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Why your involvement is so important

It’s natural to want to step back and give your teen more space as they start high school/secondary school.

You don’t want to be the dreaded helicopter parent, hovering over your teen’s every move, or the “snowplow parent,” constantly removing obstacles … so your teen never learns how to fend for themselves and become a responsible adult.

But at the same time, there needs to be balance.

In moving from middle school/primary school to high school/secondary school, many kids discover that school is a larger, more competitive, less personal environment than in the past.

In the first year of high school, your teen is going to face:

  • Bigger academic challenges than ever before—with the impact of COVID still lingering on top of that. Let’s face it, most students are still trying to make up for lost ground.
  • New levels of pressure and stress, which may include integrating back to in-person school.
  • Independent choices about whether to engage in risky behaviors (such as drinking and drugs) that could have a lasting impact.
  • And taking the last few years into consideration, there is the concern that the rates of anxiety and depression are higher as students dealt with/are dealing with the trauma of COVID.

Your high school student needs you as a parent.

But fear not, Sylvan’s experts have put together some great advice to help you!

Here’s how to help your teen make the academic leap to high school/secondary school—all while empowering your teen.

9th grade is a pivotal academic year

Research shows that:

  • Your teen’s grade point average (GPA) in grade 9 can be a major predictor of their overall GPA for the high school years.
  • A wide range of students experience poor performance in 9th grade—and NOT just those who did poorly in 8th grade.
  • 35% of all students fail at least one class during 9th grade.

During freshman year, your teen will get the academic foundation for the rest of high school/secondary school.

Concepts often build on one another, particularly in math and language arts. For example, if your teen is taking Algebra 1 in 9th grade, it’s an extension of the skills your teen learned in middle school.

But many teens feel overwhelmed because algebra seems to have so many new rules. Algebra 1 can feel really abstract! (It can help to relate the rules your teen is learning to the math skills they already know.)

As your teen advances into more difficult courses, the key to mastering higher-level concepts is having those core skills down. If your teen doesn’t, they may struggle—sometimes severely—through the next four years.

Ronda Arking, Director of Language Arts at Sylvan and mother to three teenage boys, shares, “One thing that’s very surprising for parents is the amount of writing that high school students have to do.”

That said, Arking notes, there’s not a lot of time during the school day dedicated to writing instruction. Students are just expected to know how to do it.

“What we did in our freshman year of college/university, kids are now doing in high school — things like conducting research, using evidence, including MLA citations. High school/secondary school writing is much more sophisticated than even 10 years ago.”

Writing assignments extend far beyond English class. With Common Core (and similar types of academic standards), writing is an expected part of math, science and history courses too.

How you can help at home with high school/secondary school academics:

  • Ensure there’s a dedicated place for studying. Have your teen find a quiet, uncluttered space in your home where it’s more comfortable to do homework and it’s a good environment for focusing. You may have this already set-up due to hybrid/virtual school.
  • Set a good example and model the behaviors you want from your teen. For example, turn off your electronic devices during dinner or family time, or whenever you’re trying to connect. Read a book or write a note or journal entry.
  • Show an interest in homework, especially writing and math assignments.
  • Focus on whether your teen is mastering fundamentals. You can try monitoring how much time your child is spending on particular assignments. If your teen is taking more time than you think it should, it’s likely your teen doesn’t have the fundamentals down. This may not be obvious, so you can ask their teacher during parent-teacher conferences if they’re offered, or shoot them a quick note asking them how long they think it should be taking.
  • Ask to read a writing assignment. Rather than offering criticisms or correcting errors, pose probing questions about the writing. For example, “I like the way you express idea X. However, I’m confused about your transition to idea Y. How do these connect?”
  • Ask your teen to summarize chapters in their own words.
  • Encourage your teen to read every day.
  • Support your teen in keeping a journal. Daily writing fosters more confidence and “writing stamina.”
  • Show an interest in math homework if your teen is struggling. These signs may include: refusing to do homework, getting upset or getting lower grades. Ask your teen to show you math homework and explain their thinking. Encourage your teen to check their work and answer the question, “Does this answer seem reasonable?” You might not know the math answer yourself, but helping them talk through their reasoning can be a helpful strategy to help them learn.
  • Identify skills that your teen may be struggling with. Ask to see your teen’s quizzes and what comments the teacher had.
  • Empower your teen to advocate for themselves. For example, if you see some sub-par grades coming home, ask your teen, “Do you know why you didn’t do well?” If your teen can’t answer, let your teen know that they need to go to their teacher to understand why. (If your teen isn’t able to get an appointment with the teacher, that’s when you need to get involved.) If your teen met with the teacher and continues to struggle, it may be time to look into additional support, like a tutor.
  • Attend parent/teacher conferences if they’re offered. Ask: “Do you see any red flags or areas where my teen is struggling?” Gather as much info as you can and discuss your options.
  • Let the teacher know if your teen is struggling every night over assignments. Write a note or send an email, and let the teacher know, “My teen didn’t understand x, y, z. How can we help them at home?” (Don’t do the homework for your teen. The teacher will never know there’s an issue, and you’ll unintentionally create bigger struggles for your teen down the line.)
  • Ask for help EARLY if you see signs of frustration or struggle. It’s much easier to stay on pace with class than to chase to catch up. Remember, skills in high school build upon each other. If you can’t help with homework, recommend your teen call a friend from class or schedule time with the teacher before or after school. You also may want to look into tutoring. (Sylvan, for example, offers a range of support, from homework help, to more intensive help in advanced subjects.)

Organization and self-management skills are critical during high school/secondary school

As your teen starts freshman year and heads through high school, the volume of work increases significantly. Teachers are less apt to “hold kids’ hands” and walk students through each step.

The older your teen gets, the more they’re required to follow instructions and organize materials on their own. Your teen needs to be able to figure out how to master the material without a step-by-step guide.

This can add a lot of stress to homework time. (Stress for your whole family!)

If your teen is showing signs of difficulty in the 9th grade, get help early. The quicker your teen can get back on track, the better.

Your teen will hear, “These grades count”

In 9th grade, grades are part of your teen’s permanent record. Your teen’s grades will be judged—along with achievement test scores—for college/university admission.

As a parent, it’s important to help your child find balance between panicking from stress and beginning to accept individual responsibility for academic performance.

How parents can help

1. Sit down with your teen to set expectations and prep them for what’s coming: “High school/secondary school is going to be more challenging. Let’s talk about what to expect and how you’re going to handle it.”

2. Show your child how to organize binders, set up assignment calendars and use an academic planner. Kids need to learn organization and time-management skills. Most kids aren’t naturally organized, and schools typically don’t teach these skills. (Need a little help? Scroll down for our free guide.)

3. Let your teen advocate for themselves, such as if they disagree with a grade or they need to chat with a school advisor about any social issues.

4. Model the behaviors you want from your child and make sure you aren’t sending mixed messages. Are you setting a good example? For example, do you arrive on time? Keep appointments? Strive for excellence in your work? Try to improve? Show respect to those in positions of importance?

5. Have tough or awkward conversations … while in the car. This may sound like a strange tip, but it can be effective. You have a captive audience, and you don’t have to look at each other. It helps take the pressure off.

Continual pushing and nagging are rarely productive—no matter how good your intentions are!

Nagging is rarely effective with a teenager. (And turning into a drill sergeant probably doesn’t make you feel good either!) Most kids are keenly aware that our society is ultra-competitive and their academics matter.

Many psychologists suggest that putting too much academic pressure on teens can cause significant long-term harm. Experts often describe stressed out students as “being at loose ends” or “missing something inside.” They report that these young people say they “feel unhappy for no reason.” They lack enthusiasm.

These teens are likely to make a high grade on a test, but often report they don’t feel good about it. They understand extrinsic reward, but they lack intrinsic experiences that make them feel connected and ALIVE.

Stress builds if it isn’t managed properly in high school/secondary school

Despite good intentions, parents can be a key part of the problem. If your teen is college/university bound, yes, students are starting to build their “resumes” for college/university in 9th grade.

But if you spend most of your time focusing on the end rather than the means, your teen can begin to skip two of the most important jobs of adolescence:

  1. Finding their “passion”
  2. Developing a life-long love of learning

Kids learn A LOT about adulthood through the journey of adolescence. It’s important that they experience both success and failure in the safe environment of home.

Many researchers warn that parents need to focus less on how to help their kids build a college resume and more on how to help their kids develop a passion for their strengths and interests.

Good organizational skills, time management, discipline and a natural curiosity for learning will go a long way to ensure academic success in high school, college/university and the rest of your teen’s life.

Here are 5 ways you can help your teen:

  1. Keep nagging to a minimum.
  2. Establish clear and objective rules with clear and reasonable consequences. Stick to those consequences, so your teen can begin to learn to manage themselves.
  3. Set reasonable expectations. Every child matures at a different rate. Athletically, some are late bloomers. Socially, some mature more quickly. Allow your teen to move at their own pace.
  4. Don’t compare your teen to others. Honor your teen’s unique abilities.
  5. Be on the look out for your teen’s strengths and weaknesses. Help your teen identify where they are strong and teach your teen to play to their strengths.

Bring out your teen’s best in high school/secondary school

Many kids learn best from an outside expert. (Less frustration for the WHOLE family!) To chat about how we can help your teen with high school writing, advanced courses, study skills or tough homework, reach out to Sylvan.

We’re here to help.

Call us today: (888) 338-2283

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