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How Parents Miss the Point of Report Cards

Turn report cards—good or bad--to your child’s advantage.

Many parents have high expectations for how well their children perform academically. Some parents take a poor or less than stellar report card as a personal affront; other ask themselves what they are doing wrong.

In this guest post, Joani Geltman, author of , A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens: Talking to Your Kids About Sexting, Drinking, Drugs and Other Things that Freak You Out, explains what should be the real purpose of report cards—involving your child in the process of getting good grades. Parental dictating and rule making will not, she says, turn a teenager’s grades around.

Below, Joani Geltman offers wise pointers on how to successfully motivate your children and reduce parental angst when having the inevitable “report card discussion.” The report card should be a roadmap, not an Indictment.


Where are the A’s and B+’s?

It’s report card time. Parents open the envelope with trepidation and anticipation. Some glance quickly, scanning for standout grades in either direction. Others take their time, one grade at a time, and one comment at a time. Until, that comment, the one that makes veins pop and hearts pound. “Johnny is a good student, but he’s missing three homework assignments and because of that his grade is a C instead of a B.”

Such a message may be new to you. Perhaps in previous years your teen led a quieter, less social life than other kids. Studying hard and striving for good grades was her mission. But what is this? Where are the A’s and B+’s you’ve grown accustomed to seeing? For other parents who were hoping for a fresh beginning and a new semester full of promise, there’s disappointment that it’s the same old same old.

Squash Your First Impulse

Though your first impulse may be to barge into your kid’s room or to start in on this the moment she walks through the door, I encourage you to pause for a deep, cleansing breath. You’re probably feeling duped by your teen. You asked her over and over and over again, “Did you finish your homework?” and the answer was always, “Yes.” You probably asked over and over, “Did you make up those missing homework assignments?” “Yes!” But here is the living proof and the evidence of that lie. You are storming.

Let Your Teen Do the Talking

Let Your Teen Do the Talking

Your teen expects the storm. She is primed and ready with excuses, explanations, and promises for change. Consider this an opportunity to approach this in a new way. You may feel like starting the conversation with, “This is what happens when you spend too much time on your phone and with your video games. In this house, schoolwork comes first!”

Instead try this: “Hey honey, let’s go over your report card together.” Let her read it out loud. After each grade and comment say, “So what do you think about what your teacher said and how she graded you?” I know this is hard, but you really have to just listen and let your teen do the talking!

You may hear some complaining, some “It’s not my fault the teacher is mean.” You may hear some denial. “I didn’t know that was missing.” Then ask, “What do you think got in your way? Was the homework hard? Was the homework boring? Is it hard to settle down and do homework when you get home? Too many distractions?” You want to help your teen analyze what to do differently. If you yell and criticize and dictate what needs to be done differently, you won’t engage her in the process, and nothing will change.

The goal is to use this report card not as an indictment of bad study habits, but as a roadmap for moving forward. If you don’t put your teen on the defensive and focus more on your wanting her to feel successful, you will find her more willing to have a conversation with you and figure out a plan of action.

Incentives are a good technique for motivating change. Incentives are successful when they are based on short-term goals. Promising a new car if she gets all A’s and B’s for the whole year is a goal that’s too far in the future. Initially it’s exciting, but when a teen is slogged down in boredom in December, June and the car are part of a future that’s too distant to care much about. Teens are present-centered beings. Better to do weekly incentives. Work with teachers to get regular reports on assignment completion. Don’t wait for progress reports to get the bad news. Request them weekly if this has been a major issue. Weekly incentives for positive reports from teachers can be money, manicures, iTunes downloads, clothes, anything that motivates your teen. Who doesn’t like a little reward for hard work? Ask any adult who gets a bonus!

This is not about the grades! This is about your teen mastering material and developing a curiosity for learning. This also goes for your teen that comes home with a straight A report card. If you focus on the A’s rather than on “I’m so proud of all your hard work and how much you learned this term,” you’ll have a teen who’s motivated to learn because of the external motivator of making you happy, rather than the power of the learning itself.

The most important message is not to label teens as lazy or unmotivated. This does not change behavior. Providing motivation, structure, and understanding does.

Copyright @ 2014 Joani Geltman

Adapted from the author’s book, A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens: Talking to Your Kids About Sexting, Drinking, Drugs and Other Things that Freak You Out (AMACOM, 2014)

Also by Geltman: Facebook Posts That Can Put Your Kid in Jail: 4 Golden rules to protect kids on the Internet.

Related: Curbing Too-High Hopes for Children’s Success and Raising “Star” Children: The Pressure May Be Too Great

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