Don’t take it personally: unlike your elementary schooler who might be thrilled you come along to the school field trip, it’s the norm for middle- and high-school students to discourage their parents from coming to school. But parent involvement is important to your teenager’s academic success. Studies show that parent involvement is linked to achievement in the upper grades, just as it is in elementary school.
Your middle-school student is likely to be moving from learning in a self-contained classroom with one set of classmates and a teacher to a setting in which there are more teachers, many more students and higher performance expectations. In addition, your child is going through the physical changes that make adolescence an exciting and bewildering time. She needs your support at home and at school. Here’s how you can help:
Read the information on school policies and curriculum.
Normally, schools send this home at the beginning of the school year. There can often be higher stakes with older kids who might be taking risks and defying authority. Understand what schools do and don’t allow, from dress codes to absences. Also, keep in mind that curriculum requirements count for a lot when enrolling in high school and college, respectively. It’s essential to keep your on track so that there are no surprises once she’s getting ready to graduate from middle or high school.
Make sure you are subscribed to the school email newsletter or join a parent-to-parent network.
Think other parents know what’s going on and you don’t? There could be a simple explanation: you aren’t subscribed to the school newsletter that lets you know about important meetings, activities, requirements, and more. If you aren’t subscribed, ask at the school office or check in with the school PTA or PTO. Some schools also have parent-to-parent networks. Again, you can join one by talking with a PTA or PTO representative.
Help your child turn her anxieties into positive action.
He may not have told you he’s nervous about the transition to a new school, but that doesn’t mean he’s not. Go over school rules and schedules together. Suggest that he and a classmate go to the school over summer vacation so they can learn the locations and names of buildings.
Attend school events and stay involved in decisions about what classes to take.
Keeping up with college admissions requirements can help you help your child understand the long-term effects of his choices.
Once school starts, talk with your child about what happens at school every day.
Sometimes a casual chat in the car or over an evening snack will help your child feel more comfortable about opening up than an interrogation right after he – or you – have just come home after a hard day. To avert dead ends to the conversation, avoid asking questions that will get you “yes” or “no” answers. “What’s the best/worst thing that happened at school today?” are good openers.
Listen to her worries, and work for changes when you think they are needed.
Support what you believe is good about the school and its rules. But remember that you can play a key role in changing school practices that you believe are wrong. There are lots of examples of parents who have worked to make schools healthier, safer and more accountable to the needs of all students.
Get to know several teachers.
They can be the source of a lot of information about how your child is doing, especially given that middle schoolers and high schoolers aren’t as forthcoming about problems at school. Most teachers provide an email address and will make time to meet with you if there is an academic or other issue with your child.
Don’t forget about the guidance counselors.
They can keep you informed about your child’s progress and behavior.
Encourage your child to explore new sports, hobbies or interests.
Help him regard failure as a necessary part of learning and growing. It’s not unusual for students at this age to avoid new activities because, they reason, they can’t fail if they don’t try. But they also cut themselves off from chances to develop new interests and paths to success.