Heart to Heart with Adele: Be a wingman to your child


Dear Adele,

Our teenage son brought home a project he completed with a ‘D’ grade. He says the teacher dislikes him and gave him a lousy grade because he is a thinker and challenges her ideas in class. Should we call the teacher or request an interview to get him the mark he probably deserves?



Dear Wingman,

I think it is time to put the helicopter in the hangar and the snow plough in the garage, wingman! Welcome this commonplace hurdle for your offspring as an opportunity to learn life lessons far more important than how to get an ‘A’ instead of  ‘D’ on an assignment. Allowing your boy to ruminate on his conundrum, analyse why he is confronted with it, and figure out strategies for solving his grade issue is extremely valuable to his overall education for a successful life, lived with confidence and competence. It may sound tough but dealing with failure and fighting one’s own battles are childhood experiences that create strong, resilient grown ups who can cope with the struggles of the human journey, which they must navigate all by themselves.

It is good that you have an open communicative relationship with your teenage son. Listening is an important element in maintaining a regular positive line of communication between you and your boy as he grows, helping him figure out problems by talking to you, and then deciding for himself the best way to prioritize and subsequently carry out assorted solutions.

There are several issues in your question: child/teacher relationship, child’s classroom behaviour, child’s understanding of the expectation for the project, child’s performance on the project as assessed by the teacher, possible strategies for dealing with the grade which the child feels unfairly ascribed.

A solid approach to this problem starts with a full relaxed discussion with your child, preferably with both parents together, at a time when the family has a good chunk of time and no other distractions.Turn off devices, have the project and directions for its completion handy, and be sure your child is prepared to take notes with a paper and pen.

You might open the discussion with a positive supportive statement that recognizes that you understand that your son is dissatisfied with his grade on his project and that you want to support his desire to have better outcomes. Ensure he hears in your calm respectful tone and words that you ‘get it’ that he must feel discouraged or angry when he puts in his best effort and does not seem to get that effort recognized by his teacher with the grade he feels he deserves.

Suggest you first chat about his relationship with his ‘boss’, the teacher. Learning from this experience can help him to get along in the world if he becomes aware early that we often must work with others who do not like us or with others whom we do not like. We also need to accept that a superior in school, work or community should be respectfully treated and that we cannot always say what we think or have things go our way even though our viewpoint may be better. This lesson is most helpful to your son’s ultimate success going forward.

Encourage him in expressing to you how he sees his teacher, their relationship and how it has evolved. Probe his feelings about that relationship and explore his view of his own part in the quality of the relationship. Discuss ways he might endeavour to improve it by increasing the respectful behaviour he demonstrates in class as well as modifying any behaviour he seems to be displaying that might appear to challenge the teacher rather than to demonstrate a desire to learn from her. Review with him, how he shows respect and cooperation in the teacher’s classroom. Keep your opinions and ideas out of it as much as possible by listening actively, and interjecting rarely.

Next, ask your boy to talk about his perception about why his project merited the grade it received. Keep asking questions to help him clarify and expand his ideas and have him jot down notes. Explore his understanding of the assignment and how it stacks up against the final product and the teacher’s comments and grade. Get his ideas about why the grade was less than what he had hoped for. Remain non judgemental about the teacher, the assignment and your son here and let your lad form conclusions himself from the discussion.

The subsequent step is to ask him to list assorted ways that ‘he’, not ‘you’, can deal with the problem. You can help him increase his list of options by asking pertinent questions but let him figure it out himself by doing the deeper thinking. When he has a number of ways to handle the problem listed on his notepad, have him prioritize them and then tell you what he thinks he will do. You can entertain questions from him but pull back on any inclination to show your preference for the best answer or solution. Remember you want to teach him how to think problems through, come up with the pros and cons of different solutions, then demonstrate logical reasoned decision making. If he makes a few incorrect choices along the way, he will learn from those poor choices for next time. Allow him to fail. Then, teach him to pick himself up, dust himself off and start all over again.

He sounds like a bright adolescent so I suspect his list will include a request to his teacher for a meeting so he can ask her respectfully for a review of his project. At that meeting, interacting with her by himself, he can ask her for ways he can improve his work next time. A seasoned teacher will be pleased to go over the assignment and show your son where he fell down and how he could achieve a better outcome in the future. He may even be able to negotiate a ‘redo’ of the assignment and get regraded.

How this concludes should be between your boy and his teacher, and not involve you, in my opinion. As stated previously, the learning potential in this situation for your teenager goes far beyond how to get a better grade and how to do a better project. He can learn how to think through his part in a problem, develop some insight into his own behaviour which impacts his relationship with a superior, and increase his own self confidence that he can handle his life. He can get that excellent real life experience in problem solving for himself in a safe controlled environment where he spends so much of his time. This will help create that competent, confident, respectful, high functioning young adult you want your child to be by the time he leaves the safety of family nest for college or university, travel or the workforce.

You won’t beat the value of learning these lessons, no matter what else you might do to improve his grades by intervening with the teacher on his behalf. Helicopter parenting and snow plough parenting should have no place in handling this high schooler’s problem! Lead the way wingman, with open, positive supportive communication and guidance, then watch your son grow in his ability to handle his own life challenges with wind beneath his wings!

Sincerely, Adele

I'm looking forward to your questions! Email me at maryadeleblair@gmail.com and please put Heart to Heart in the subject line. Note that all columns will remain anonymous.

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