Every semester we hear these words from our clients, and other teens we know: “This semester I am going to get better grades; I am going to start the semester off right and not get in the hole like I did last semester.” Sound familiar? Witnessing your teen repeat the same pattern every semester? Of course we want our students to have the most robust resume possible when they apply to college, and an excellent GPA is one of the most important entries on the resume. A semester or two that is less than stellar can be improved by working collaboratively with your teen.
Here is a short list of what we recommend to our tutoring clients when they are caught in a negative academic pattern. You need to start at the beginning of the semester; waiting one or two weeks can land your teen in the hole rather than on top of things.
Get over yourself! We know, when you were in school you weren’t so disorganized, you were on your own, you got straight A’s…Today is not twenty years ago. The demands on students are higher, they are more involved in more activities, and the standards continue to rise. Approach this from a collaborative attitude, and with the idea that you are going to help your child become a more independent, successful learner.
It’s a collaboration, not a command from on high! You and your teen need to agree to work together to improve their study skills. You want your teen to be independent, but he may need help learning study skills. Collaborating with your child and being consistent is paramount to changing the academic pattern. Put a date and time in the calendar each week and agree that this is you and your child’s time for strategizing, asking questions, and rewarding achievement, and be ready for a semester-long commitment!
Accentuate the Positive! Oftentimes a student becomes used to negative reinforcement from parents and teachers. The teen who is in a pattern where he forgets assignments and gets close to failing ends up getting used to negative reinforcement. Attention from parents and teachers increases as the student begins to fail classes. All of a sudden there are meetings, and strategies, and constant attention where before there was frustration and perhaps a “hands off” approach(i.e. letting the child figure out how to succeed on his own). This semester, flip the script from day one. At your weekly meeting discuss your child’s progress with him. What are his concerns and his goals? Is that goal to turn in all assignments? To keep to a study schedule? To talk to teachers right away when a concern arises? The key here is engagement.
- When your child meets a goal make sure you reward that however you see fit. At Monumental Beginnings we believe in the strong power of compliments that are frequent, specific, relevant, and genuine. We get really excited when we see progress, big or small, and make sure to commend our students accordingly.
Be A Cheerleader, let your child be the player! Expect your child to be receptive at first and then occasionally put up resistance when he gets discouraged. Expect him to do the work, but be a strong and consistent source of encouragement on the sidelines. You need to keep those dates each week. Don’t drill your teen each day when they get in the car, or the minute they get home. Remember, you are collaborators, partners, but ultimately it is your child who has to do the work. They have to want to succeed, and most students do, they just need some assistance to handle it all.
Be organized! Have an agenda each week. Consider these actions at your first meeting at the beginning of the semester:
- Keep track of assignments as well as homework in a Homework app if your kid uses his phone during the day, or keep track in a school planner. If your child has lost his, buy a new one for 2017. Make sure it is a school planner, not just a date book. Check out these homework planning apps and hard copy planners:
- Clean out all of the debris from last semester’s less than stellar performance. The idea is to break the pattern, to start the semester off strong and stay strong. Consider color coding your teen’s notebooks and binder if he seems to really have trouble staying organized. Block Schedule? Color code according to each day. Color code according to each class. Remember, however, if you have a teen who is already somewhat disorganized, introducing color coding that is complicated can create stress and more disorganization.
Teens need ZZZZZs! This may seem like a no-brainer, but make sure your teen is getting enough sleep. Encourage them to turn off their technology at least 45 minutes before going to sleep, and encourage a regular bedtime. This will become more consistent as your child learns better homework management skills.
Feed the Brain! Another no-brainer. Make sure your teen gets a healthy breakfast every day. Not home when he or she leaves for school? Make sure you provide easy to grab breakfasts on the go. Even a granola bar or tub of yogurt can be enough protein to get them to lunchtime. I always make sure whatever I have available for breakfast is right at eye level in the pantry or the refrigerator so my son will (hopefully) grab that first!
Don’t give up, even when you get busy yourself! This is not a short term commitment. You will need to be consistent for the entire semester. Don’t expect your child to remind you of your meetings, goals, expectations, etc. If they were more organized they wouldn’t be in this pickle! Keep it up and you may see amazing results! Eventually the idea is to move your child to complete autonomy. You will see that GPA come up, and so will your child’s self esteem. You will see increased engagement and even perhaps peace at home!
Annamarie Brachfeld, BA, MAEd, IEC
Co-Owner, Monumental Beginnings
Specializing in test prep, school success, and college essay