Believe it or not, mid-term grades and progress reports are already here, fall semester is almost at its half-way point, and for most teens, the moment of truth has arrived. No matter what kinds of promises and commitments were made at the start of the school year (to study harder, spend less time with friends or on the phone, to get extra help with tough subjects or homework assignments, or just to do better), there’s no getting around the hard facts of the first mid-term report: grades don’t lie.

This means, of course, that you could be faced with the perfect
opportunity to reward your child for a job well-done – as
well as a valuable chance to reaffirm those first-of-the-year
commitments with more than a little confidence (not to
mention a great deal of pride).

If things haven’t been going according to plan, this is also the moment to sit down with your teen for an honest assessment of how the school year is progressing. If he or she has yet to make any noticeable progress towards the goals set at the beginning of the year, it’s time for them to put their cards on the table and talk about what’s going on. As hard as it may be, having that discussion now (without delay) gives your child chance to set the record straight before the end of the semester. It will also give you an opportunity to re-assert your expectations of him/her.

But before you get out the spotlight and subject your under-performing teen to the third degree, take a little time to collect your thoughts and plan your approach to the conversation. Making your child feel even worse about the situation than they may already (remember, poor grades can be a sign of poor self-esteem, learning or behavioral struggles, among other things) might jolt them into short-term reaction, but it certainly won’t trigger any longer-term action on his/her part.

Instead, make contact with your teen’s teachers, coaches and school counselors to ask for their observations about his/her progress in the classroom and out. Listen carefully to their responses, and make a point of requesting some positive feedback as well as suggestions for improvement. Use the positive feedback as well as the suggestions as the basis for opening up a discussion with your teen about their semester to date. You don’t have to try to “hide” your concern by couching it with positive feedback, but you do need to make sure that your teen receives recognition for the things they have accomplished, no matter how small.

You can also use that same positive recognition as the basis for revisiting the goals you and your teen established at the start of the school year – that way, you approach the topic from a constructive, optimistic standpoint rather than focusing on what your teen has so far “failed” to do. Likewise, instead of simply re-instituting lofty goals like attaining a particular grade point average, break each objective down into smaller steps that can be easily measured, achieved and recognized. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to simply schedule a “meeting” with your teen every weekend to set a “mini goal” for the upcoming week. Ask you teen what he/she feels is their most pressing concern – or the area in which they need to exert more energy – then work together to decide on a mini-goal that will generate measurable progress in that area. Setting a certain number of study hours for each subject, completing each and every homework assignment on time for a particular class or acing the daily quiz in another might not sound like much, but over the remaining days and weeks of the semester, they can substantially improve your teen’s confidence in his/her ability to succeed – not to mention add up to some significant achievement!

Read “Progress Report Time, Part II: When It’s Time to Face the Facts”