Can you believe it’s already back-to-school time? I feel like I haven’t eaten enough watermelon or made enough peach dumplings for summer to be almost over (it’s always food with me, I know). As I read around the internet I see that everyone’s busy thinking about what to make for dinner and getting organized for school. I also see lots of tips for elementary and middle school students, but what I haven’t seen are any tips about how to help high school students succeed. So today we are taking a break from talking about baby and we’re graduating to high school.
High school can be one of the toughest times in a kid’s life. With the pressure to get into a good college and the vastly different atmosphere from middle school, some teens can and will buckle under the pressure. But it doesn’t have to be like that. I hope that by reading these tips, you can help your high-schooler start off on the right foot this year.
While I don’t have a high-school-aged child, I have collectively taught over 1,000 of them throughout the years. Before I was a stay-at-home-mom, I was a high school English teacher. Besides being a wife and mom, teaching was and always will be my greatest passion (P.S. If you’re a high school English teacher, head on over to my TPT store to download my FREE Beowulf activity!).
So whether you’re a new mom like me or the parent to a 14 year old, the tips that follow are forever timeless.
1. Don’t Believe the Lies
“I don’t have homework tonight, mom.” “I didn’t know we had a project due.” “I didn’t wear this to school today, I promise.” “I wasn’t skipping, I swear.” I have seen and heard it all. I have seen kids lie right in front of their parents, and I have seen their parents believe them. Yes, we all want to believe kids when they swear something to us, but listen, teenagers lie. And the good news is, it’s perfectly normal. However, if we don’t call them on their BS, then we are just enabling their behavior, thus contributing to their lack of success in school and in life.
2. Know Your Responsibilities
So the kids are dressed, fed, and off to school. A job well done, right? Not even close. Parental responsibilities of high-schoolers extend far beyond just getting them out the door on time. Here are the non-negotiables:
- Make sure your contact email and phone number are updated with the teacher/school
- At the beginning of the school year, get your login or access code so you can check your kid’s grades online. And then check them, regularly.
- Attend Open House, or at the very least, email the teacher to introduce yourself and let them know you are an involved parent and interested in any way you can help your child succeed
- Check their planner or agenda. If you ask, some teachers will help create a system with you so you can ensure that the correct assignments/due dates are being recorded in the planner. For example, you can ask the teacher to sign off on the student’s planner at the end of each week. I have found this to be helpful with freshmen, but not necessarily past 9th grade.
3. Take Away the Damn Phone
Sorry for the bluntness. There’s just no other way to say it. A teen who is consumed with InstaTweeting the latest FaceSelfie cannot possibly be fully immersed in Renaissance Poetry. Want to know why your child is failing? Want to know why they aren’t writing down the correct due dates, or misunderstanding directions? It always comes down to one thing: the cell phone.
Do whatever you have to do: lock it up, take out the battery, just put some kind of restriction on their cell phone use.
4. Reach for the Stars, But Be Realistic
As parents we all want to think that our kid is the next Steve Jobs and is on the fast track to Harvard. But unfortunately, that’s not always the case. To be clear, I am not saying that kids shouldn’t be taught to try hard and dream big, what I’m saying is that some kids need a wake up call. I have sat in conferences with parents of kids who were straight up failing every class, kids who had missed 100 days of school, kids who, no matter how hard I tried, could care less about turning in assignments. I would sit there and listen to both the parents and the kids say how I had to pass them in my class otherwise how would they ever get into Yale? WAIT, WHAT? Instead of enabling poor academic behavior and feeding misguided dreams, let’s put kids on a real track to success by showing them that the only way to succeed is through hard work, discipline, and dedication to one’s craft (whatever that may be).
5. Get Involved
This is similar to #2 but goes a step further. You don’t have to be supermom, but you do have to get involved on some level. If I had a graph showing how parental involvement drastically dips from elementary to high school you’d be embarrassed just to look at it. I once had less than 10 parents total show up to Open House. This was out of 175 students. I understand that some parent’s work night shifts or have other responsibilities, but 10 parents, out of 7 classes and 175 kids? Come on. Be involved in your child’s school life! How can we expect our kids to care if we don’t? Whether it’s parent night, cheering them on in the bleachers, or sending them in with boxes of tissues for the class, get involved on some level.
6. Ask for Help
Any good teacher will come in early or stay late to help a student. Any teacher who truly cares about their students will do whatever it takes to help them succeed. True story, whenever I needed to reach out to a parent, I always gave them my personal cell phone number and insisted that they called me whenever they had concerns. I once stepped out of a graduate school class at 9:30 at night to take a call from a concerned parent. If you need help, ask for it. If the teacher isn’t willing to even meet you halfway, sometimes contacting the administration can help.
7. Academics Come First
Extracurricular activities are important, but academics come first. Whether Jane is the star pitcher or the president of the glee club, it doesn’t mean squat if she’s failing all of her classes. Unless you happen to live in some Friday Night Lights town where football actually is the only way of life, school always comes first.
8. Grades Aren’t Everything
Wait, am I giving you mixed signals? No. What I’m trying to say is that teen’s already face enough pressure in high school. Pressure to fit in, get into a good college, pass standardized tests, etc. The last thing they need is be afraid to fail. For kid’s who are generally on the right track, sometimes it’s okay to get a C. I have sat with students while they had borderline panic attacks over not getting an A. Sometimes, it’s not about the letter grade, it’s about learning. I’m not trying to be cliche, I’m just hoping to be real with you.
9. Hold the Teacher Accountable
Unfortunately not all teachers care, and not all teachers are good at what they do. If you feel that homework assignments, expectations, or instructions aren’t clear, ask the teacher for further clarification. But remember, teachers are professionals. I don’t walk into my doctor’s office and accuse or criticize her or question her decisions, so why would you do that to a teacher?
10. Don’t Do the Work For Them
Flawless projects. Essays without a single error. I spy the work of mom or dad. You’d think the shenanigans would end in elementary school with the perfectly done science projects, but they don’t. Doing the work for them doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t teach them anything except that they can get out of doing the work. Same goes for plagiarizing. Copying and pasting from SparkNotes can get you kicked out of college, so why would you let a high school kid do it?
I sincerely hope that these tips can help you in the coming year, or if not, Pin this and read it again in 3, 8, or 15 years. Either way, this advice will never expire.
If you’re a parent or a teacher, what are some of your best tips for success in school?