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How to Motivate An Underachieving Teen

Helping Smart Teens Work Up To Their Academic Potential

Focus on Efforts, Not Results

This has been a struggle we are hearing from parents across the country — students that are capable of good grades are either barely passing or failing.

Some are not going to classes at all. We have seen a rise in skipping school and truancy over the past year.

How can we turn this around?

4 Ways to Support An Underachiever

1. Understand why they’re underachieving.

“They worry they won’t be smart enough—and so they start using words like ‘boring’ to describe their academic work,” says Dr. Sylvia Rimm, director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland and author of the book Why Bright Kids Get Poor Grades. “But ‘boring’ doesn’t really mean boring at all. It means I’m scared to make an effort because maybe even if I make an effort I still might not do well.”

Many underperformers were, in fact, once over- or average achievers; they were likely accustomed to not having to work too hard to do well in school. But as the academics got harder in middle school (or high school), they never developed the tools to deal with it. “They define smart as easy, so if work is hard, they think they must be stupid,” Rimm says.

2. Praise and demand effort.

Checking out—or feigning indifference to schoolwork—gives the underachievers an easy out for not meeting their own or others’ expectations. As a parent, then, one of the best things you can do to help your underachieving teenager get over these fears is to spend more time complimenting him on his efforts rather than his results.

“Give your teenager the message that we expect you to be a hard worker and do your best. And if they do their best, you’ll be satisfied with the grades,” Rimm says.

3. Don’t make excuses.

It’s important also not to make excuses for your teen. When a child is more of an outside-the-box thinker, it can be easy to label him as a “creative type”—giving your teen tacit permission to bow out of work and assignments. And conversely, it also “gives your child the message that they always have to think and act differently or creatively—thus putting pressure on them not to conform even when it’s appropriate,” Rimm says.

4. Set realistic goals.

If you are concerned that changes in grades might be related to an underlying undiagnosed issue like ADHD, talk to your child’s doctor. But once you’ve ruled out any medical issues—and tried to get your child extra support—you might have to do the hardest thing of all: swallow your ego and accept that your teen just does not have the same goals as you. “Our rule now is that our son can’t get C’s for the grading period,” says Ginny, who admits to struggling daily with these revised expectations.

And at the same time, she admits that she can’t help but admire her son a bit for his attitude. “I think in some ways the attitude he has will serve him more on this planet than the monkey who just jumps through hoops,” she says. “My friends remind me that if I talked to any mom of a Silicon Valley executive about how their child was in school, I’d probably hear similar stories.”

Contributor: Rebecca Meiser, YourTeenMag

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Have you exhausted all your local resources and your teen is still spiraling out-of-control? Wants to drop out of school, depressed, defiant, addicted to their devices and have become withdrawn from friends and family? Are you concerned about their future and their well-being?

It might be time to learn more about how residential therapy can help your teenager.

Contact us today for more information.

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