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10 Ways to Help Your Teen Succeed in High School
Parents can play a vital role in helping teens succeed in school by being informed and offering support and guidance. Even though teens are seeking independence, parental involvement is an important ingredient for academic success.
Here are 10 ways to keep your teen on track to succeed in high school.
1. Go to Back-to-School Night and Parent-Teacher Conferences
Teens do better in school when parents support their academic efforts. Going to the school's open house or back-to-school night is a great way to get to know your teen's teachers and their expectations. School administrators may discuss school-wide programs and policies, and post-high school options that parents and guardians of juniors and seniors need to know about.
Attending parent-teacher conferences is another way to stay informed. In some high schools, staff set these up only when parental involvement is needed for issues like behavior problems or dropping grades, or if a student might benefit from advanced class work.
For teens with special learning or behavioral needs, other meetings with teachers and school staff can help parents set up or revise individualized education plans (IEPs), 504 education plans, or gifted education plans.
Keep in mind that parents or guardians can request meetings with teachers, principals, school counselors, or other school staff any time during the school year.
2. Visit the School and Its Website
Knowing the physical layout of the school building and grounds can help you connect with your teen when you talk about the school day. It's good to know the location of the main office, school nurse, cafeteria, gym, athletic fields, auditorium, and special classes.
Most school websites have information about:
- the school calendar
- contacting school staff
- special events like dances and class trips
- testing dates
- current grades and missing assignments
- sign-up information and schedules for sports, clubs, and other extracurricular activities
- student resources for life after high school
Many teachers maintain their own websites that provide access to textbooks and other resources, and detail homework assignments, and test and quiz dates. Other resources for parents and students are usually available on the district, school, or teacher websites.
3. Support Homework Expectations
During the high school years, homework gets more intense and grades become critical for college plans. Students planning to attend college also need to prepare for the SATs and/or ACTs. At the same time, many teens are learning how to balance academics with extracurricular activities, social lives, and jobs.
An important way to help is to make sure your teen has a quiet, well-lit, distraction-free place to study that's stocked with supplies. Distraction-free means no phone, TV, or websites other than homework-related resources. Be sure to check in from time to time to make sure that your teen hasn't gotten distracted.
Talk with your teen often to go over class loads and make sure they're balanced, and help them stick to a homework and study schedule.
Encourage your teen to ask for help when it's needed. Most teachers are available for extra help before or after school and might be able to recommend other resources.
4. Send Your Teen to School Ready to Learn
A nutritious breakfast fuels up teens and gets them ready for the day. In general, teens who eat breakfast have more energy and do better in school.
You can help boost your teen's attention span, concentration, and memory with breakfast foods that are rich in whole grains, fiber, and protein, and low in added sugar. If your teen is running late, send along fresh fruit, nuts, yogurt, or half a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Many schools provide nutritious breakfast options before the first bell.
Teens also need enough sleep — about 8–10 hours each night — to be alert and ready to learn all day. But early school start times — on top of schedules packed with classes, homework, extracurricular activities, and friends — mean that it's common for teens to not get enough sleep. Lack of sleep is linked to decreased attentiveness, decreased short-term memory, inconsistent performance, and delayed response time.
Most teens also have a change in their sleep patterns, with their bodies telling them to stay up later at night and wake up later in the morning. Ideally, teens should try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. You can help by reminding your teen before bedtime to turn off the phone and limit video games and TV. Napping during the day can also push bedtimes back, so it's best if teens don't nap after school. Many teens try to catch up on sleep on weekends. But try to keep your teen's sleep and wake times within 2 hours of what they are during the week.
5. Build Organizational Skills
Learning and mastering the skills of getting organized, staying focused, and seeing work through to the end will help teens in just about everything they do. Students can benefit from parents helping with organizing assignments and time management.
Parents and guardians can help teens keep assignments and class information together in binders, notebooks, or folders that are organized by subject. Creating a calendar will help teens recognize upcoming deadlines and plan their time accordingly. Don't forget to have your teen include non-academic commitments on the calendar.
It also helps for teens to make prioritized daily to-do lists, and to study and do homework in a well-lit, quiet, orderly workspace. You can remind your teen that when it comes to studying and homework, multitasking is a time-waster. Working in an environment free of distractions like TV and texts works best.
6. Offer Help With Studying
Planning is key for helping your teen study while juggling assignments in multiple subjects. Grades really count in high school, so planning for studying is crucial for success, particularly when your teen's time is taken up with extracurricular activities.
When there's a lot to study, help your teen to break down tasks into smaller chunks and stick to the studying calendar schedule so they're not studying for multiple tests all in one night. Remind your teen to take notes in class, organize them by subject, and review them at home.
If their grades are good, your teen may not need help studying. If grades begin to slip, though, it may be time to step in. Most parents still need to help their teen with organization and studying — don't think that teens can do this on their own just because they're in high school!
You can help your teen review material and study with several techniques, like simple questioning, asking to provide the missing word, and creating practice tests. The more processes the brain uses to handle information — such as writing, reading, speaking, and listening — the more likely students will remember the information. Repeating words, re-reading passages aloud, re-writing notes, or visualizing or drawing information all help the brain retain data.
Even if your teen is just re-reading notes, offer to quiz them, focusing on any facts or ideas that are proving troublesome. Encourage your teen to do practice problems in math or science. If the material is beyond your abilities, they might get help from a classmate or the teacher, or consider connecting with a tutor (some schools have free peer-to-peer tutoring programs).
And remember that getting a good night's sleep is smarter than cramming. Recent studies show that students who sacrifice sleep to study are more likely to struggle on tests the next day.
7. Know the Disciplinary and Bullying Policies
All schools have rules and consequences for student behaviors. Schools usually list their disciplinary policies (sometimes called the student code of conduct) in student handbooks. The rules cover expectations — and consequences for not meeting them — for things like student behavior, dress codes, use of electronic devices, and acceptable language.
The policies may include details about attendance, vandalism, cheating, fighting, and weapons. Many schools also have specific policies about bullying, such as the school's definition of bullying, consequences for bullies, support for victims, and how to report bullying. Bullying via text or social media should be reported to the school too.
Your teen should be aware of what's expected at school and know that you'll support the consequences if expectations aren't met. It's easiest for students when school expectations match the ones at home. That way, kids see both settings as safe, caring places that work together as a team.
It's also important to note that educators may call law enforcement officials to the school for serious infractions, and consequences may differ based on students' ages.
8. Get Involved
Volunteering at the high school is a great way to show you're interested in your teen's education. Some teens like to see their parents at school or school events. But others may feel embarrassed by it. Follow your child's cues about what works for you both, and whether your volunteering should stay behind the scenes. Make it clear that you aren't there to spy — you're just trying to help the school community.
Parents and guardians can get involved by:
- serving as a grade-level chairperson
- organizing and/or working at fundraising activities and other special events, like bake sales, car washes, and book fairs, or working at a concession stand at athletic events
- chaperoning field trips, dances, and proms
- attending school board meetings
- joining the school's parent–teacher group
- working as a library assistant
- mentoring or tutoring students
- giving a talk for career day
- attending school concerts, plays, and athletic events
Check the school or school district website to find volunteer opportunities that fit your schedule. Even giving a few hours during the school year can make an impression on your teen.
9. Take Attendance Seriously
Teens should take a sick day if they have a fever, are nauseated, vomiting, or have diarrhea. Otherwise, it's important that they arrive at school on time every day, because having to catch up can be stressful and interfere with learning.
Teens may have many reasons for not wanting to go to school — bullies, tough assignments, low grades, social problems, or issues with classmates or teachers. Talk with your teen — and then perhaps with an administrator or school counselor — to find out more about what's causing any stress.
Students also may be late to school due to sleep problems. Keeping your teen on a consistent daily sleep schedule can help avoid tiredness and tardiness.
For teens who have a chronic health issue, educators will work with the families and may limit workloads or assignments so students can stay on track. A 504 plan can help teens with medical needs or health concerns be successful at school. Talk to school administrators if you are interested in developing a 504 plan for your child.
10. Talk About School
Because many teens spend so much of the day outside the home — at school, extracurricular activities, jobs, or with peers — staying connected with them can be challenging for parents and guardians. While activities at school, new interests, and expanding social circles are central to the lives of high school students, parents and guardians are still their anchors for providing love, guidance, and support.
Talk with your teen every day, so they know that what goes on at school is important to you. When teens know their parents are interested in their academic lives, they'll take school seriously as well.
The way you talk and listen to your teen can influence how well they listen and respond. Listen carefully, make eye contact, and avoid multitasking while you talk. Be sure to ask questions that go beyond "yes" or "no" answers.
When teens know they can talk openly with their parents, the challenges of high school can be easier to face.
- 10 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in Middle School
- Helping Your Teen With Homework
- Media Use Guidelines: Teens
- 10 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in Elementary School
- Back to School
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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Images sourced by The Nemours Foundation and Getty Images.