I’ve attended a number of conferences recently in which a simple question was covered: What can we do as parents to help our high school-aged kids succeed, both in and out of the classroom?
Here are three ideas I came away with:
- Realize that teens are not simply “younger adults.” Many of the things that we, as adults, take for granted are not easy for our children. Either they have not yet developed the skills needed to do things we consider routine (e.g., make the phone call; set up the appointment), or it is just extremely hard for them, due to lack of experience, their introverted nature, or the inability to come up with the spontaneous language needed in these instances. Practice in low-stress situations can make all the difference in developing these skills.
Your child may also struggle with tasks such as managing a calendar full of appointments, keeping an organized backpack or locker, using time wisely for nightly homework, or knowing when and how to start a long term project. These are referred to as “Executive Function skills” and some young adults really struggle in this area. It may not just be that they are “lazy” or a “slob,” but that they need formal help to learn techniques and strategies to get by until these skills become more rote. Consider an academic coach to help with organization and time management if that is a recurring issue.
In all these areas, understanding that this is not easy for them will go a long way.
- Don’t Pounce.Your teen may have just had a hectic day at school, an after school activity, work, and test prep. So when they arrive home, resist grilling them on all the things they were supposed to take care of that day. Instead, offer a hug and a smile and let them get settled; later in the evening is a much better time to check in on how things are going and what needs to be addressed. At that point, they may even open up about what is really on their mind (this usually happens when you are ready to go to bed!).
In general, knowing that they have you as someone they can talk to goes a long way towards helping teens feel connected. Biting your tongue and withholding judgment are important skills in making your teen feel comfortable talking to you when there is something bothering them. They need to feel they have an adult to talk with when things are rough (it could also be a relative or family friend, if that dynamic works better).
- Encourage them to get more sleep.Recent research shows that getting enough sleep boosts performance significantly in and out of the classroom. For example, a National Sleep Foundation poll found 87 percent of high school students in the U.S. were getting less than the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep on school nights. (we didn’t need a study to tell us this!):
“The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life.” (2014 September issue of Pediatrics)
Help your teen realize that staying up late to cram for an exam is counterproductive and learning is not taking place when he or she is over tired or overly stressed. Planning to get to bed to allow for 8 hours of sleep will mean that it may happen at least some of the time.
All the best for you and your kids to have a happy, productive semester!