What to Do If Your Teen has Failing Grades in High School

Strategies to Get Teens Back on Track

mother talking to teen girl about bad report card
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Failing a high school class is serious business. Sometimes students can make up a single failed class during summer school or a class can be repeated the following year. However, some students fail multiple classes and it makes it difficult, if not impossible, for them to graduate from high school on time.

When high school students fall behind in their classes, catching up can be quite difficult. When grades begin to plummet, many teens give up.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for teens to try and hide their failing grades from their parents until it’s too late to address the issue. It’s important to be aware of your teen’s academic issues so you can intervene when necessary.

Identify the Problem

If your teen has a failing grade or is in danger of not passing, sit down and discuss the problem. Ask your teen for help uncovering the reasons he’s not passing. Sometimes students who start out strong get sidetracked while other students just aren’t motivated to stay on track.

Talk to your teen and examine whether or not any of these issues has contributed to a failing grade.

  • Are the classes too hard? Sometimes teens sign up for classes that are just too difficult and they become overwhelmed.
  • Is your child not doing the homework? If your teen isn’t doing homework, it will be extremely difficult to pass a class. Find out if homework isn’t completed, not turned in on time, or if your child doesn’t understand how to do it.
  • Are low test scores a problem? Some students struggle with test anxiety or aren’t sure how to study for tests.
  • Has your child had a lot of absences? If your child has missed school due to illness or other issues, it can severely interfere with grades.
  • Is your child under a lot of stress? If your teen is stressed out, he may have difficulty concentrating and completing his work.
  • Could a mental health issue be part of the problem? Mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety often contribute to failing grades. Substance abuse issues can also be a factor in declining grades

Talk to the Teachers

Although your teen may not want you to talk to the teachers, it’s important to speak with them to help determine the problem. Your teen may not be aware that he’s not paying attention in class or that he’s missing a lot of work. Ask for teachers’ opinions about what your child needs to do differently to pass the class.

Consider whether or not your child may have a learning disability as well. Sometimes learning disabilities or ADHD go undiagnosed until the high school years. Inquire about whether or not educational or psychological testing may be helpful.

Problem-Solve with Your Teen

Once you have a better idea why he is failing, sit down and problem-solve with your teen. Discuss his ideas about how he can improve his grade. Sometimes, simple yet creative solutions can make a big difference.

  • Does he need more structure with homework? Some teens just can’t handle having too much freedom about when and where to do their work. Establishing a scheduled homework time can help.
  • Does he have difficulty remembering what he has for homework? Teens who are disorganized often misplace their papers or forget to bring their work home. Strategize some ways to help your teen get more organized.
  • Does he forget to write down his assignments? Some teens try to remember all of their assignments without an assignment book. Other teens forget to write their assignments down. Having your teen write down his work and asking the teacher to initial it after each class can ensure that his assignments are written down.
  • Does he need extra help? Many teens are afraid to ask for help because they are embarrassed or they just don’t understand, even when the teacher tries to explain the concepts again. Staying after school for extra help, meeting with a tutor or joining a homework club can be helpful strategies for many students.
  • Is he just not motivated to do his work? Sometimes teens just aren’t all that motivated to complete their work. They may have lost interest or are just bored with a particular subject. Discuss strategies that will help motivate your teen to get his work done.

Work together to develop a plan to address failing grades. Discuss possible strategies to help him improve his grade, such as arranging for tutoring. If he’s not able to pass the class, talk to the school about alternative options such as summer school or adult education classes.

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