What to do when your teenager wants you to back off about their studies

Are you worried about your child's grades? Have you been nagging them to do more work, only to find them becoming more and more resistant to the point where they've told you to back off?

If so, all is not lost. There are things that can help – both your relationship with them and their studies.

Keep reading to find out more.

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What to do when your teenager wants you to back off about their studies

What's the root cause?

When I hear that the relationship between a young person and their parents has broken down over their studies, the first thing I try to do is understand the root cause of this breakdown.

Often, the thing that causes a teen to ask their parents to back off is weeks, if not months, of nagging for them to do what the parent thinks they ought to be doing (studying) which comes across to the teen as both overly critical of the way they are choosing to run their life and as smothering them.

It's normal for teens to want freedom

It's important to understand that teens have a very strong developmental urge to progressively become more and more independent from their parents. And, unless you want them living in their teenage bedroom and being financially dependent on you when they're thirty, this is probably something you also want.

However, the result of your nagging is not just to annoy them a little – it makes them want to push back and be even more independent.

No-one wants to be criticised or smothered

The other thing is that no-one, no matter how old or young, likes to be criticised or smothered. If that's how you're coming across to them, you're setting yourself up for conflict.

The real problem – you're stressed and you don't know what to do about it

So, if we look at the root cause of the problem it's two-fold:

  • Your child has important exams coming up and you can see they're not studying in the right way to achieve their potential
  • This makes you stressed because you love them, want them to do their best and have options and opportunities in life

The trouble is, your way of solving this problem is to nag which is pushing them away.

However, there are better ways of dealing with this situation.

A better way of supporting your teen with their studies

1. Understand what's getting in the way of their studies

I wrote a whole article about this a couple of years ago, 9 Reasons Why Your Child Isn't Revising And What To Do About It.

It basically comes down to three things:

  • They don't know how to study / revise
  • They aren't clear on what they should be doing and how much of it they should be doing (so they get sucked into other things. Xbox, anyone?)
  • There's a mindset problem e.g. they've decided they're bad at maths

Most teenagers don't actively want to do badly (and if they do, that's a mindset problem that can also be tackled), so you're doing them a disservice to make this assumption. So, if they're not studying as they should we need to understand what's behind that.

2. Make sure they know how to study

The next step is making sure your teenager knows how to study. Most schools aren't particularly good at teaching them this, but fortunately, I can help them to learn through The Extraordinaries Club.

Many teens will kick up a fuss about joining The Extraordinaries Club, particularly if you've been nagging them about their studies for a long time.

The trick here is to talk to them when they're calm. You may want to apologise for your nagging (having read this article and understood how unhelpful it is) and say that you want to find a better way forward for the whole of the family. Basically, if they commit to engaging with learning to study effectively and The Extraordinaries Club there will no longer be any need for you to nag, they'll do much better for less effort and everyone will be happy.

3. Set your expectations

One of the biggest mistakes I see from nagging parents is that they have this idea in their heads about what ‘good studying' looks like e.g. a number of hours, what revision notes should look like etc. but they haven't externalised it to their children.

How are young people (or anyone, for that matter) supposed to meet your expectations if they don't know what they are?

It's a bit like having a boss who takes you on to do a vaguely defined job, doesn't give you objectives and doesn't give you any training and then criticises you several times every day for not doing the job in the way they think it should be done.

When you put it like that, it sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?

In The Extraordinaries Club, I provide details about things like how much time students should be studying outside school hours, how to revise effectively and how to organise themselves. This information helps parents to set clear expectations and because they come from me, the suggestions aren't emotionally loaded in the way they might be if they came from a parent. Many of the families who work with me say that, ‘Lucy Parsons says….' becomes a way of neutralising arguments and moving forward positively.

4. Agree review points and consequences

When you agree expectations with your teen, also decide on a review point and what the consequences are (both good and bad).

You might have the discussion at a weekend, and say you'll review the week properly next Saturday but have an interim conversation on Wednesday to give either positive feedback or suggestions about how to improve in the meantime.

Agree what consequences there will be as well as rewards.

For example, if your child doesn't meet your expectations then you might agree more frequent review points over the coming week, or, in some cases, removal of privileges.

If your child does meet expectations there might be special treats that they get.

5. Praise effort, not results

The last step is to make sure you're giving your teenager lots of positive feedback about the effort they're putting in. It's really important to cultivate effort because effort, when expending in the right way, is the only thing that reliably brings results.

You'll also improve your relationship with your teen if you go from constant nagging and criticism to actually focusing on what they're doing right.

Positive beats negative every time

In summary, if your teen has told you to back off and stop nagging it's because you've been overly negative with them for too long. Instead, you need a constructive and positive way forward that solves the root cause of what's getting in the way of their studies, enables you to rebuild your trust in them and gives them the skills they need to thrive.

The Extraordinaries Club is a great place to come for support with this. The ten study skills modules will teach your child how to study effectively, whilst the parent version of each module will help you with communication and supporting them. The weekly coaching calls (one week parents, the next week students) will help both you and your child implement what you learn but also trouble shoot as you go along.

Click here to join The Extraordinaries Club, get your teen studying positively and rebuild your relationship with them.


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