Teenagers and Grades

Teenagers and Grades
I’ve been a child psychologist for 27 years. I’ve written hundreds of
articles on changing children’s behavior and this one focuses on the role
of school grades, which in turn reflect parental expectations, usually
in the guise of household rules. The “Parent Rules” are the basic conditions that “need” to be met for something else to happen. In a previous article, I wrote about the cell phone, and ended with a discussion of whether or not to give one to your teenager, with respect to whether or not your teen met certain academic expectations. This is a common experience.
Parents fixate on grades, this “condition” more than any other.
What is the minimum GPA (grade point average) a teen must have to earn
a _______________ (cell phone, car, money, night out with boy/girlfriend–fill in the blank). Most parents like the GPA to be a 3.0 or higher; meaning, on a four-point scale, a “B” average or better is the required minimum (with no “D’s” or “F’s”). Teenagers are crafty and occasionally flunk one class, yet still end up with a 3.0 GPA. Of course they have to have mostly “A’s” in the rest of their classes to do this. In some parents’ minds, a GPA of 3.0 magically opens the door to cell phones, even if the rooms are still messy and their teen violates curfews. What happens if the GPA is high but the teen’s other behaviors are rotten?
In many houses, the cell phone actually rewards recklessness or rude
behaviors in other areas. Why? Because teens frequently think once they have the cell phone, they do not need to do much else. Parents often unwittingly reinforce this through inattention, or hyper-attention only to select behaviors-again, grades. So, “if the grades are great,” the cell phone is allowed.
However, most parents like their teenagers to conform to other
expectations; to at least speak to them in a civil manner, to clean their
rooms at least once a week and to observe curfew, especially on a “school
night.” This is about preference and judgment. As the parent, you have
to decide what you can live with, and what behaviors, specifically or
overall, that when allowed (meaning, tolerated if the behaviors are bad)
or reinforced (if the behaviors are good), will likely produce the best
human being. You might want to make your own list of what is OK and not
OK and craft some sort of household Magna Carta-a policy statement of basic rights, but also of privileges and by way of implication, expectations you, the parents minimally expect..
As with all children, there will be transgressions. The next short
article covers curfew.
-Dr. Griggs

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