Teen's Friends Aren't Motivated, and Now Her Grades are Dropping!

Filed under: Expert Advice: Teens

Dear AdviceMama,

My daughter is 13 and is a really sweet girl. Her grades have been slipping after hanging out with some girls who are not necessarily bad, but are popular and when it comes to grades not very driven. I have spoken to my daughter many times about her choice of friends but with no change. Next year she is going on to high school with these same girls. How do I keep her motivated to be the student I know she can be?

Concerned Mom

Dear Concerned,

She has fallen from a A/B student to a barely C student and is not too upset about it. Many children hit the wall academically in seventh and eighth grade. Where A's and B's came easily in elementary school, the workload often becomes far more challenging in middle school, requiring a much greater amount of effort to keep grades up.

While it's true that a 13-year old can be negatively influenced by her peers, friends are not the only determinant in whether she gets good grades or not.
Yes, adolescents are notoriously obsessed with fitting in with their social group, and often sacrifice putting quality time into homework in favor of connecting with their friends. But there are plenty of teens whose friends aren't terribly driven, yet who maintain a strong commitment to do well in school.

The best way to help a youngster stay motivated is to begin by making sure she recognizes that you're on her side. This isn't something you tell your daughter; it's something you show her.
• Ask her which classes are most difficult, then put your lips together and listen. Show her that you care by being supportive and letting her express what's difficult about her classes, without lecturing, scolding or advising. Later, you might ask how you can help (after school tutoring? changes in homework ritual?) but first, simply listen to her.
• Acknowledge her intelligence where she does let it shine, and where her brilliance comes through (other than school and academics.) Far better to help her see herself as strong, bright and capable than to keep reminding her of how she's "not living up to her potential."
• Stop criticizing her friendships, which she could easily take as a unfavorable judgment about her, since she's chosen them. Look instead for ways to connect with the girls she hangs out with. If they feel comfortable with you, there's a chance you might even inspire them to become your daughter's study buddies! Teens do value their parent's guidance. But they're also resistant to being told how to think or what to feel. Come alongside your daughter about her grades, rather than at her, and you stand a very good chance of lighting a fire that will see her through middle and high school with flying colors.

Yours in parenting support,

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.