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How To Motivate Teens Who Are Underperforming Academically?

It can be very frustrating for parents who have children they know are smart but for some reason are underperforming at school. Parents may sometimes feel that their children are sabotaging themselves by not caring enough about their grades and disregarding their homework. What can a parent do? You'd be surprised, there are many positive things parents have at their disposal to help their struggling teen improve academically.

How to Motivate an Unmotivated Teen

Teens who disregard school work appear to be lazy, and irresponsible. However, being unmotivated in school does have several possible roots. In order to motivate a teen to do better in school, it's really helpful to understand what demotivates them. Nagging them to do better is not always an effective strategy. If it were effective, then not many parents would have the same problems with their teens.

"Nagging can be a normal reaction for parents because they desire a good future for their teens, and a good education can be a key to this. Nagging often invites rebellion and resistance from teens."

Here are some of the common reasons why teens underperform at school, and what parents can do to help teens succeed over these challenges.

Boredom

Some teens, especially those who are particularly smart and intelligent, think that some of the work assigned in school is kind of stupid and not worth their time. Teens who are clearly more intelligent than other young people their age tend to not see the point of doing well in algebra when they are more interested in (and have a natural knack for) other things.

In such cases, being decidedly underwhelmed with their school's coursework should not be an excuse for teens not to do well. Talking to teens about things that they should put up with in order to get where they plan to get someday may help.

If your teen is particularly gifted in specific subjects like the arts, athletics, math, or sciences, it may also be worthwhile to look into specialized schools where their talents can be honed and developed. Getting your teen into an environment where they can be with kids who love the same things can be beneficial. For one thing, being in a culture where it's not okay to underperform and where it's fun to rise up to the challenge can use peer pressure positively.

Stressed and Overwhelmed

Some teens appear motivated as a way to tell their parents that they need help. Teens go through a lot of stressful situations because of the changes that they deal with in life. There are also some instances where teens go through stressful situations that they can't tell their parents about. This is the case for teens who are victims of bullying and other forms of abuse. If your teen has never had problems with grades before but is now struggling with it, it may be a good idea to look deeper and see what's really happening.

Perceived Strengths and Weaknesses

In an ideal world, teens will find learning fun. However, it's not an ideal world, and not all teens enjoy being in school and taking advantage of all the benefits of a good education. Most kids lean naturally towards some subjects and become very good at them, and do less spectacularly in some subjects. For example, some kids may believe that since they're so good in writing, it's understandable that they do bad at math, and they grow to dread anything related to math even into their adult years.

The best thing to do is to support your teen's achievement in the subject he/she is really good at, but help your teen focus more on the subjects that they find difficulties with. Reinforce your teen's efforts through rewarding any achievements they make. Empathize with your teen's difficulties on the subject, but push towards a solution. For example, say "I know Math is a difficult subject for you, but what can you do to help you pass it? Would it help if we hired a tutor to help you out?"

Distracted and Disorganized

Some teens just need help getting a direction and organizing their thoughts. They need structure when it comes to their school work, personal life, and social life. They need a way to stay on top of their schoolwork and keep track of projects and assignments.

Parents can help by providing tools and guidance for the organization. Some teens are more visual and prefer to work with large calendars, organizers that they can decorate, or simply to do lists posted in places where they can often see it. Parents can help their teens by enforcing a structure where teens can only play games, use the phone, or watch TV when they are done with their homework. They can allow study hours at night and assign a place in the house which can be teens' study area, a quiet place with no distractions.

No Goals

Some teens don't care much about performing well in school because they don't really want to achieve something. Parents often think that their teens will set personal goals by themselves, but this isn't always the case. Sometimes teens need to be encouraged and guided through the process of goal-setting. Parents can help by helping their teens identify what goals would be realistic and suitable for them, and by helping teens celebrate milestones that bring teens closer to these goals.

Bad Company, Bad Habits

Some teens have school problems because they are preoccupied with questionable activities they do with the bad company. Some teens may be pressured by their peers to cut class. Some may be influenced to drink or try drugs, which always affect performance at school. If this is the case with your teen, talking with a family therapist can give you an idea how to help him/her get back on the right track. Depending on how bad the situation is, taking your teen away from

Depending on how bad the situation is, taking your teen away from the bad company may help. There are therapeutic boarding schools that offer to give troubled teens individualized therapy and counseling while they earn academic credits. If your teen is involved in drugs and other dangerous activities because of bad company, this would be a good option to consider.

Many times, poor grades aren't what parents should be worried about, but the reason behind these poor grades. When teens act out, their grades suffer. However, when the emotional needs of teens are addressed, the improvement of their grades more often than not would follow as a benefit to these emotional needs being met.

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Poor Grades in High School? There Might be an Underlying Problem

It's understandable for parents to be upset when their teens come home with poor grades from school. After all, education is very important for most people, and in this kind of economy, a good education can get a person better career opportunities.

However, most of the time, poor grades are only symptoms of underlying issues that often remain unnoticed. Too many times, parents focus too much on their perception that good grades is an indicator of good behavior. Too much focus on the symptom rather than the issue puts the cart before the horse.

Teens are in a stage where there are so many changes going on. In every teen's process of emotional growth, unmet emotional needs greatly influence how they strive to meet other hierarchy of needs.

In the life of teens, their emotional needs are influenced by a diverse number of factors. Parents often wonder why their teens take for granted the fact that they have been given love, food, clothing, and shelter when the truth is that teens have more complex emotional needs. Some of the factors that come into play are social status, culture, friends, social-economic status, and so on.

If parents want their children to succeed in life (not just academically), it's important to understand why they are acting out and underachieving. To understand this, they must first understand what their teens' unmet emotional needs are and find ways to help address them.

Doing this helps teens become better-adjusted individuals, and better-adjusted teens often do great in school. Good grades come as an added benefit or a natural effect of helping teens have a higher self-esteem.

If your teen doesn't seem to be acting out, but really needs some help with schoolwork, here are a few tips to help parents encourage their teens to do better in a healthy way:

  • Help your teen organize - Some teens just need help organizing their coursework and prioritizing projects. Parents can buy teens organizers and encourage them how to use it. They can put up calendars on their walls and help them maintain to-do lists. Parents can help their teens prioritize their tasks too.
  • Create a quiet space to study - Providing a study area for teens can help encourage them to study. Ideally, this room will be free of distractions like TVs, radios, and computers. It's also good to structure a study time, which teens can use to read and do something constructive in case they have no homework.
  • Provide incentive - Of course, learning is already a great reward, but it doesn't hurt to give teens a little incentive for the effort they put in studying. Ideally, this isn't something too expensive in order for teens not to lose sight of the right motive for studying.
    Is it a learning disability?

Some parents who have done their best to be supportive of their teen's studies often wonder if their teen may have a previously undiagnosed learning disability. Here are a few of the most common symptoms of learning disabilities among tweens and teens:

  • Reads letters in reverse or interchanged sequence (ex. reads "left" as "felt")
  • Avoids reading aloud, especially in front of other people
  • Has an almost illegible handwriting
  • Avoids or is highly stressed out by composition assignments
  • Learns prefixes, suffixes, root words, and spelling slower than most teens their age
  • Has trouble relating with other kids at school
  • Has trouble interpreting and understanding body language
  • Has trouble interpreting and understanding facial expressions
  • Spells the same word differently within the same composition (ex. spells "left" as "felt", "flet", "letf" within the same essay)
  • Has difficulties with memorization tasks
  • Shows poor grasp of abstract concepts
  • Shows difficulties adjusting to new situations
  • Often misreads instructions


In cases where the symptoms above are present, it's best to have your teen evaluated. If your teen is diagnosed with a learning disability, he/she may be qualified for public special education services. If this is the case, public schools usually provide an individualized educational program that is more suited for your teen's capability and learning style.

You can also opt to enroll your teen in therapeutic boarding schools where they can get individualized programs as well as therapy in order to help your teen with other aspects of his/her life. The goal is to not just get your teen to pass high school but also to help him/her understand what could help them learn and succeed in life. Therapeutic boarding schools and special education programs can also help teens with learning disabilities become self-advocates and continue to learn ways in which they can help themselves become successful in life.

It's important to note that having an undiagnosed learning disability may affect your teen's behavior at home and at school. They may become a target for bullies, unable to form friendships, or they may begin to act out in negative ways because they do not understand what is wrong with them. When other children don't seem to experience the kind of problems they experience with schoolwork, it can really take a toll on their self-esteem.

This is why aside from support in their academics, teens with learning disabilities can benefit much from therapy. This, along with the constant love and support of their family, can help them develop a new love and understanding for themselves.

It's very important for parents or guardians to talk to teens with learning disabilities and assure them that they are not stupid, but that their mind just processes information in different ways and at a different pace from other individuals. Help teens to focus on their talents and strengths while also encouraging them through an optimistic attitude. It's also important to learn what you can about learning disabilities in order to provide more support for them at home.

What to do if Your Teen has Been Expelled from School?

Whether it’s the first time or not, having your child expelled from school is always a challenging thing for both parents and their teens. The news could be quite devastating because parents see education as the key to their teens’ success in the future. Some teens get expelled because of a really bad decision they made, or a series of bad decisions and parents are concerned this may hinder them from getting a good college education in the future.

Don’t Play the Blame Game

Many parents whose kids get expelled from school tend to blame themselves for what happened. Some parents go the other way and blame their children for the bad decisions that they made. While it’s important to hold your child accountable for bad decisions, expulsion is a natural consequence that they have to deal with. It’s more important to expend energy into the effort to restore your child’s hope and faith in himself/herself. As the old adage goes, it’s not how many times you fall down but how you pick yourself up that matters.

It’s important for parents to help their teens find out what patterns and behaviors have caused them to get to this point in their lives, and to help them change these self-defeating behaviors before they escalate into something worse.

It’s also important for parents to encourage their teens to move forward from this setback. It’s good to talk about the series of bad choices that led to that moment, but it’s not healthy to keep on going back and rehashing these bad decisions every step of the way to recovery.

Stop looking back in order for expelled teens to move forward. Learning from mistakes do not mean that you must remind your teen of the things they did that brought them to a difficult situation. Doing so will only embitter teens and hinder them from forgiving themselves.

Understanding is Key

Expelled teens didn’t get to this point overnight. Finding out what behaviors need to be addressed is an important part to getting your teen on the right track. The most common reasons teens get expelled from school include breaking important laws in school, violence, drug use, abusive behavior, and others. While it’s important to get to the bottom of the reason why your teen was expelled, taking the time to talk to your teen and hear his/her side of the story first is equally important.

Expulsion is a Natural Consequence

Yes, expulsion is a serious matter that could derail your child’s academic life, but it’s also a good time for growth. Many well-meaning parents protect their teens from the terrible consequences of their actions and end up doing everything they can to get their teens accepted in a school. When teens do not experience the natural consequences that led them to expulsion, they’re (more than likely) bound to repeat their mistakes.

What Other Options Do Expelled Teens Have?

When facing the reality of expulsion, parents and teens should ask the question, “where do we go from here?” There are other options available to teens, and each one has merits depending on your teen’s current situation. What’s important is that parents don’t just look for where to put their teens next, but also to how this change will help them get back on the right track.

Remember that no matter how many schools your teen goes to, unless the root of the problem is dealt with, you’ll be going back to the same problems over and over again. What parents should look for is not just placement but also treatment. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Public school – There are some schools that offer alternative programs for expelled teens. It may be helpful to check whether there are any schools near your district which offers this kind of program. Additionally, parents can also consider counseling while going through these programs in order to help teens address the behavior that put them there in the first place.
  • Home schooling – There are situations where teens can benefit from some home schooling, as long as parents are willing to be involved in the homeschooling program. Especially in cases where teens were expelled because of truancy, gang involvement, and other consequences of being mixed up with a bad crowd, homeschooling may offer a lot of benefits that mainstream education won’t.

Again, what homeschooling lacks is the counseling/therapy that struggling young people need to enable themselves to turn over a new leaf. Homeschooling is also more effective if teens live in a house where one parent stays at home. An involved parent can offer and enforce the kind of structure that can help young people get their act together. Coupled with non-residential therapy, homeschooling can be a great choice for some teens, in some cases.

  • Go through the appeals process – In cases where parents feel that the decision to expel their teen is not convincing enough, they can go through an appeals process to reinstate their teen back to the school. In such parents, parents can coordinate with the school principal to ask about the appeals process.
  • Residential therapy – A lot of alternative therapeutic boarding schools offer residential therapy to troubled teens. In many cases where teens struggle with school and in their personal lives, these boarding schools can provide the structure and support that they need in order to regain control of their lives.

For many teens who are struggling with behavioral issues, substance abuse, and other problems, residential therapy can be just the pivotal turning point that they need in their lives. The best part of this is that young people can get therapy while they are earning academic credits. This way they can experience success in their academic life too.

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What to Do if You Think Your Teen Might be Doing Poorly in School?

There are many reasons why teens may be doing poorly in school. Contrary to what some people may think, it’s not always because teens are lazy or irresponsible. The role of parents in motivating their teens to do better in school is very valuable. When parents insist on enforcing negative types of discipline on their teens, it invites more resistance or tears down teens’ self-esteem rather than motivate them to do better.

Here are a few possible reasons why your teen may be doing poorly in school and what parents can do in response to them.

Your Teen is Afraid of Failing

Some teens have a fear of failure that prevents them from trying. These teens have a poor sense of self-worth and think that if they fail (and they think they probably will fail), their family will be so disappointed in them. Before they even fail, they try not to get emotionally invested in whether they pass or fail.

Teens who feel conditionally loved (they are loved only if they succeed) respond by not trying hard enough. The other side of the coin is that they may become “serial pleasers”, or teens that overachieve and push themselves to toxic limits to avoid failing so that they always feel they are loved.

Of course, many parents don’t really mean to make their teens feel conditionally loved. Teens have a funny way of interpreting actions sometimes, so parents must always be aware if they’re sending the wrong message to their teen. Getting good grades is great, but going out of your way to praise their effort and not just the end result will help them learn more than their school lessons but other valuable life lessons as well. Especially those lessons pertaining to their self-worth.

They Don’t See the Relevance of Doing Well in High School

Many people have been through that stage in their life when they wonder what good Algebra can do them if they plan on becoming a writer someday, or what good History would do to a future engineer? Help your teen understand that passing high school is something they’d want to do if they want to go to college someday. Even if they don’t think Algebra is relevant, it’s something they have to succeed at if they want to get to wherever they want to go.

Aside from needing the grades to earn a diploma, working on these subjects also build character. It teaches teens important life lessons that would be useful someday. For example, no employer wants to hire a quitter. Perseverance is something that shows on your academic records and it’s also something you learn from working on things even if they’re not fun.

They Focus Only on What They’re Good At

Most people do very well on a few subjects in school. Some do really well in Math but suck at History. Some do really well in History but suck at gym, and so on. Some teens know what their strengths are and bank entirely on them while being psychologically beaten by their weak points. When a teen begins to believe that they absolutely suck at math, just the thought of tackling Math problems make them anxious.

You can help your teen by accepting what their weaknesses are and moving on towards resolving them. Tell your teen “Yes, I know you don’t like History, but what can you do to pass this?” You can try to convince your teen that he/she can also like History, but it won’t be as effective as accepting that each person has his/her own individual tastes. However, you don’t stop working on something just because you’re not good at it.

Too Much Stress

Some teens do poorly in school because they have too much on their plates. Sometimes, it helps to trim down the extracurricular activities in order to release some of the pressure that can become physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting for teens.

Poor Time Management and Organization Skills

School work can be pretty overwhelming. The older children get, the more demanding schoolwork can get. Teens sometimes need help in getting tasks organized in order to prevent feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of things on their to-do list.

Parents can help by teaching teens to prioritize. Don’t lighten their load by doing some things that they are supposed to be doing for school. Help the map out their deadlines and find time for their tasks within the week.

If teens forget to do their chores or are unable to do them because of their school load, don’t bear down on them and interpret this as being irresponsible. Have a little breathing room for your teen and choose to make gentle reminders whenever possible, rather than making unkind comments that often result to power struggles.

Your Teen Needs Extra Help

Sometimes it’s a source of frustration for teens when they don’t seem to learn as easily as other teens do. It’s not that they are less smarter than others, they just have other needs that traditional schools alone may not be equipped to meet.

If you suspect that your teen has learning differences or disorders such as ADD/ADHD, it’s a good idea to schedule an evaluation with a therapist. If your teen does have other needs, a lot of things may begin to make sense for you and for him/her. Proper intervention can be done in order to respond to their specific needs.

It could be a significant turning point in your teen’s life, not just in terms of academics but in every aspect of their life. Many teens who have been suffering from undiagnosed disorders feel a lot better when they begin to understand what makes them different from other people, and what can be done to deal with the symptoms.

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Worried About Your Teen's Performance at School?

Learn 5 Ways you Can Help your Teen go from Under-achiever to Over-achiever

Secretary Margaret Spellings of the U.S. Department of Education said that every child has the power to succeed in school and in life. But the question is: how can we help our kids succeed if they are a bit on the slow side?

Parents become teachers the moment their kids open their eyes for the first time. In the toddler years, it is the parents' role to ensure that their kids master basic functions, such as taking a bath, and learn to follow basic instructions, such as "keep quiet."

As their kids grow into teenagers, it is still the role of parents to provide guidance in critical areas that will define their later lives, which are: choosing a career, choosing a lifelong partner and getting ready to separate from the family and raise their own. Any parent knows full well that these life achievements can be hampered by poor scholastic performance.

As a parent concerned about your teen's future success, you need to stay involved.

Motivating the Underachievers

Motivating kids to do well in school is tricky. Some kids are naturally enthusiastic about school, just like some kids are naturally enthusiastic on sports, or video games.

Some kids, although smart, are lazy and seem uninterested in achieving at school. How do you coax lazy, uninterested but bright teens that only do the bare minimum to get passing grades?

There are two forms of motivation - love, and fear. People are motivated to do things either out of love or out of fear of the consequences in the event of failure. Also, there are two distinct sources for motivation - "internal motivation" wherein people make their own choice and achieve the internal satisfaction of doing so, and "external motivation", where people do things because they are told to, or in an effort to please another party.

While these two aren't mutually exclusive of each other, it is the internal motivation type that is the most self-sustaining and thus, more rewarding.

In other words, teens are likely to learn more and retain that learning better when they are internally motivated, or when they believe they are doing it for their own benefit. Furthermore, kids with strong internal motivation do not need an adult to constantly watch over them and dictate with their activities. This is one reason why motivation to do well in all aspects should be taught to kids early, while they are still young.

Inspiration

One of the key aspects of developing internal motivation into a child is inspiration. As parents and role models, we want our kids to see what it is to work towards a dream. It is also our goal to make sure our kids get every bit of motivation to work hard into making their dreams happen.

Find the right moments wherein you can talk to your child about his or her dreams. Let your child understand why it is important to do all these things. Help him or her see the possibilities if he or she only works hard for it and explain why getting a good education is key to the realization of any dream.

Acknowledgment, Appreciation, and Tangible Rewards

Reward offered as an incentive or for successful completion of tasks is among the most basic and effective motivators. In fact, according to Roland G. Fryer, Jr. of Harvard University in his Financial Incentives and Student Achievement: Evidence from Randomized Trials, incentives increase achievement among students almost by 125%, although it is to be noted that incentives given for child's inputs (or work done) is more effective than incentives for output (or grades earned).

In other words, an incentive that is rewarded immediately is better than rewards at a distant future. The explanation for this is simple: it is easier for teens to work towards a goal knowing that they are immediately rewarded after meeting its conditions, than to work persistently towards something that may not be achievable later on.

Teach Good Study Habits

Studying is not every teen's favorite pastime. For sure, your teen would rather do something else than study. They need to know that studying is essential for their scholastic success just as it is essential for parents to work and provide so that the family's dreams will succeed.

Good study habits need to grow into your kids. It will be hard at first, and most probably you need to enforce a few rules to see this happen. But in the long run, it will teach your kids intellectual independence, and it will greatly help them during college.

Here are examples of good rules that will help develop study habits.

  • Establish a study zone at home. Designate an area where there is least distraction and where you can easily keep tabs on your teen. Once your teen is in this place, he or she is expected to study. This place should hold books, dictionary, encyclopedia and school supplies your teen will need for studying.
  • Establish a regular study period. For example, you can designate 1 hour before supper Monday to Friday to be your teen's regular study period. As a house rule, he or she should be on the designated study zone during regular study period, and you are to keep tabs on your teen.
  • Make consistent follow throughs. Check on every assignment, check test papers, and check projects. Monitor grades and test results. During regular study periods, your teen should present assignment, test papers, and projects if there is any. If you can, archive test papers so it is easy for you to decide whether your kid needs tutoring in some areas.
  • Teach your kid organization skills. A very important aspect of good study habits is the ability to organize "to-dos" and keep notes of important stuff. You may need to teach you keep to keep a personal planner, a diary and an events calendar.
  • Monitor TV and video games. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of entertainment media (which include TV and video games) for kids during schooldays. If your kids habitually spend more time than this, it probably won't be easy to get them away and you may need to make gradual changes.
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I'm Worried My Teen Might Fail School, How Can I Be Proactive?

Not every teenager would do well in school, there are those who get overwhelmed by the difficulties of high school that they feel hopeless about keeping up with schoolwork and their peers. The transitional years, which is moving up from elementary to middle school and middle school to high school, are the most crucial years when children and teens experience the struggles of being in school.

A lot of people are well aware of how increasingly difficult for high school dropouts to be able to have a well-paying job (even a decent one at that) and be guaranteed of a good future. That’s why it’s natural for parents to be concerned whenever their teens might fail in school as their teens can possibly be faced with greater hardships in times of economic instability.

In fact, the EPERC or the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center and Education Week have released a national report that approximately 7,200 students per day in America’s public schools alone have failed to finish high school with a diploma. The decline in the graduation rate is actually very troubling considering that a solid high school education is actually a preparation for a student to enter college and the adult life. This can also be the foundation for a student’s individual success with regards to their social and economic stability.

Common Indicators of Teens Who Are At Risk of Failing School

There are teens who are able to overcome school problems with just minimal assistance from their teachers and parents. It is sometimes enough for a parent to hear out their teen’s struggles and suggesting them with strategies to cope, supporting them with school work in school and encouraging them more to participate. Although not every teen has that positive outlook especially if they have performed poorly in school and have shown behavior problems for most of their student life.

With the following at risk indicators, parents and teachers can be aware of the persistent problems and provide effective intervention.

  • Has attention problems since early childhood with a school history of disruptive or attention issues.
  • Is always absent five or more days even without health problems.
  • Has been retained in their grade level for a year or more.
  • Has consistently received poor grades which are below average or barely average.
  • Is often disciplined in school for behavior problems or is showing a sudden change in behavior by withdrawing from the discussions in class.
  • Has not been involved in school related activities such as music, sports or other extra curricular activities. This student often lacks connection with their school.
  • Lacks the needed self-confidence and often believes that they do not have the ability to succeed and that it’s impossible for them to change the situation.
  • The student has minimal goals for the future where they seem to be uninterested about their career options as well as ways to achieve these goals.

How Can You Help Your Teens?

Ideally, parents should show support and compassion to their teens. It is still essential for parents to not just establish reasonable expectations and limitations for their teens but also to make sure they support and believe in their capabilities to succeed. Here are a few tips on how to be proactive when it comes to parenting a teen who might fail school:

  • Make an effort to understand and reach out to your teen. Find time to listen to your teen’s problems and fears towards school.=
  • Encourage your teen to actively participate in school activities.
  • Meet with your teen’s teacher and school counselor regularly to know what your teen’s issues are and come up with a support plan to provide the student with a learning environment to help them focus.
  • Arrange for a tutor or set up a study group to help your teen cope up with whatever subject they are struggling with.
  • Establish a home environment conducive to learning where education is clearly valued. Set up a regular study time for them without any distractions and place the computer where your teen can be easily monitored.
  • Guide and encourage your teen to think about possible options for their future career. You may want to search more information regarding courses or careers your teen might be interested in.
  • You can arrange for a visit to any local colleges or company for your teen to observe and find interest in. You can also suggest to them about trying to consider an internship or even a part time job relating to their interests as well. But do not permit them to have a regular job that may cut into their study time and extra activities in school.

Always emphasize the importance of a good study habit, perseverance, and hard work in order to attain a positive result in the end.
It is good to support, guide and encourage your teen with any problems regarding school and other issues. But always remember that you can’t always fix any problem for them. Your teens also need to learn on their own in order to figure out how to solve their own problems. Just always assure them of your love, support and constant guidance. In time, your teen will be able to get back on their feet, ready to face the challenges of school and student life.

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