A drop in school performance can be worrying for any parent; however, it is something many teens go through at some point during their education, and is often nothing to be overly concerned about. That said, it is important to ascertain the reason why, and rule out any underlying serious cause.
Noticing a drop in school performance
Sometimes the cause of a dip in performance is reasonably obvious: your teen might have started a new school (especially if they have moved up to high school), has problems with friends, is getting inadequate sleep, spends too much time participating in afterschool activities, has a busy social life, or is preoccupied with the internet. At this age, teens are simply unable to see the big picture or the relevance in working hard, and their drop in grades could be caused by laziness, distraction, or a lack of motivation. A slight drop in grades every now and again is rarely a reason to worry; however, if the slip is sudden and dramatic, or occurs over a sustained period of time, then there could be more serious, underlying reasons.
Ascertain what the issue might be
In many cases, your teen is going to hint at what the problem is. They may say that the teachers don’t understand them, mention that they haven’t been getting along with friends, or voice a lack of motivation or interest. In some cases, they might not give any clues away at all. If a slip in grades has no seemingly obvious cause, you will need to try to ascertain the reason. While it is natural for a parent to feel alarmed by a sudden drop in performance, especially if college is around the corner, going in feet first can do more damage than good. Find a quiet moment to speak to your teen, and casually turn the conversation around to grades. If they clam up, then leave it, and try again later. Try not to be accusatory or demanding; your teen isn’t going to open up to you if you are ranting or blaming. Additionally, if you have a feeling that the problem is down to motivation more than anything else, lecturing will only make your teen feel inclined to oppose or rebel against your advice.
Speak to the school
A teen’s grades may fluctuate a little, and so it won’t help anyone if you run down to the school when your straight A teen suddenly gets a B. However, if the drop in grades is sustained, then you will need to speak to their teacher. As with your teen, don’t go in all guns blazing—hurling accusations is going to be counter-productive; rather than apportioning blame, it is better to ask them if they have noticed anything they are concerned about. Teachers can often provide valuable insight into what is happening at school, and parents usually only hear one side of the story; perhaps your teen has been struggling for a while, and now feels out of their depth or is involved with conflict you were unaware of. If you feel that your teen’s school environment is the problem, liaise closely with school staff (even the principal) to try to get things resolved; if you can’t, then moving school might be the only alternative.
When there is an underlying issue
When teens are experiencing emotional upset, such as bullying, or are dealing with a mental health issue like depression or anxiety, it is hard to open up to a parent, and is not always apparent to a teacher.
A drop in grades could also indicate a serious problem such as substance abuse, or might be caused by an undiagnosed condition such as ADHD, problems with hearing or sight, or a learning disability. Therefore, if the school is unable to provide any insight, and you aren’t getting a great deal from your teen, it is important to visit your doctor to rule out any underlying medical cause.
Grades are not the most important thing
Whatever the reason for your teen’s drop in grades, it is important to handle the situation in a calm manner. In the case of a lack of motivation, it can be incredibly frustrating for a parent to see their child frittering away their education, without any thought to their future, but shouting about how they will invariably fall on deaf ears. If motivation does seem to be the issue, give them tangible goals to aim for; talk about their future career plans or college choices, and calmly explain why working hard is important.
If there is an underlying cause, do whatever it takes to support your child. Try not to put too much emphasis on grades: you know how important they are, but your teen may feel overwhelmed, worried, inadequate, or guilty for letting you down if you make too much of a big deal about them. Let your kids know that effort, and trying their best, is more important than grades.
The most valuable thing you can do as a parent is let your teen know that you are there for them, and you care about them, rather than just their school performance. Yes, good grades are necessary, but so is your child’s happiness, and they need to know you are on their side rather than piling on extra pressure they really don’t need.