It didn’t dawn on me until the other day that we had arrived at that dreaded place already; the one that strikes nationwide about this time of year. The phenomenon that happens right alongside of Valentine’s day, except there is no love shared with this one.
While greeting students on the first day of second semester, an 11th grader shouted at me from across the hallway “if I have to stay in my 1st period class for the rest of the year, I’m not doing any work.” Because I am an adult and I never act like a teenager, I shouted back “I hope you have fun with those obtuse angles.” Satisfied that I had done my job for the day by ruining his life, I promptly retreated to my office to check the calendar and staring back at me were the words I write every February; welcome to the 3rd quarter slump.
For those of you not familiar with the 3rd quarter slump, I like to compare it to the 7th inning stretch in baseball: the time of year when students get restless and complacent. They need to stretch their legs and often that means neglecting their school work. For some, it’s intentional; they are maxed out. For others, it just happens.
The 3rd quarter slump is often defined as that time in the school year when students grades drop — fast. The honeymoon is over and the end of the year is still so far away. Students and parents who were comfortable with 1st semester grades, are now seeing a dip in test/quiz scores and an increase in missing assignments.
If there is one thing I could tell parents about this stressful time of the year, it would be to relax. Now, before you come at me with pitchforks and stake me to the front of the school, let me explain.
Kids who are destined for post-secondary education almost always figure it out; they are not going to fail PE to the detriment of their GPA. They slack for the first half of 3rd quarter and then kick it into high gear to recover. Their overall quarter grade may not be exactly what you would like it to be, but they make it through.
For the other students who just can’t seem to turn it around, the best advice I can give you is to call us — the school. Call the teachers, the counselor, anyone who is in contact with your teenager on a daily basis. Let us have the heart-to-heart with them about how quickly their GPA drops and what graduation looks like when they start failing classes.
[More about how average students feel stress in high school here.]
Personally, I love having these conversations with students. It gives me an opportunity to really get to know them. I find that they are more prone to being open, real, and honest about what is going on. They are looking for ways to make their situation better. They may not present that way to you, but trust me, by the time they land in my office, they are willing to do anything to make it work. Translation: they are willing to do anything to get you off their back.
In an attempt to calm the nerves of thousands of parents, I have created a list of tips to help get you through this tumultuous time.
Six Tips to Help Parents Survive the 3rd Quarter Slump
1. Back off but don’t back off.
How is that for a mixed message! But seriously, take a step back and recognize that this phenomenon is not just infecting your teen. It’s time for them to dig in and push through; this is where grit is learned. As for parents, this is where you learn to practice patience and grace. You need to stay involved, but try to avoid scrutinizing everything they do. You have to remember that they are burned out and if you don’t talk to them in a way that they will listen, you both lose.
2. Live the 3 C’s — Communication, Compromise, and Choose (your battles).
The 3 C’s are the cornerstone of any relationship, and being intentional with your actions teaches your teens that you are human and willing to engage in a mutual problem-solving process with them. This is where I make a plug for the old phrase of “talk to them, not at them.”
3. Acknowledge that you are powerless.
I think this is probably the hardest part of the slump. Sometimes there is no amount of begging, pleading, taking away, or threatening that works. They don’t want to dig in. Again, this is where communication, compromise, and choosing your battles comes in. This is also the time where you may want to have the counselor on speed-dial!
4. Younger students may need extra guidance.
Show them what it looks like to dig in and push through. Help them organize their backpack, sit with them at the computer while they check their grades, and teach them how to communicate with their teachers. If they are older, expect that they already know how to do these things. If you have to remind them what it looks like, do it, and then let them take over. Natural consequences sometimes come with a big price tag and you want them to learn it now, not in college. Getting a less than desirable grade on a quarter report card in high school costs a lot less than that same grade on a college transcript.
5. For the love of all things good in this world, please stay away from the online grading portal.
I know it has the ability to suck you in like the last 60 seconds of a bidding war on eBay, but try to resist the temptation to check it every 15 minutes. Checking the online grading system is their job. If you want to be involved, sit with your teen while they access it. Schedule a time each day for both of you to view and discuss their academics, but put a time limit on it — maybe 30 minutes. Once the time is up, move on and resist the urge to bring it up later.
[More about the downside of parent portals here.]
6. On those days when you just can’t believe this person was once a compliant, hard-working, tenacious chid, remind yourself that you were also once a teenager.
I truly believe that if we let them own this process, they will figure it out. Our kids have an uncanny way of finding their path in life as long as we get out of their way. In the meantime, support them, trust them, stand by them, and love them. They will get through the 3rd quarter slump. And on that rare occasion that you find yourself feeling the overwhelming urge to send them packing, just remember there is a light at the end of the tunnel — it’s called Spring Break.
Sara Lindberg is a wife, mother, and full-time secondary school counselor. Combining her 20-plus years’ experience in the fitness and counseling fields, she has found her passion in inspiring other women to be the best version of themselves. When she is not running, working with teenagers, or driving her own kids crazy, she manages a Facebook page called FitMom. Sara has a B.S. in exercise science and a M.Ed. in counseling. She does not consider herself a writer, just a woman with a lot of random thoughts and access to a computer. She gains inspiration for her writing from her 6-year-old son, Cooper, and 8-year-old daughter, Hanna.