Fall is here! This means that back to school routines have been in place for several weeks. Alternatively, things may still be in flux as your teen is struggling to find a routine that fits. By now, teachers have likely sent progress reports or updates home, and maybe you’ve even received an “FYI your kid is not meeting expectations” e-mail that has you feeling all kinds of things. And it’s all okay!
October is a great time to refresh and renew the ways you’re supporting your teen in building a healthy relationship with their school life. Your teenager is in the thick of figuring out how they want to show up, and you are standing witness, doing your best to encourage a healthy, productive level of investment in education and learning.
This is a lot. (And I know YOU know this.)
Looking at the Whole Experience
Some parents I talk to express worry about “the kind of student” their child is. Others are embarrassed. Many feel helpless, uncertain of how to help their child invest in school and their future. On the other hand, other parents don’t know how to help their teen relax and find balance as they obsess about perfection. It’s tiring trying to hold all of this as a parent or caregiver.
Likewise, teens share that they’re stressed out. Meeting the expectations of school, family, culture, extracurricular programs, and their future (aka college or professional goals) can feel impossible. Some teens hit a wall and shut down. Others amp it up, striving to be the best. The end result is the same as what you may be experiencing, exhaustion.
So, what can you do now to provide huge support for the short and long-term? Keep reading for 6 Strategies for Talking to Teenagers About School and Homework.
6 Strategies for Talking to Teenagers About School and Homework
1. Help your teen find and define their “why.”
School and homework will be more meaningful and sustainable when your child has an authentic purpose. Support them in considering “why” and “how” questions: “How does school support you in growing towards your goals? Why is homework important or supportive? How does school benefit you?” And so on. Additionally, make space for your teen to explore potential career and creative interests. Help them research their goals and dreams; talk together about the ways their academics today impact (and support) their goals for the future. By now, your teenager knows your opinions and expectations; thus, I encourage you to refrain from sharing advice in these conversations– unless they ask for it.
2. Talk about different learning needs.
Help your child become aware of their own learning styles; normalize this conversation! You might ask questions like, “How do you receive new information best?” (Ex: auditory, written, hands-on, etc.) Together, explore and research tools that support these preferences and needs. For example, your teen might like to try apps for recording lectures, typing notes instead of handwriting, listening to audio books while reading the text, or different note-taking styles. Ask where they learn/study best: “Where in the classroom/school do you feel most focused?” (in the front of the room, in small groups, etc.) If your child has an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) or a 504, ensure that they are ACTIVE parts of their annual meetings, have an open relationship with their case manager, and are well aware of their accommodations and modifications. Teens can tape a copy of these in their planner for quick reference. E-mail me directly if you’d like to talk more specifically about IEPs and 504s. At first, as you ask these questions, you might get a shoulder shrug or an “I don’t know”, but over time, and with your support and modeling, your teenager will become more in tune with their own thinking.
3. Promote self-advocacy.
As early as possible, help your child understand the concept of seeking help, speaking up, and voicing their needs to their teachers. Discuss appropriate times to do this (before or after class, during tutorials, before or after school, and sometimes by e-mail). Give them conversation starters and role play or practice as needed. When you have conversations using strateies #1 and #2 with your teen, you are supporting them in critical thinking and self-awareness. Their reflections become excellent material to share with their teachers. Ultimately, as your teen voices their needs, they build trust and safety in their learning environments.
4. Always come back to routines.
Systems help us stay on track, emphasize efficiency, and promote stability. Establish routines for homework (for example, no screens unless required for assignments), nutritious snacks, breaks, studying, and organization. Balance is important when it comes to routines; thus, build in breaks and time to decompress. For example, one family I work with snacks and relaxes for 20 minutes after arriving home. They also take 15-minute exercise breaks after each 40-minute chunk of work time. All work stops for dinner at 7:00pm. I often encourage children and teens to use timers to increase accountability, promote self-sufficiency, and deepen investment in the process; your teenager’s buy-in is crucial to mantaining family routines over time. Finally, consider creating a common google calendar or visual schedules on a chalkboard to support communication and commitment to routines within the family.
5. Focus on growth over time, not perfection.
For children who present type-a/perfectionist tendencies (that’s me!) extra academic pressure can be harmful. It can push them deep into overwork and overwhelm. For our children who present apathetic or defeated attitudes, perfection feels impossible, so giving up might feel like the only option. Where you put value, as parents and caregivers, impacts your children. As you focus primarily on growth and continued improvement, your child is likely to feel encouraged, yet not over-pressured. Small wins, small improvements matter; celebrate those!
6. Support your teen in making choices for themselves.
When it comes to your teen’s time outside of school, encourage them to make choices for engaging with their passions and interests. These may boost their “why!” Opportunities include school-sponsored groups (like video game or creative writing club), athletics inside or outside of school, study groups, church or community groups (like volunteering), and even part-time jobs. If your child shares an idea or requests to join a new activity, do your best to support it. Express interest in their motivation for joining. “What gets you excited about this club?” “What do you have to contribute to the group?” Incorporate the routines conversation from strategy #3; check in with your teen’s and the family’s capacity to manage new commitments and consider adjustments that might be made. (Added bonus: These are all resume and college application builders too!)
Reestablishing, renewing, throwing out, and creating new systems during the school year is inevitable; just remember these are not one-time conversations, you are creating an ongoing dialogue. You and your family have permission to come back to the drawing board at any time and as many times as needed.
Finally, you may also find yourself (and your teen) wanting extra support. Together, you and your family can build individual support system maps to support you throughout the year. Here’s to continued growth in the 2018-2019 school year and beyond!