As a classroom teacher in both private and public schools in a variety of socioeconomic settings, I noticed six characteristics commonly found among students who routinely succeeded:
- Propensity for academics
- Drive toward high achievement
- Prior knowledge and basic study skills
- Opportunity to complete assignments
- Healthy lifestyle choices
- Parental involvement
While parents may not be able to make a bookworm out of an athlete or an overachiever out of their laid back kid, they can have an effect on the remaining characteristics. Aside from moving or changing schools, parents can fill in the gaps of their child’s education by providing enrichment activities based on low test scores, grades, or their own observations. Summer school or summer tutoring can be helpful, as can creating your own learning lab at home, working with your teen on meaningful projects that help connect skills with real life.
Providing your teen with a space conducive to study and the time to complete class work is important, too. A growing number of today’s teens are too busy with part-time jobs, extracurricular activities, and family responsibilities to have time to get enough sleep, as it is. Add homework to the list, and you have a sleep-deprived teen who’s unlikely to be able to concentrate during tomorrow’s lectures.
With epidemic numbers of “latch-key kids” who come home to hollow houses every day, come increased chances of unhealthy snacking and overly processed convenience meals, along with blaring music or TV to fill the unwelcome silence. A healthy diet feeds a healthy mind, as does a healthy social network. If you can’t be there to greet your teen, at least try to call to welcome him or her home and ask about the day. Tell him or her where to find healthy snacks, or ask a friend or family member to hang out until you’re home.
You may not think that your teen wants your input, and maybe he really doesn’t. But he needs it. If a chain-link fence of Os on a quarterly grade sheet shocks you, then you need to act. You can respond by routinely e-mailing teachers to ask about upcoming assignments and check up on your teen’s progress. If that isn’t enough, you can require your teen to gather teacher signatures next to assignments or upcoming assessments, allowing you to know for sure if it’s true that he was given no homework over the long weekend.
The bottom line? When you put action to your concerns, your kids will benefit. Not every teen is capable of straight As in basic classes or of passing Calculus, but I’m convinced that a parent-supported teen is much more likely to enjoy success than one whose parents fail to get involved.