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What To Do When Your Teen’s Grades Start To Decline

"My 16-year-old son’s grades were in rapid decline in the last school year. Should I get more involved in his school activities this Fall? If so, what would be the best way to go about it?"

Your teenage son needs you in his life more than he may admit – although he may want you present under different terms and conditions than he did previously. Some moms and dads misread the signals that their teenagers send and back off too soon. For example, for teenagers at age 13, about 75% of moms and dads report high or moderate involvement in school related activities, but when teenagers reach age 16, the rate of parent involvement has dropped to 55%. The rate continues to drop throughout high school.

Research shows that teens do better in school when their moms and dads are involved in their lives, and that education works best when educators and both parents work closely with one another.

Here are 15 crucial parenting tips for staying involved in a teenager’s school life:

1. Attend school events. Go to sports events and concerts. Attend back-to-school night, PTA meetings, and awards events. Remember, though, that many young people are often self-conscious and want moms and dads to be present, but in the background. They want you there, but they want you at more of a distance. They want to look out of the corner of their eye and see you there. On the track, they want to peek up into the stands to make sure somebody is watching them. Also, look for school activities that you can do with your teen (e.g., cleaning up the school grounds).

2. Find out about the school's homework policy. Knowing school policies for homework is important because by high school, homework generally plays a bigger role in a teen's grades and test scores than it did in middle school. Find out from educators how often they will assign homework and about how long it may take to complete. Do not do homework for your teen. However, make sure that he tries his best to complete assignments.

3. Go over your teen's schedule together to see if he's got too much going on at once. Talk with him about setting priorities and dropping certain activities if necessary or rearranging the time of some of them.

4. Help him learn good study habits. Set a regular time for him to do homework. Talk about the assignments. Make sure he understands what he's supposed to do. Make sure he has a calendar on which to record assignments, as well as a backpack and homework folders in which to tuck assignments for safekeeping.

5. Help your teen get organized. Most teenagers are easily distracted. With so much to do and think about, it's not surprising. The amount of their school work and their extracurricular activities often increases at the same time that they are going through a growth spurt, developing new relationships, and trying to develop more autonomy. Young people respond to these changes in varying ways, but many of them daydream, forget things, lose things and seem unaware of time. It's not unusual for a high-schooler to complete a homework assignment, but then forget to turn it in. Some schools help kids develop organizational skills. Others leave the task to you.

6. Help your teen get started when he has to do research reports or other big assignments, perhaps by taking him to the library or helping him find sources of online information from appropriate Web sites.

7. Help your teen to avoid last-minute cramming by working out a schedule of what he needs to do to prepare for the test.

8. Keep in touch with the school and your teen's educators. Keeping in touch can be tricky when a teen has many educators, but at the very least, it's good to know your teen's counselor and a favorite teacher. The more visible you are, the more educators will be able to communicate openly and regularly with you. Attend parent-teacher conferences. Read school bulletins when they are sent home.

9. Learn about your teen's school. The more you know, the easier your job as a mother or father will be. Ask for a school handbook. This will answer many questions that will arise over the year. If the school doesn't have a handbook, ask questions (e.g., What classes does the school offer? Which classes are required? What are your expectations for my child? How does the school measure student progress? What are the school's rules and regulations?).

10. Make sure your teen takes classes that are needed to attend college. It’s never too early to plan for a teen's future. A two- or four-year college degree is becoming more and more important for finding a good job. Companies want employees who have taken certain courses and acquired a solid base of skills and knowledge. Good courses for college-bound teens include English, science (e.g., biology, chemistry, earth science and physics), history or geography, as well as algebra and geometry. Many colleges also require students to study a foreign language for at least two years, and some prefer three or four years of one language. Basic computer skills are also essential, and many colleges view participation in the arts and music as valuable.

11. Monitor how well your teen is doing in school. Report cards are one indication of how well a teen is doing in school. But you also need to know how things are going between report cards. For instance, if your teenager is having trouble in math, find out when he has his next math test and when it will be returned to him. This allows you to address a problem before it grows into something bigger. Call or e-mail the teacher if your child doesn't understand an assignment or if he needs extra help to complete an assignment.

12. Provide an environment at home that encourages learning and school activities. Provide a quiet time without TV and other distractions when homework assignments can be completed. If you live in a small or noisy household, try having all family members take part in a quiet activity during homework time. You may need to take a noisy toddler outside or into another room to play. If distractions can't be avoided, you may want to let your teen complete assignments in the local library. Let your teen know that you value education. Show him that the skills he is learning are an important part of the things he will do as a grown-up. Let him see you reading books and newspapers, looking at computer screens, writing reports and letters, sending e-mails, using math to balance your checkbook, measuring for new carpeting – anything that requires thought and effort. Also, tell your teen about what you do at work.

13. Set ground rules for your teen at the beginning of the school year. From the first day of school, make certain that your teen knows what time he is expected to go to bed and get up, what he needs to do to get ready for school each morning, and what time he needs to leave the house for school. Check that he knows his curfew both on weekdays and on the weekend. Make sure, too, that your teen knows that he is expected to try hard and do his best in school.

14. Volunteer in your teen’s school. If your schedule permits, look for ways to help out at the school. Schools often send home lists of ways in which moms and dads can get involved (e.g., chaperones are needed for school trips or dances, school committees need members, the school newsletter may need an editor, the school may have councils or advisory committees that need parent representatives, etc.). If work or other commitments make it impossible for you to volunteer in the school, look for ways to help at home (e.g., make phone calls to other moms and dads to tell them about school-related activities, help translate a school newsletter from English into another language, etc.).

15. Lastly, work alongside your teen to clean out his backpack periodically so he can stay organized.


My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

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