As schools move to a pass/fail grading system for the semester of distance learning, experts want high-performing teens to stop trying to gauge their success and give themselves a break instead.

By Kristi Pahr
May 11, 2020
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School districts across the country have gone to extraordinary measures to ensure students have resources for home learning during the pandemic, but the transition hasn't been a smooth one for many. Teens are having an especially hard time transitioning from traditional classrooms to virtual learning. In an attempt to lessen the pressure during an already stressful time, many districts have moved to a pass/fail grading model for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. For many students who struggled to keep up with their course work at home, this comes as a great relief. But teens who worked hard to maintain a strong grade point average (GPA) over the past four years are left wondering what this means for their future.

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Acceptance to most colleges and universities is notoriously competitive and maintaining a high GPA is the number one priority for many students hoping to go on to college. The change in grading format coupled with the lack of extracurricular activities for the second half of the school year has many teens in a panic about their prospects for being accepted to their dream schools after graduation. Will a high school transcript with a 3.8 GPA until a final semester of "pass" still be enough to get them that acceptance letter?

Experts have a strong answer to these teens' concerns: Stop worrying!

Teens and parents alike right now need to understand that they can't do it all. It's time to let go of their grind. It's time to relax and lose the perfectionism. A national pause to everyone's hustle does not equate to failure.

“High school students should do what they can in the context of their own reality. No one is expecting them to be perfect during these unprecedented times," explains Kate Irving, a college counselor at BASIS Independent McLean, a private school in McLean, Virginia. "When it comes time to apply to college, admissions officers will look for reasons to admit each student, not what grades they received while in quarantine. Every student is more than a GPA and a test score and colleges see that.”

How Parents Can Help Teens Relax

If your teen strives for straight A's every semester, losing the grade perfectionism won't be like flipping off a switch. It takes time and self-compassion, which parents can help instill. "Perfectionism isn’t built in one day and unfortunately, it won’t be dismantled in one day," says Candice Lapin, author of  Parenting In The Age of Perfection: A Modern Guide to Nurturing a Success Mindset. "Compassion really has to be nurtured over time. Don’t be surprised if your child is having difficulty letting go of the need to achieve. Give yourself and your kids time to unlearn that behavior. Remember compassion doesn’t have timelines. It's about unwinding that clock so they can start to see how good it feels to take the pressure off."

Just like their parents, it's time for teens to prioritize self-care and emotional health. Stressing about grades is not the road to good mental health when the world is in crisis. Remind your teens to be kind to themselves, treat themselves with compassion, and cut themselves some slack. Parents can model this behavior and let their teens know that it's OK to loosen the reins on their studies a little and take care of themselves.

These are unprecedented times—it's OK to just do OK and not try to excel.

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