Five Things YOU Can Do to Help Your Teen be a Successful Student.
I have been a teacher for over a decade. I have worked in a tough inner city environment and I have worked in an affluent suburb. No matter what the time or place most parents have the best intentions and want to see their child be successful. As a parent I am very sympathetic to the modern parents struggles. Parenting a teenager has always been challenging, but today parents are competing against so many different forms of technology, which are so much more interesting and exciting than the values and morals we try to instill. Although its scary and you might be able to count the grey hairs and connect each one to a new incident or worry, try to remember that you are not alone. There are many other parents out there struggling just like you. In addition, there are teachers, like myself, who might be able to either provide a different prospective on your child or some advice that comes from being around thousands of teens throughout their career. My advice is inspired by the complicated personalities of teenagers. Teenagers do not have the ability to disconnect one aspect of their life from the other. For example, if they are worried abut their friends they are often in capable of thinking about anything else. So, understand that although their inability to separate and compartmentalize their lives is frustrating; don’t waste your time trying to change that. Those adult abilities will come with maturity. Because of this unique aspect of development my advice involves many different aspects of the teenagers’ life and can be limited to five simple suggestions, which can help to make a happier teen and a better student.
Set up an area where your student can do their work. Provide them tools to help keep them organized.
1. Remember that your teenager is not an adult.
I have sat in on countless meetings with parents whose children were struggling in school. So many of the meetings have turned out the same way. The parents will incredulously state that they thought their child was doing their homework. They will lament that their child spends hours in their room, and on the computer, “doing their homework.” Despite their teens failing grades they will still be surprised when we explain that their child is not doing their work and not studying for their tests.
Your teenager may have the body of an adult, and they might even protest loudly that they are not little kids anymore, but really, they are still just kids. They do not yet have the cognitive ability to reason and make good decisions. They live in the moment and all those raging hormones make that moment more powerful than any imagined consequence or future. You don’t have to treat every conversation like an interrogation, but you need to keep yourself aware. If the teachers have websites, check them regularly. Then, follow up with your teen, ‘I saw you have a quiz this Friday, would you like me to help you study?’ Set some guidelines. Homework should be done in a quiet central area of the house so that you can monitor the progress and watch out for distractions. It will be easier for you to see what your teen is doing without snooping.
2. Find your balance.
Parenting in extremes always seems to backfire. Those parents who are overly controlling are depriving their children of the opportunity to find their own voice and power. Overly controlling parents try to manage every social and academic issue. They bombard the teachers with requests and purposely try to keep their teen out of the discussions that are affecting them. Conversely, the other side of extreme parenting are those who are absent. They are either too busy, or assign too much maturity to their teen. Finding a balance between too much control and not enough involvement is one of the hardest aspects of parenting a teen. You need to know your child and what their limits are. You have to give them opportunities to fail, because sometimes that is when we learn the most, but you must also know which failures are too damaging to allow. You need to be aware enough of what is going on socially and academically to urge, or force them to confront a problem. If your child laments that they do not know what is going on in algebra; then make them approach the teacher to set up some extra help. If other kids are bothering your child, listen first, try to understand the situation, recognize that they might be interpreting the situation the wrong way. Then, try to examine the situation like an outsider without getting too emotional. Provide them with skills and offer them advice about how to deal with the challenges that arise in all aspects of their life.
3. Make sure they are present.
Consistent attendance and following up after an absence is one of the single most important factors in your teen’s academic success. Obviously, most kids get sick at some point during the school year and then they must miss school. Have your teen email their teachers, find out what they’ve missed, and if they are too sick to communicate or work while at home keep a collection of the work they missed and help keep it organized.
Try to avoid taking your child out of school for vacations. There is nothing more irritating to the teachers than the kids who missed school for two weeks for a trip to Disney, and then expect us to spend our time after school re-teaching and getting the kids caught up. It is also worth mentioning that even when a teacher does re-teach the lessons they cannot replicate the layers of discussions that occur in the moment. The focus in the 21st century classrooms is on collaboration, exploration, and sharing ideas. This is essential for the student’s own investment in the curriculum and although one on one with the teacher can be great it is not student centered. I can respect and understand the parents who are upfront about removing their kids from school. For example, I know that there are some professions where you are assigned vacation days, and in which case, you might not have a choice and you must, in these circumstances, take your kids out of school for a family vacation. In these circumstances be up front with the teachers and the school about your reasons, but also understand that you and your teen are going to have to put in extra time to get caught up. Please understand that its okay to ask the teacher for some extra help; the problem is when the parents expect that the teachers will sacrifice their time after school to accommodate the student’s family vacation. It is just a simple sign of respect and courtesy, but for many teachers that simple gesture and courteous approach can make your desired outcome much more attainable. No matter what, do not lie about where you’ve been or why your child has been out, which brings me to the 4th suggestion…
4. Be honest with the school and with your child’s teacher, and be a parent, not a friend.
Although many parents of teenagers may feel like they are the least influential person in their teens life, and at times your teen may even act like you’re repellent…do not let their façade fool you. You are still a very influential model of behavior. If you lie to the teachers and the school your child will learn that deception is okay. They may even act embarrassed about your fibs, but your model of deception will catch up to them. Let’s face it no one wants his or her child to be in trouble. At the core of the majority of the most serious and common misbehaviors amongst teens, cheating, stealing, drinking and doing drugs, is lying to authority. Many parents feel rejected and emotionally vulnerable to their teenager’s unpredictable attitudes. It’s hard to have your little girl or boy suddenly find everything you do to be embarrassing. Many of these parents will look for any way to get some affection and appreciation from their teen. They will try to win their favor by covering for them, and trying to be a confidant, because at least they’re involved in their life someway. Those little white lies that you tell the teacher, like a little note that explains that the printer was out of ink please excuse the lateness of their paper, or there was a questionable “family emergency”, or even faking that your child is at home sick and then they return to school with a tan, are impactful. Those lies will have an impact when your teenager is in the moment and faced with the decision whether to tell the truth and accept the consequences or whether to make something up. Although sharing secrets and deceptions might bring you closer together in a different way, a bond based on lies and deceit is not lasting: Be a parent, not a friend.
5. Get to know your teen and their world
Like I stated earlier, even though your teenager may at times treat you like you’re an embarrassment, you are still influential to them. So, even when it appears that they are not listening, keep talking, they probably are listening. However, if you are yelling then you are correct in assuming that they are probably tuning you out. Teenagers do not respond to yelling. For the most part, teenagers are very insecure and defensive. Although your holler might catch them off guard and startle them, as they stare up at you in fear they are not cowering out of respect, and they will feel anger when they walk away. Eventually, the yelling will lose it effect entirely and they might even give it right back to you. Instead, although it is not our first instinct, listen. Let them talk about their life, their world, and their friends. You might hear things that scare you, about their friends, their reactions to events, but do not jump to judge. Instead listen to how they’re retelling it. Sometimes they might want you to reassure their emotions. Sometimes they might want to gauge your reaction. Always calmly express your opinions about the events, but try to guide them through logic and reason, not emotions of fear, and anger. As you listen you will also learn about arguably one of the most influential elements in your teenager’s life: their friends.
Teenagers’ social groups will influence so many aspects of their life from how they dress, and what they eat, to how much time they spend studying and how they approach boundaries. So, open up your home and let them in. You do not want to end up on the news as one of those parents who unwittingly hosted a teenage booze binge, so monitor. The teens will not want you to hang around invading their space and privacy, so make them come to you. There is one way that any parent can make their teen and their friends want to hang out with them: food. As often as you can afford it, or can find the time to do it, host pasta parties, pizza parties, it really doesn’t matter what the food is as long as there is a lot of it, and it is good. Set it all up in a central location and listen. Eventually, you will become part of the conversation. You will either feel assured that these kids are a good group; they will respect you for inviting them in. Even if you do hear more than you want to at least you will know what influences you are up against, and when the times is right you can begin a dialogue with your teen about your concerns. There is even more you can do to build your knowledge. Make a social group and a network amongst your teenager, their friends, and their parents.
If you feel socially comfortable, and are in a position to do so, host a backyard cookout for your teen’s friends and their families. Make it a social event for every one. In addition to knowing your teenager’s friends you will have a picture of their home life, and their parents expectations of behavior. You will be able to start conversations with the other parents about their expectations and if you make some friendships then you will have a network of adults to help each other out.
It is not easy. I know I see the struggle. I also realize that many of my pieces of advice do not involve anything that directly happens in a classroom. Parents, and educators have to remember that most teens are highly social creatures. Try to realize how that social need can help to guide their education. Realize that everything about a teenager is complicated and interwoven. So, grab a thread or two and hold on tight. There will be times when that thread you’ve grabbed will start to curve wildly, and sometimes out of control. You will have to put on the brakes with authority, but try to find a way out of the tangled mess together. I have taught thousands of families and I have noticed that the parents, who are present, not dominating, have happier kids and better students.
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