Back to School Success: The Parents Job and the Students Job
Q. With another school year starting, we are not sure how to handle things with our teen-ager. Last year turned into such a battle, and we fear another year just like last year. Is there anything we can do to help make this a successful year?
A. The short answer is yes, there are many things you can do to make this a better school year, not just for your teen, but for the whole family as well.
The long answer is that I think you have asked a very interesting and important question. Many of the families I work with struggle a great deal over the issue of school.
In my experience, this power struggle seems to be caused by a fundamental difference between parents and kids in their perception of the purpose of school. Here's how I believe it works:
For parents, the perception is, ``We work all day; the kids don't. School is their job. Therefore, they should get good grades, just as we want to do well at our jobs.'
The teen-agers' perception is quite different, however. In their view, school is rarely more than their social world, interrupted by six or seven classes a day.
As in most power struggles, each point of view has at least some validity. School really is the job of teen-agers, and they need to be in charge of themselves in this area. At the same time, school really is their social world. It's where they see most of their friends, and it's where they do a great deal of their interacting with peers.
Having said all that, let's take a look at just what are the jobs of parents and teen-agers.
The Parent's Job
1) To create an environment at home that encourages a love of learning.
How often do your children see you reading? Hear you talking about something you have learned? Do you discuss ideas and issues with them? While these are things to start with your child on day one, you can still implement them in your home now.
2) This one is so simple yet so profound.
Ask them their opinions on important issues of the day. You may be surprised to find out what kind of brains they have in there.
3) Make sure there is nothing blocking your teen-ager from learning.
Examples of blocks are learning and information-processing disorders, and attention-deficit disorder. Many teen-agers I work with who have difficulty at school have undiagnosed ADD.
Another block to learning can be the use of alcohol or drugs. Part of the process of drug abuse is that kids begin to lose interest in things that were once very important to them. If they are drunk or high at school, not only do they not want to learn, they can't.
4) Know the names and philosophies of the following people who influence your child's life:
the principal, assistant principals, the guidance counselor and, most especially, the teachers.
5) Once you have done all this, simply put the teen-agers in charge of school.
What I mean is, make them responsible for their performance at school. Doing so may be difficult; this may be one of those situations in which things get worse before they get better.
THE Student's Job
1) To be in charge of themselves about school.
They are the ones who get the grades. Parents don't get the grades, they do. One of the things I work on with teen-agers is to help them them understand that if they really want their parents off their backs, they will handle school well. When they don't, it's an open invitation to the parents to step in and take over.
2) Show up.
That means going to school and then going to class. And one of the worst things about skipping is that it is incredibly addictive.
3) Find something in school to ``burn for.'
Once you are really interested in something, learning becomes a lot more fun. Wanting your children to excel in school is natural and a good thing. But there comes a time when the ball is simply in their court, and it's up to them. I think the most important thing for parents to remember is that school needs to be more important to them than it is to you.
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