how to balance school and friends?

If her classes have become suddenly more difficult, could this be an indication of a need for tutoring? What were her future plans when she was making A’s and B’s? Do they include college? If they do, then dealing with a semester of bad grades might be an issue for some college admissions offices.

Her test scores may become even more important. Does her plan for getting in charge of herself include taking or re-taking the SAT or ACT? Would a preparation course be an option for her? Is she able to pay for the course and the retest? As much as she invests in herself and her future planning, the more important it can become to her.

Your greatest hope is that this slip in high school can prevent a major failure in college. How you work to help her refocus is part of helping her learn how to recover from mistakes, learn from them, and proceed.

Make sure this plan includes a method for immediate feedback on the current status of grades in her classes. Options can include: keeping her own grade book for each class; teachers e-mailing her weekly on her current class standing; or scheduling twice monthly status conferences on progress until her grades have improved.

Once a plan is developed, make it public within your family. Make sure both parents are in agreement with the plan. You probably don’t want to include any incentives. It is her future and her schooling. Does she want you to add any disincentives?

If she is not able to get back on track, does she want you to limit social time or outside employment or curfew times? If you have given her a generous allowance that may have invited her to socialize instead of study, might you want to rethink that practice? Would not having access to a car help her?

What if she has suddenly given up on school? What if for some reason what was once important to her is no longer important? This can require a completely different response depending on what you, as parents, see as her path.

If you have concerns that drugs or a new group of friends are part of this change, then you might want to think dramatically about what you are willing and able to do to influence what has happened. You will want to get information from professionals as well as make some financial decisions regarding your resources.

When you talk to her, you may learn that she has a new view for her future. Does it include a means to support herself? Does it include trade training and employment? Her change in grades may reflect a change in her goals. In fact, she might be putting energy in this new direction instead of her school work.

Is the fact that she has a plan acceptable to you? Do you have any requirements of her regarding grades no matter what her future includes? What power do you have to enforce those expectations?

The most difficult part of your situation is that by her junior year, your daughter’s grades belong to her. They serve as a barometer as to how she is doing and give you an opportunity to talk with her about her goals and her vision of choices for her future.

A good conversation that helps her identify her responsibility for herself and her future is more useful than punishment, consequences, and any negative or judgmental labeling about what has happened.

If you get enough information to learn she’s in trouble, then it is time to help her. Since her grades were a surprise to you, other signs of trouble might not be there.

You can’t stop worrying, but you can make sure she knows it is her problem and not yours.

Good luck!

Categories: Teens, Tweens & Teens