When children first start school, parents usually have a pretty clear understanding of how to help their child have a successful year. When those kids become teenagers, however, parents sometimes struggle with their role.
When children are young, parents usually play a much more active role in making sure homework is completed, volunteering in the classroom, dealing with friendships, interacting with teachers and making sure their child gets enough rest. Parents often believe they can be less involved when a child moves from elementary to middle school.
While parents may want to change how they engage their tween when it comes to school success, research indicates this is not the time for parents to back off. The tween/teen years bring their own unique challenges, and teens aren't sure how to talk with their parents or any other adult about many of them.
If you want to actively engage your teens and help them have a successful school year, these ideas can help you out.
- Goal-setting: Have a back-to-school discussion about expectations. Ask them what they want to accomplish this year and discuss ways you can help them reach their goals.
- Sufficient sleep: When it comes to rest, plenty of research indicates that tweens/teens do not get enough sleep. On average, teens need 9.25 hours of sleep each night to function at their best. For various reasons though, many of them get significantly less than that. You can help with this by teaching them organizational skills. Have them look at their overall schedule of school and extracurricular activities, then develop a plan.
- If you are still waking your teen for school, purchase an alarm clock — their phone doesn't count. Make them responsible for getting themselves up in the morning.
- Money matters: Instead of constantly forking out money for this and that, allot a certain amount for school supplies, clothing, extracurricular activities and other expenses, and teach them how to manage this money. If they want to purchase things that aren't included in the plan, resist the urge to figure it out for them. Instead, guide them in finding ways they can earn the extra cash.
- Self-responsibility: Give them added responsibilities such as doing their own laundry, assisting with meal preparation and packing lunches.
- Respect: Talk with them about the qualities of healthy relationships — friendships, dating relationships, relationships with teachers and school administrators. Discuss how to treat people with respect even if they aren't respectful in return.
- Problem-solving: Avoid handling their problems for your teen. Talk with them about the issue, then help them problem-solve and determine a course of action. Facing a challenge head-on and making it to the other side is a huge confidence builder.
- Bullying: Be clear about your expectations when it comes to bullying behavior. Research indicates parents are often the last to know when this is going on — whether your teen is the bully or the victim.
- Addiction: Talk about addiction. Discuss the opioid crisis and the impact of drugs and alcohol. This conversation makes it more likely for your teen to talk with you when they do encounter challenges.
- Managing expectations: Be very clear about your expectations and consequences for lack of follow-through, and avoid putting anything out there that you will not enforce. A great rule of thumb is this: Less is more. Remind them that nothing they can do would make you love them any more or any less. Your teen needs to know you believe in them.
The teen years are incredibly challenging because everything in their world is changing. Their brain is growing, their body is changing, relationships are different, and they are establishing their independence while still being dependent in many ways. While they may be taller than their parents and seem smarter, especially when it comes to technology, it's good to remember that 12 is just 12 and 15 is only 15.
- Guiding force: Be present. Keep your eyes wide open. Let them make mistakes. Be there — not to lecture them — but to help them figure out what they could do differently in the future. Stay focused on your goal of launching someone who is capable of caring for themselves and being a productive person.
Even though they may begin to push you away, adolescents need their parents. Don't be lulled into believing they needed you more when they were younger. The truth is, they need you now more than ever as they navigate the potentially turbulent teen years.
Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Contact her at email@example.com.