Helping Your Teen Who Isn't Graduating on Time

Talk to your teen about the importance of getting his diploma.
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To some parents, the news that their teen isn't going to graduate on time may come as a complete shock. For others, it's the news they've been dreading for quite some time.

For a teen who thought they were going to get their diploma, learning they won't graduate on time may mean they won't get to follow through with their plans to join the military, go to college, or get a job. And that news can be devastating. 

If your teen isn't going to graduate this year, don't panic. But do take swift action that will increase the chances that your teen will get a diploma soon. 

Talk to Your Teen

If your teen says they're not going to graduate, skip the lecture and avoid yelling. Instead, ask questions to learn what happened.

Your teen may be tempted to blame other people by saying things like, "My science teacher never told me that project was due," or "I did the work but my math teacher never graded it." Blaming others won't help at this point.

Encourage your teen to accept responsibility for their actions. Ask, "What could you do next time to make sure this doesn't happen?" and "What can we do now to make sure you get your diploma?"

Contact the school and make an appointment with the school guidance office as soon as possible. Your teen should attend the appointment with you.

Attend the School Meeting With an Open Mind 

Blaming the school or yelling at the guidance counselor won't be helpful. And it won't help your teen get a diploma.

Attend the meeting with the intention of creating a plan. Talk about what to do next so your teen can get a diploma, regardless of whether you think the school needs to take some responsibility for the problem. 

Discuss Your Teen's Options

Schools are busy places that work on rules and regulations. Inquire about options such as: 

  • If your teen is not graduating because of lack of credits, is there a summer school course they can take that will allow them to walk with his class? Often teens who walk with their class receive their diploma at a later date because of lack of credits.
  • If your teen is not graduating because of too many bad grades, you will need to resign yourself to the fact that they will not be able to graduate this year. Talk about the steps you can take to help them do better next year, such as hiring tutors, getting extra help, or taking remedial classes. 
  • If your teen is receiving their diploma but not walking in the graduation ceremony because of disciplinary actions, accept the consequences.

Don't Treat Your Teen Like a Failure

Being disappointed is expected, but the sooner you start your teen down a positive path toward completing their education, the more likely they will be to succeed. Talk about how to turn this into a useful life lesson. Look at this as a mistake, not a lifelong disaster.

Help your teen develop a plan for obtaining their diploma. Make sure they know that getting a diploma late is much better than not getting one at all. 

You may also want to work with your teen on identifying what they will tell other people. It can be hard to admit to friends or family members that they're not passing. But, you don't want them to lie and say something like, "They won't let me graduate because I have an overdue library book."

So help your teen create an honest but non-shaming message. Saying something like, "I still need a few more credits," could satisfy other people's curiosity without requiring your teen to get into the details about their grades. 

1 Source
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  1. Rickles J, Heppen JB, Allensworth E, Sorensen N, Walters K. Online Credit Recovery and the Path to On-Time High School Graduation. Educ Res. 2018;47(8):481-491. doi:10.3102/0013189X18788054

By Denise Witmer
Denise Witmer is a freelance writer and mother of three children, who has authored several books and countless articles on parenting teens since 1997.