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School Progress

By Kristin Bieber, Ph.D

Teacher helping student with studies.

Do you feel as though it is difficult to stay informed about what your teen is learning and whether or not he or she is meeting expectations? Do conversations about grades and homework between you and your teen frequently lead to arguments? If so, you are not alone. Typically, communication betwe​en parents and teachers becomes less frequent as students get older and transition to middle and high school. This is understandable: The older the student, the more responsibility he or she is given to complete assignments and manage time. However, as a parent, you still have an important role to play in your teen’s education. Establishing relationships with school personnel and being involved in school at home will help you and your teen successfully navigate transitions into middle and high school.

Be Involved at School

Striking a balance between increasing your teen’s responsibility and independence and maintaining your involvement in your teen’s school can be difficult. Even if the responsibility for completing homework rests on your teen, you will want to remain informed about his or her strengths and needs so that you can take action, if necessary. Establishing a positive relationship with school personnel, characterized by frequent, two-way communication, will help you stay informed about your teen’s performance.

Many parents only contact the school when they have concerns. Build a strong relationship with school personnel by making positive contact whenever possible. Show appreciation for the efforts the teachers and counselors are making to help your teen. Everyone benefits when relationships between home and school are positive, collaborative and bi-directional.

Here are some suggestions for taking a leadership role in school matters:

  • Identify school personnel who are key players in your teen’s school experience. Examples include teachers, principals, counselors, coaches, administrative assistants, etc.
  • Introduce yourself to school personnel and tell them who your teen is.
  • Attend or volunteer at orientations, open-houses and other school activities. Your presence at these events allows you to establish positive relationships with school personnel and sends the message to your teen and to school staff that you believe education is important and that you are invested in supporting the school.
  • Project an attitude of cooperation with school professionals. Let them know you want to collaborate to support your teen's success. Ask for concrete suggestions and follow-up on recommendations to communicate that you value their expertise. Ask what you can do at home to support your teen’s goals in the classroom. Make a plan for maintaining contact with school personnel. You could use phone calls, school notes, assignment books, email or any number of communication techniques. Ask your teen’s teacher or counselor which mode of communication is most convenient.
  • Based on your teen's needs and the teachers' schedules, determine how often you should contact school personnel.
  • Make a special plan to work with the school when problems arise with your teen's behavior or academic performance.

Be Involved at Home

You can be involved in your teen’s school progress at home by taking these steps:

  1. Express genuine interest in what your teen is learning. Help him or her make connections between key concepts, personal experiences and real world applications.
  2. Following meetings with school personnel, inform your teen about what was discussed. If possible, lead with examples of what your teen is doing well. Keep the discussion brief and constructive; focus on the plan that you, your teen and school personnel will implement.
  3. Help your teen establish a homework routine. This includes a consistent time and place to complete homework. Stock this location with needed materials: calculator, paper, pencils, etc.
  4. Help your teen learn time management. Do not allow access to cell phones, social media or television during homework time. Provide access to these items after homework is finished.
  5. Think of yourself as a homework coach. Provide encouragement and praise as your teen completes homework independently. Be available to answer questions, if needed. Do not sit with your teen to help him or her answer each question.
  6. If you find yourself devoting increasing amounts of time to helping your teen because he or she cannot complete assignments alone, talk to his or her teacher about the difficulty level of assignments. Discuss ways to modify homework so your teen may be more independent.
  7. Finally, watch for possible red flags. A bad grade might reflect difficulties in one class, but falling grades may indicate chemical use, gang involvement, bullying, depression or anxiety. If you have concerns about these issues, contact your teen’s school counselor or primary care provider. If needed, request referrals to behavioral health providers in your area.