Just like the first frost that appears on our last surviving plants on the deck announcing the end of summer, so do the first fall report cards appear, announcing another kind of reckoning. Parents hoping that this year will be better, easier, their teen another year older and wiser, having learned from last years lessons, open the envelope with trepidation and anticipation. Some glance quickly, scanning for standout grades in either direction, others take their time, each grade at a time, each comment at a time. Until...THE comment, THAT comment, that when parents read make their veins pop, and their hearts pound. " Johnny is a good student, BUT he is missing 3 homework assignments and because of that his grade is a C instead of a B.
For some parents this might be the first time they have seen this kind of report card from their teen. Perhaps in previous years their kid led a quieter, less social life than other kids, and studying hard and striving for good grades was their true mission. But what is this, where are the A's and B+'s they have grown accustomed to seeing? And then for some parents, who had been hoping for a fresh beginning, a new year full of promise, feel disappointed that its same old same old.
Though your first impulse might be to barge into your kids room, or start in on dealing with this as soon as they step into your car or into the house, I encourage you to take a moment, and take a deep and cleansing breath. You are probably feeling somewhat duped by your teen, having asked over and over and over again: "Did you finish your homework?", and the answer was "YES". You probably asked over and over, "did you make up those missing homework assignments? " And the answer was "YES!"
But here, in living proof is the evidence of that lie. You are storming.
Your kids are expecting the storm. They are primed and ready with excuses, and explanations, and promises for change. Consider this an opportunity to approach this in a new way. Rather than starting the conversation with: "This is what happens when you spend too much time on your phone, and on your computer and with your video games. In this house, schoolwork comes first! Instead try this: "Hey honey lets go over your report card together. Let him/her read it out loud. After each grade and comment is read, say "so what do you think about what your teacher said and how she graded you?" Refrain and I know that this is really hard, but just let them talk. You might hear some complaining, some "its not my fault the teacher is mean", and some denial, "I didn't know that was missing." The goal here is to use this report card not as an indictment on bad study habits but as a road map for moving forward.
Using an 'I get it" moment, you might say: "I get first terms are always hard. Getting back into a routine is hard after the summer, and I know keeping up with friends, and sports and all the stuff you like is important to you lets figure out a way for you to do both. If you don't put your teen on the defensive and focus more on I want you to feel successful, you will find them more willing to have a conversation with you, and figure out a plan of action. This is not about the grades!!! This is about your kids mastering material and developing a curiosity for learning. And this goes for the kids who come home with the straight A report cards. If you focus on the "A" rather than, "I am so proud for all your hard work, and how much you learned this term," you have a kid who is motivated to learn because of the external motivator of making you happy, rather than the power of the learning itself.
Fall is a time for new beginnings. Maybe you can see that your teen has a really hard time settling in and developing good study habits. For kids 6th-9th grade, sometimes hiring a college student as a homework buddy/mentor can be very helpful. This is not a tutor, this is someone who grabs your kid, takes him to your library, helps him get his homework done, and then goes out for an ice cream. It reframes homework from being a lonely, isolating boring experience, to something more to look forward to. Hanging with someone cool, who helps them, and understands them. This also gets you out of the power struggle of getting them to settle down and finish their work. If you are worried that this homework thing is a chronic problem, make sure you communicate regularly with the teacher. E-mailing at the end of the week to find out about missing homework, gives you a leg up on the "I did it" avoidance technique many kids use. (Read post on the homework avoider for more suggestions). The most important message is not to label your kid as lazy, or unmotivated, this does not change behavior. Providing them with motivation, structure, and understanding does.