Summer is coming to an end. The school year is just around the corner. My thoughts are turning to making my daughter’s sophomore year a successful year.
Parents play a vital role in the success of their teen students. By keeping informed, getting involved, and following a few simple helpful suggestions, parents become an important ingredient for the academic and personal success of their student.
After helping all 5 of my children navigate high school in one way or another, and volunteering for countless hours in my local school, I have come to understand a few helpful hints to keep your teen on track for a successful high school year.
- Visit the school and it’s website. Knowing the physical layout of a school building will help you connect with your teen when you talk to them about their day. My school has a great Facebook page that keeps parents updated with activities at the school. Find out if your school has a form of “mass communication” and sign up for it. Websites give great information about the school and school policies, staff and activities. Most websites include a school calendar, contact information, special events, testing dates, signup information for clubs, extracurricular activities and student resources for life after high school.
- Attend Open House and Back-to-School Night, all Parent/Teacher Conferences and activities your student(s) is involved in. One thing is a sure thing… kids do better in school when parents support their academic and extra-curricular efforts. Attending Open House or back-to-school night is the perfect opportunity to get to know your student’s teachers, principles and other staff members. It is the perfect time to gain an understanding of expectations. Attending parent/teacher conferences insures that everyone is on the same page concerning the success of the student. Some grading systems are hard to understand. Meeting with a teacher can help you understand how to help your student advocate for themselves. Consistent communication helps address behavior issues, falling grades, or other concern before they get out of control. Best of all, your attendance sends the message to your student that their success matters.
- Now that you have a better understanding of student expectations, support homework expectations! Let’s be real, in high school homework gets more intense and grades become critical for college plans. Although, I must be clear that college is not the answer for every student to feel successful. Good study habits don’t always come easily. In fact, most people need to be taught how to develop good study habits. Remember that good studying isn’t just a matter of sitting down and reviewing notes or memorizing facts. Good study habits include knowing what needs to be studied, keeping track of assignments and tests, and gaining an understanding of the material that includes practical application of the information. Help your student create a calendar to track assignments, whether they prefer to use paper or an electronic device. Help them to create a daily checklist. When there is a large amount of homework, help your student break it into chunks. Remind your student to take class notes and to review the notes when they get home. Help your student to create a “study place” free from distractions. Be sure that this “study place” has all the materials your student needs from pencils to calculators. Finally, make yourself available to help when your student is studying. You can help them study by asking simple questions, running drills, and sometimes looking up information to help clarify material. Remember, the more processes the brain uses to retain information – writing, reading, speaking and listening – the better they will be at retaining information. Repeating words, re-reading passages out loud, re-writing notes, or visualizing or drawing information all help the brain retain information.
- Teach your teen organizational skills. Learning and mastering the skills to stay organized, to stay focused, and to see work through to completion will help your student with everything they do. However, these skills are not taught in high school. They are taught at home, by parents. Again, help your student create a calendar, a to-do list, and a plan for success. Regularly sit down with your student and review class load and help them to balance academic, extracurricular activities, work, and relaxation. Help them to develop and stick to a schedule.
- Send your teen to school ready to learn. Teens are an interesting bunch, in an interesting phase of life. They are longing to be independent, and need to experience moments of independence. However, you are still the parent. Be sure that a nutritious breakfast is available (and strongly encouraged) to start each day. Kids who eat a “real food” breakfast – not a pop tart – have more energy and do much better in school. A good breakfast rich in fiber, minerals and vitamins, proteins and low added sugar can boost your students attention span, concentration and memory. Don’t forget to encourage good sleep habits. I have several “non-sleepers.” I know that this suggestion can be a tough one. The bodies of most teens tell them to stay up later at night and wake up later in the morning. Often using the weekend to catch up on sleep. After 5 teens of my own, I know that teens require the right amount of sleep, between 8-9 hours of sleep each night, to be alert and ready to learn each day. A consistent bedtime and wake up time is the best way to achieve healthy sleep, so remind your kids to hit the sack, turn off the electronics, and go to sleep! My kids start the day at the crack of stupid each day with seminary and have attended early morning school classes. You add a full school day, play practice, dance class, a job and homework to the day and their schedules have been packed! It is a common occurrence for my teens to be sleep deprived. Lack of sleep has been linked to decreased attentiveness, decreased memory, delayed response time, and mood swings.
- Get involved!
High schools need volunteers too. Volunteering is a great way to show you are interested in your student’s education. Although some students like to see their parents at school activities, others are more reluctant. You can follow the cues of your student. Seen or unseen, your presence speaks volumes as long as you make it clear that you are not there to spy but to contribute to the success of the community. There are so many ways to serve: volunteer as a chairperson, work fundraisers and other special events, chaperone trips and dances, attend school board meetings, join a parent group, mentor or tutor students, see if the library or the office needs help, help out with career day, attend school concerts, plays and athletic events. Check the school website for volunteer opportunities that fit your schedule. Even giving a few hours during the school year makes an impression on your teen and helps you to understand and appreciate the teaching and learning that happens at school.
- Take attendance seriously. If your student has a fever, is nauseated, vomiting, or has diarrhea, by all means, take a sick day. Otherwise, teach them that it is important to be dependable. Teach them that it is important to arrive on time every day to every class. Not only is it stressful to catch up with class work, projects, tests and homework, it interferes with learning. It is important to understand why your teen may not want to go to school… bullying, difficult assignments, falling grades, social problems, or problems with teachers or fellow students. Talk to your students. Keep the lines of communication open so you can find the cause of the anxiety, and support your student in working things out for themselves. If needed, help your teen work with teachers and administrators to correct the issues and to help your student get back on track.
- Make time to talk about school. Let’s be real. Your teen spends most of the day outside the home. At school, extracurricular activities, jobs, or with friends. Find ways to stay connected. Activities at school, new interests, and expanding social circles are central to the high school experience. Parents are still their anchors, providing love, guidance and support. Talk to your student everyday! When teens know their parents are interested in their academic lives, they will take school seriously as well. It is important to listen carefully, make eye contact, and avoid multitasking when you “chat.” Be open to when your teen want’s to talk. I can’t tell you how many “chats” I’ve had in the middle of the night. It was worth it. Remember to talk WITH your teen, not at them. Oh, and be sure to ask open-ended questions. Beyond simple, “yes” or “no” answers. When teens know they can talk openly with their parents, the challenges of high school aren’t quite as daunting.