Ways To Help Your Teen Succeed In School
High school is a difficult time for most teenagers. Academic work can be overwhelming, and in just a few years, they're expected to go to college or enter the workforce as fully functioning adults. Their bodies are going through major changes, and social life becomes an emotional rollercoaster. Many teens struggle to keep up with unrealistic standards set by media and advertising, a losing battle that can take its toll on self-esteem. These pressures take their toll on teenagers, who may not be equipped to handle all of this on their own.
Unfortunately, low-income students go into this struggle at a disadvantage. They are statistically more likely to lag behind their well-off peers academically because of negative factors like low nutrition and unstable living situations. The presence of a supportive parent can balance out the disadvantages. Studies have shown that parental engagement is a major contributing factor to student success, even more than income or background. Let's look at some things that low-income parents can do to help their teens succeed.
Before we tackle the success strategies, it's important to understand some common issues faced by adolescents.
Dozens of studies show that attendance is one of the most important factors to a student's academic performance. Chronic absence (even missing two or more days a month) is a leading indicator of whether or not a student will drop out of high school. Students who are chronically absent or late miss valuable learning time in the classroom and reach learning milestones later than their peers do.
Unfortunately, low-income students are up to four times more likely to be chronically absent than their peers, because of unstable housing or family situations, lack of transportation, and lack of access to quality healthcare. Half the battle of getting your teen to succeed is making sure they show up to their classes. Parents need to take the initiative and make sure their kids get to school consistently.
Studies have shown that parental engagement is a major contributing factor to student success, even more than income or background.
High school graduation rates are at an all-time high. Unfortunately, minority and low-income students are still at a higher risk of dropping out early. Income inequality is a huge factor in impeding academic achievement and leads to a higher dropout rate. Low-income students face added pressures that well-off students do not, like having weaker support systems at home, having more family responsibilities that detract from studying, and feeling greater pressure to enter the workforce early. The relationship between low-income status and educational under-achievement can be self-perpetuating: High school dropouts have fewer economic opportunities, trapping them and their families in a cycle of poverty. This cycle isn't inevitable, though. Parents can support their children's education and put them on a path towards a better future.
High school students are still developing the good judgment necessary to make the right choices. They are particularly vulnerable to groupthink and peer pressure, especially since “fitting in” with their peers can make or break their experience. For low-income families, this could mean teens asking for trendy gadgets or expensive clothes. In more extreme cases, it could mean pressure to take dangerous and illegal substances or participate in illegal acts.
Schools are safer now than they once were. Teen use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco are at their lowest in almost three decades. Still, students from low-income communities are more likely to engage in risky behavior at a younger age, especially without good adult role models and strong parental presence. If you're present in your children's life to give them a dependable guiding hand, they are less likely to succumb to dangerous pressures.
Bullying among adolescents is an endemic problem. 20% of American high school students have experienced bullying, with the figure ranging higher among at-risk groups. Teens who seem less popular or different from others, such as teens with disabilities and mental health issues, and racial and sexual minorities, are more likely to be targeted by bullies. Physical bullying on campus is most common, but cyberbullying is also a major concern, especially for the 55.2% of LGBT+ youth that reports bullying online. Stand by your child if they are facing abusive treatment by their peers (or even teachers). Your support will mean a lot to them.
The issues high schoolers face today may seem daunting, but your support and encouragement can help your child through their turbulent teenage years.
Encourage open communication with your children. If your teens know you won't punish them for their honesty, they'll be more willing to share things with you. You'll need to foster an environment where they feel safe opening up to you without fear of being judged. Set an example by being honest with them: answer their questions, don't deflect uncomfortable conversation, and treat them with equal dignity and respect. Address tricky subjects like sex, drugs, alcohol, and bullying directly, and make sure they know you're listening to them and considering their opinions.
Initiate conversations about their goals and expectations. Ask them what they want out of life, or what milestones they want to achieve. Do they prioritize good grades, extracurricular activities, or team sports? Knowing their aspirations is the first step towards helping them achieve their dreams.