Starting high school during a pandemic should earn kids some kind of medal for fortitude. With the first half of freshman year behind you, now is a good time to ask your ninth grader how they’re feeling about school, grades, classes, and teachers. You can offer support and advice, and that is great. But remember, the more you listen, the more you can learn.

If you don’t already, make a regular practice of sitting down with your teen and talking about their report card together. You can use it as a jumping-off point to understand how your child is feeling about life, school, friendships, and all their other commitments.

Here are a few check-in topics that might be relevant for your 9th grader:

  • Does your child feel comfortable at school? Why and why not?
  • Does your child have friends who are fun, supportive, and kind? Talk about which friendships your teen values and why.
  • How is your teen’s project management? Could your child start working on papers and studying for tests earlier? Are certain projects harder for your child to manage?
  • Is your teen getting enough sleep? If not, how could your teen get more sleep?
  • Does your teen regularly feel stressed out? What helps your teen manage stress?
  • Can you help your teen find a quieter place to study?
  • Does your teen need to make a couple of friends in a tough class so they can help each other with homework or study for tests?
  • What does your child like about how their teachers teach? What could be better? Can your child take more classes in the future with teachers they like?
  • Is your teen involved in extracurricular activities? If so, how are they going? If not, is there an activity or club your child might like to check out?
  • How does your child feel about their grades? Do they feel their grades reflect the effort they’ve put in?

There’s a reason the grades question is last: all these other factors affect your teen’s grades. So with a report card in hand, it’s easy to focus on the outcomes — but it’s more effective to focus on all of these inputs.

Of course, your child’s overall grade point average (GPA) is one of the main factors colleges consider when they evaluate candidates for admission. Colleges also look at how challenging a student’s courses are, like whether your child took honors courses or whether your child chose the more relaxed or the more difficult math course offered.

The good news is that colleges put less weight on a student’s freshman year grades than on sophomore and especially junior year grades, according to Sue Chapman, a Bay Area-based college counselor. “College admissions officers understand that high school freshmen are just 14 years old, and that they’re still adjusting to high school, and finding their way. Some colleges don’t even look at freshman grades, others look at them but take them with a grain of salt.”

If your child did well on their first high school report card, that’s great news. But don’t panic if they didn’t. As Chapman says, the pace and expectations of high school are challenging for many students — and that’s without a global pandemic. At the same time, it’s important for your child to understand that if they want to go to college, their high school class choices and grades are going to make a difference. The more they challenge themselves and the better their GPA, the more options they’ll have in terms of both college choices and scholarships.

Your child’s freshman year experiences provide you both the opportunity to evaluate how they’re doing, and to take corrective measures, if necessary. “If you’re seeing more C’s than A’s and B’s, you should try to figure out whether it’s a matter of effort, or if your child needs extra help,” says Chapman. Maybe your child is overcommitted or overstressed. Maybe friend drama is causing your teen to lose sleep and feel uncomfortable in class. These are clues that you as a parent can help your child connect to the bigger picture of what is going on in their life. This type of self-reflection can help your teen make more insightful day-to-day and big-picture choices going forward.

If your child’s grades aren’t good, ask them what they think happened — but don’t accuse or lecture them. If you do, they’ll become defensive and the conversation will go nowhere. Chances are your teen is disappointed in their grades, too, and your reproaches will only make them feel worse. Instead, help your teen think of specific, practical steps they can take to improve their well-being, time management, and study habits.

Ask your child if they think they need more support or help than they are getting in class. If your child feels like they’re trying but don’t understand a lot of the material, they will probably benefit from extra help, and now is the time to identify that. Many high schools offer tutoring hours during or after school. Reach out to their teachers, or to a school counselor, and ask for advice about how your teen can get the help they need.

Encourage your child to talk to their teachers about what they can do to improve their grades. If your child has a B in History, for example, but knows they could do better, have your teen stay after class to ask the teacher what they can do to raise their grade. Often, teachers will allow students to boost their grades with an extra project or paper. Many teenagers resist talking to teachers, school administrators, and other adults out of shyness or fear, but it’s important for them to seek help when they need it and to learn to advocate for themselves. It’s a skill they’ll use in college, too.

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Updated: January 8, 2021