Coaching the Underachieving High Schooler

While high school presents a world of possibilities, adolescence ignites the fires to make those into realities. Today's ready access to peers through instant messaging,tempting entertainment options, and a vast array of activities, can easily undermine a teenager's academic dedication. Underachievement occurs when students do not perform at expected levels based upon past performance or another standard such as intelligence or standardized testing. This pattern sounds an alarm in the future-oriented minds of parents, sending them scrambling to point blame and demanding course correction from kids. Unfortunately, parental responses can do more harm than good. Before you jump into the role of underachievement-buster, consider the following coaching tips:

Short cuts to success, although effective in the past, are no longer working to the same degree.
Prior to high school, it is common for bright students to earn excellent grades without fully applying themselves. Minimizing the importance of thorough studying and overlooking the need for good note-taking are work habits brought to high school. They carry the misconception that intelligence will produce A's, rather than hard work and sacrifice. If this describes your child, gently share these observations, but be prepared for them to accuse you of not having confidence in them. Offer the following retort,"I believe you are smart enough to realize that as the work gets harder, you have to work harder to reach the level of excellence you are capable of."

Don't be too quick to pin the blame on one distraction, remove it, and create a bigger problem.
In their zeal to find the cause for underachievement, many parents narrowly focus on one of their pet peeves, such as instant messaging or gaming, and temporarily delete it from their child's life. Whether or not parents admit it, this action is an arbitrary punishment and will be viewed as such by teens. Adolescents don't academically excel under such conditions, but may now have another reason to put less effort into their school work: retaliation against parents. This downside risk must be carefully considered before parents resort to privilege removal. A far better approach is to suggest that certain temptations may be too much for them to resist, and to brainstorm ways of curbing them. For example, teens can surrender certain favorite games at the end of each evening so that they are not available when they return home from school the next day.

Sometimes underachievement is a symptom of big, or what might seem small, problems.
It's important not to overlook that depression, social disappointment or isolation, prolonged conflict with or between parents, medical issues, or other problems can lead to underachievement. Teens may be unable to effectively balance the challenges of high school with the pressures imposed by these other issues. Similarly, a host of other less obvious factors may be underlying performance problems, such as peer perceptions of academic excellence, personality conflicts with or dislike of teachers, inadequate sleep, etc.

Consider the possible reasons without rushing to judgment, approach your teen and demonstrate your interest in their viewpoint.
Adolescence is already a time of heightened insecurity, so it's best to tread lightly. Suggest some of the above possibilities but emphasize the importance of a mutually agreeable plan of action. Consider establishing a time table for grade improvement and actions to be taken if goals are not met.