Girl in school

Conversation Starters to Foster Academic Thriving in Teens

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The transition to high school can be challenging for many adolescents. Teens are not only faced with balancing difficult classes and meeting new friends, but also with the increasing pressure to perform well for college applications. Many teens are negatively impacted by this transition, and, as a result, may see a decline in their test scores and academic performance.

Researchers have found that students’ beliefs about their intelligence has important effects on their academic achievement. Students with a growth mindset1 believe that their intelligence can change and improve overtime with hard work. Whereas students with a fixed mindset1 believe that their intelligence is something that they are born with and cannot change. Your teens’ beliefs in the fixedness or growth of their own intelligence will have important consequences on their academic achievement.

For example, researchers found that students with a growth mindset tend to earn higher grades2 than those with a fixed mindset. In addition, these students will be more likely to advance to challenging classes3 and seek out challenging experiences that will enable them to learn4 more. Students with a growth mindset see difficult tasks as an opportunity to increase their abilities, unlike students with a fixed mindset who may stop trying or achieve less when they face difficulty5. It’s clear that students’ beliefs about their abilities impact their academic performance. Parents, you can help enhance your child’s potential!

Mindsets CAN shift when you help your teens develop a growth mindset about their intellectual abilities.

When your child does poorly on an exam, it is important that you do not pity them for not having enough ability to get good grades. Instead of responding with pity by saying, “It’s okay you’re not good at math,” or “You can’t change how good you are at math,” try asking these questions:

  • “It’s okay to fail on an exam. You can learn from this experience.”
  • “Grades are NOT the most important thing, what’s important is that you learned from your experience. What did you learn from doing poorly on this exam?”
  • “How will this experience help you during your next exam?”
  • “Did you understand the questions on the exam?”
  • “Do you feel supported at school when you don’t understand a topic?”
  • “Do you feel supported at home when you don’t understand a topic?”

When your teen does poorly on an exam, it is important to focus on the processes, strategies, and efforts they are engaged in6. This can help your teen understand that their studying methods and grades can be improved with effort. For example, start by asking:

  • “How did you study for this exam? Was this method of studying helpful?”
  • “Did you learn the material by studying this way?
  • “What are some other ways that you can learn this material?”
  • “You can always change how intelligent you are”

These conversation starters may lead your teens (whether they are in middle school, high school, or college) to believe that their intelligence can grow and improve with effort7. It is important to help your teens understand that with hard work, they can always improve both their intellect and their test scores and/or grades.

Rather than teaching your teens that failure is negative and should be avoided, try helping them understand that failure facilitates learning and growth, and that it can even enhance their performance in the future.


Keep these parenting practices handy in your home or office! Download your free printable guide here.


References

1. Dweck 1996, 2006, 2007

2. Stipek & Gradlinski, 1996; Dweck & Henderson, 1990

3. Romero, Master, Paunesku, Dweck, & Gross, 2014

4. Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck, 2007; Mueller & Dweck, 1998

5. Blackwell et al., 2007; Cury et al., 206; Haimovitz, Wormington, & Corpus, 2011

6. Kamins & Dweck, 1999; Weiner, 1990; Rattan, Good, & Dweck, 2012

7. Hokoda & Fincham, 1995; Kamins & Dweck, 1999; Rattan et al., 2012; Haimovitz, Kenthirarajah, Walton, & Dweck, 2014; Yeager et al., 2014.

About the Author

Leanne Bishara

Leanne Bishara

Leanne Bishara is a PhD student in the clinical psychology program at Fuller's Graduate School of Psychology. As a clinician and researcher, Leanne is committed to bettering the lives of youth and advocating for positive parent-child relationships. She has presented at various psychological research conferences on the topics of parenting, positive youth development and emotion regulation. She brings resources and tips from the latest research in parenting and positive youth development.

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