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How to Discipline a Teenager for Bad Grades – 7 Positive Tips

If you are looking for ways on how to discipline a teenager for bad grades, this post is for you. As opposed to blaming everything on adolescence or using parenting cliché, let’s take a fresh look at how to help your child become the best they can be.

For many parents, the word “discipline” conjures up images of punishment, such as grounding, taking away privileges, or spanking. You probably know that none of these work very well in raising a teenager’s low grades. They will only lead to power struggles and damaged relationship.

If these out-of-date methods of discipline worked, we wouldn’t have so many troubled teenagers.

To help them reach their potential, we need a new approach when talking to kids about school.

F grade written on notebook

How to discipline a teenager for bad grades

1. Find out if they care about the bad report card at all

Before focusing on what you can do, like taking away their cell phone, imposing natural consequences, or making them attend summer school, let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

What is the goal of discipline under this circumstance?

For most parents, their primary aim is to ensure that their children do not fail. They can then apply to college, be accepted, and have a brighter future.

So first thing first, before we take any action, let’s ask the question – Does your child want to go to college?

If your child does not care for college, that’s the underlying cause of why they have a disappointing grade, not because they’re “lazy” or “not trying hard enough.”

Just because we want our children to attend college doesn’t mean it’s their goal. If they don’t care about college, it makes sense that they wouldn’t care about grades.

If this is the case, the next step is to find out why they don’t want to go to college, address those reasons, and then figure out how to help them understand and appreciate the value of higher education.

2. Teach them cause-and-effect

Guide your child in understanding cause and effect. If your teenager does want to attend college, you have to help them understand that their current grades will not be enough to get them into one.

“Logical consequences” such as taking away their video games, grounding them, or making them do extra chores are not that logical because they are unrelated to why good grades in schools are important in college application.

It is crucial that your teen makes the connection between poor school performance and not getting accepted into college. You can ask them open-ended questions such as:

  • If you keep failing, what will happen?
  • With grades like these, what colleges will you be able to get into?
  • What would happen if you aren’t able to go to college?

By thinking through these problems and actual consequences, they get a clearer picture of why their failing grade matters. Teach your children how to become critical thinkers. These skills are a necessity for making sound decisions in adulthood.

3. Find out why they struggle

A lot of times, your teenager wants to do well, but for some reason cannot. Help your teenager diagnose the problem and suggest possible solutions.

It’s also a good idea to talk to the teacher or attend parent-teacher conferences to get their opinion.

If your teen has a difficult time understanding the lessons or if they cannot grasp the concepts in school, they will have a hard time completing school assignments. Get them extra help such as hiring a tutor or joining a homework club after school.

If they have problem in time management, help them plan their study time and school activities. They may need to reduce extra-curricular activities like school sports until they catch up.

If they cannot focus in class, what is the cause? Are they being bullied in school? Or is school too easy and boring, and your teen needs more advanced assignments?

Get to the root cause of their struggle.

4. Motivate your teenager intrinsically

Let’s switch places.

Is it possible to make you do something you don’t like, and when you do it unwillingly, I can expect you to do a good job?

It would not make sense to most people.

The same logic applies to our children.

One’s desire to learn and achieve is the key to academic success. Trying to force a teenager to study to get better grades won’t work.

To get good grades, they must want to do so.

Helping teenagers develop intrinsic motivation to learn is the best approach​1​.

A teenager who is intrinsically motivated does something because he or she enjoys the process rather than wanting rewards or avoiding punishment. When children are intrinsically motivated to learn, their grades will improve.

5. Give them autonomy support

Providing an autonomy supportive environment is crucial to academic success. These children have better mental health and more positive attitude​2​.

Parents who acknowledge children’s perspectives, encourage experimentation, allow children to make choices, and use minimal control language, nurture intrinsic motivation. They are flexible and provide reasonable rationales for their requests to their children​3​.

Teenagers are motivated when they feel like their actions are their own choices. The key to autonomy lies in coordinated, integrated, and volitional behavior.

In contrast, teenagers with controlling or helicopter parents feel powerless over their lives and they are not motivated​4​.

So what is the best way to give teenagers autonomy?

Having choices, receiving acknowledgment of feelings, and being able to take charge of one’s life can increase autonomy and improve teenagers’ motivation.

Punishing teens for poor grades is a form of control, not autonomy. It will demotivate your child rather than motivate them.

mother encourages daughter to study

6. Strengthen parent-child relationship

Having a strong parent-child relationship can enhance your teenager’s intrinsic motivation to achieve​5​.

When your child feels accepted and attached to you, they want to adopt your values. In other words, if you value education, they will want to do the right thing too.

Keeping a positive relationship with your child is vital because you can become their driving force for improving in school. This is another reason why punishment will not help your child become more motivated.

Love motivates. A weak or damaged relationship does not.

Tough love doesn’t motivate and it will only harm the parent-child relationship.

Instead, practice positive discipline to set up your child for success.

7. Don’t use punishment or pay your teenager to get good grades

Extrinsic motivation involves motivating someone through rewards or punishment. Extrinsic motivation is the opposite of intrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivators are counterproductive in motivating teenagers.

Physical punishment is even more detrimental. It does not help their grades, and it is proven to harm your child’s development​6​.

Paying for grades is bribing your child to study. Bribing is not the right way to motivate anyone, especially children.

It may seem to work at first while they are still in middle school. But are you prepared to bribe your child through college, and the rest of their life?

Final thoughts on how to discipline a teenager for bad grades

Remember, academic performance does not define whether they are good kids or not.

Education is important, but it is not the only thing that matters in a child’s success or healthy development. Having a strong connection with your teen is just as important, if not more, than getting straight A.

The bottom line is, think of what is the most important thing to you in 20 years, and that will serve you a long way.


  1. 1.
    Cerasoli CP, Nicklin JM, Ford MT. Intrinsic motivation and extrinsic incentives jointly predict performance: A 40-year meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin. Published online 2014:980-1008. doi:10.1037/a0035661
  2. 2.
    Vasquez AC, Patall EA, Fong CJ, Corrigan AS, Pine L. Parent Autonomy Support, Academic Achievement, and Psychosocial Functioning: a Meta-analysis of Research. Educ Psychol Rev. Published online July 15, 2015:605-644. doi:10.1007/s10648-015-9329-z
  3. 3.
    Deci EL, Ryan RM. Self-Determination Theory. In: Handbook of Theories of Social Psychology: Volume 1. SAGE Publications Ltd; :416-437. doi:10.4135/9781446249215.n21
  4. 4.
    Grolnick WS, Deci EL, Ryan RM. Internalization within the family: The self-determination theory perspective. In: Parenting and Children’s Internalization of Values: A Handbook of Contemporary Theory. John Wiley & Sons Inc.; 1997:135–161.
  5. 5.
    Ryan RM, Deci EL. Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology. Published online January 2000:54-67. doi:10.1006/ceps.1999.1020
  6. 6.
    Gershoff ET, Grogan-Kaylor A. Spanking and child outcomes: Old controversies and new meta-analyses. Journal of Family Psychology. Published online 2016:453-469. doi:10.1037/fam0000191

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