Is It Okay to Be an Average Student?
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Is It Okay to Be an Average Student?

Jan Faull, M.Ed, answers a parent's question about her "average" student.

The Pitfalls of Pressure

Q. My daughter is 15, and your basic C student. She's never gotten a failing grade, but she rarely pulls in a B and hasn't gotten an A since grade school. She likes school and is very involved in extracurricular activities, taking cheerleading, chorus and drama and playing volleyball. I'm wondering if she would be a better student if we cut back on some of her activities. Or would it backfire, making her like school less?

A. Realize that by age 15 your daughter's habits with respect to homework, academic pursuits, and studying are fairly well established. Insisting she drop a couple of her extracurricular activities provides no guarantee that she'll use the time those activities took up to focus on her school work. In fact, demanding she drop a few of her beloved activities might backfire in three ways:

  1. She may resent you getting in her face about her teenaged choices and study less.
  2. She may use the extra time to watch TV, surf the internet, or -- worse case scenario -- use drugs or alcohol.
  3. She might disconnect from school altogether.

However freeing up some of her time might not necessarily send her down a dark path. Consider this: All of her extra-curricular activities keep her connected to school, which probably discourage her from participating in more rebellious, potentially dangerous activites that idle teens typically turn to when they're disconnected from school academically and socially.

A better choice will be to encourage her to prioritize her activities, with her elminating the one's that interest her the least, or to which she is the least committed. Give her a reality check by telling her of the school's academic policies. For example, most cheerleaders must keep a certain grade point average to remain on the squad.

Help Her Set Goals

One way to motivate her is to talk with her about her plans after high school. Let her know the her grades will determine which doors will be open to her with respect to jobs, technical colleges, universities, and a career. Ask her whether she thinks being so involved in cheerleading, sports, drama and chorus is preventing her from performing better in school. Let her know that you're concerned; then ask her what you can do to help.

If her mediocre grades are due to difficulties with the subject matter, offer to hire a tutor who can help with tough classes. Or consider finding her a study coach, someone who can help her stay more focused, develop an action plan, and check her progress throughout the school year.

Additionally, make an appointment with her guidance counselor to help you better gauge your academic expectations for your daughter. Maybe she is truly doing the best she can. However, ask the counselor if B's and C's are the most to expect; if your daughter has the innate ability to perform better in school; if there is the possibility of a learning disability like dyslexia or ADHD? After you have taken these steps, re-evaluate your opinions about your daughter's grades.

The cold reality is that some kids simply don't get turned on by academics. However, it doesn't mean they are not smart, or that they won't be successful adults. Your daughter is using her mind and body to pursue the less academic aspects of school. And if grades were given for cheerleading, chorus, drama and volleyball, she would probably be receiving straight A's.

Remember too, that school is a place where children learn to hone their social skills, which in some ways is more important than the pursuit of perfect grades. Your daughter's varied interests show that regardless of her grades, she may well become a very successful adult beyond graduation.

Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of four parenting books, including Darn Good Advice -- Baby and Darn Good Advice -- Parenting. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for this site and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.