In my book, Teenagers 101, I spend a lot of time talking about parent involvement in their teenagers’ educations and lives. Today, though, I’d like to talk about that delicate balance between being over-involved and not quite involved enough. Let’s concentrate on something that is hitting everyone hard right now – the end of the school year, with final exams and final grades. It’s a challenging month for teachers, students, and parents alike, so below are eight suggestions for having the appropriate amount of involvement while nudging your kids toward greater independence.
1. Now is not the time for teenagers (and parents!) to start worrying about grades – that should have happened quite a while ago. Yes, final exams can make a difference in a course grade, but if a child hasn’t shown much interest all year, his chance of doing well on a final exam that serves as an accumulation of all he’s learned is slim. Encourage him to study hard, but let him know that learning is a process, and the process starts on the very first day of school.
2. If your child realizes that she has not done the work this year that she should have, look ahead. It does little good to tell kids what they should have done; in fact, it’s much better that they come to this realization on their own. Once they do, take a constructive, forward-thinking approach so that they can learn from their mistakes and start the next school year on the right foot.
3. If there is a question about grades, make sure your children handle it instead of you. Encourage them to speak to their teachers respectfully, to clarify how they earned the grade they did, and to ask how they can do well on their final assignments and exams. Being able to self-advocate is crucial for success, and you will do your kids a huge favor if you teach them this now.
4. If your child is not able to get answers to questions or truly does not understand his current grade, email the teacher and say that. Always approach these situations as a partner in your child’s success, as someone who wants to work with the teacher for clarification. Do not contact the principal or speak to other parents without first talking to the teacher. Nine times out of ten, you will get the answers you seek and everything will make more sense after a simple email exchange with the teacher.
5. Offer to help your kids with studying strategies or spend an hour quizzing them on their notes. Beyond that, it’s best to step back and let them take ownership of their learning and studying. Since you are trying to prepare teenagers for life after high school, it’s important to transfer the responsibility to them now and to serve as a support, but not a crutch.
6. Do not fight for a better grade for your kid if he has not earned it himself. Don’t ask teachers for extra credit, don’t ask that your kid be able to make up an assignment from a month before, and don’t ask a teacher to round up a grade. NONE of this supports learning or responsibility. Your child may be disappointed in his grade and that’s perfectly okay. It will serve as an impetus for harder work next time and teach him that sometimes he will have to work harder than others to achieve his goals.
7. Do not let your children skip school because “we’re not doing anything in class.” Trust me, they are doing something in class. And if they’re not, well, then you have every right to be angry about that. If your kids are watching Ferris Bueller in math, question it. If they’re working hard all the way until the last day, commend the teacher for keeping them engaged and focused.
8. Don’t lie for your kids, ever. Don’t excuse absences so that they can exempt exams. Don’t claim they’re at a doctor’s appointment so that they can get their hair done for prom. Don’t say that you saw them do an assignment that is missing from the teacher’s grade book. Think of the example you are setting when you do this, and ask yourself what is really important – the grade, or the example of character you set for your kids.