If Your Teen Begins to Fail in School
Many teens experience a time when keeping up with school work is difficult. These periods may last several weeks and may include social problems as well as a slide in academic performance.
Research suggests that problems are more likely to occur during a transitional year, such as moving from elementary to middle school, or middle school to high school.
Some adolescents are able to get through this time with minimal assistance from their parents or teachers. It may be enough for a parent to be available simply to listen and suggest coping strategies, provide a supportive home environment, and encourage the child's participation in school activities.
However, when the difficulties last longer than a single grading period, or are linked to a long-term pattern of poor school performance or behavior problems, parents and teachers need to intervene.
Identifying Adolescents Who Are At Risk for Failure
Some "at-risk" indicators, such as those listed here, may represent persistent problems from the early elementary school years for some children. Other students may overcome early difficulties but begin to experience related problems during middle school or high school. For others, some of these indicators may become noticeable only in early adolescence.
To intervene effectively, parents and teachers can be aware of some common indicators of an adolescent at risk for school failure, including:
- Attention problems as a young child -- the student has a school history of attention issues or disruptive behavior.
- Multiple retentions in grade -- the student has been retained one or more years.
- Poor grades -- the student consistently performs at barely average or below average levels.
- Absenteeism -- the student is absent five or more days per term.
- Lack of connection with the school -- the student is not involved in sports, music, or other school-related extracurricular activities.
- Behavior problems -- the student may be frequently disciplined or show a sudden change in school behavior, such as withdrawing from class discussions.
- Lack of confidence -- the student believes that success is linked to native intelligence rather than hard work, and believes that his or her own ability is insufficient, and nothing can be done to change the situation.
- Limited goals for the future -- the student seems unaware of available career options or how to attain those goals.
When more than one of these attributes characterizes an adolescent, the student will likely need assistance from both parents and teachers to complete his or her educational experience successfully. Girls, and students from culturally or linguistically diverse groups, may be especially at risk for academic failure if they exhibit these behaviors. Stepping back and letting these students "figure it out" or "take responsibility for their own learning" may lead to a deeper cycle of failure within the school environment.
Teens Want To Feel Connected to Their Family and Their School
In a recent survey, when students were asked to evaluate their transitional years, they indicated interest in connecting to their new school and requested more information about extracurricular activities, careers, class schedules, and study skills. Schools that develop programs that ease transitions for students and increase communication between schools may be able to reduce student failure rates.
The Role of Parenting Style
Parenting style may have an impact on the child's school behavior. Many experts distinguish among permissive, authoritarian, and authoritative parenting styles. These parenting styles are associated with different combinations of warmth, support, and limit-setting and supervision for children.
The permissive style tends to emphasize warmth and neglect limit-setting and supervision; the authoritarian style tends to emphasize the latter and not the former; while the authoritative style is one in which parents offer warmth and support, and limit-setting and supervision. When the authoritative parenting style is used, the adolescent may be more likely to experience academic success.
It is important to remember that adolescents need their parents not only to set appropriate expectations and boundaries, but also to advocate for them.
Parents -- and teachers -- can assist teens by:
- Making the time to listen to and try to understand the teen's fears or concerns
- Setting appropriate boundaries for behavior that are consistently enforced
- Encouraging the teen to participate in one or more school activities
- Attending school functions, such as sports, and plays
- Meeting as a team, including parents, teachers, and school counselor, asking how they can support the teen's learning environment, and sharing their expectations for the child's future
- Arranging tutoring or study group support for the teen from the school or the community through organizations such as the local YMCA or a local college or university
- Providing a supportive home and school environment that clearly values education
- Helping the teen think about career options by arranging for visits to local companies and colleges, picking up information on careers and courses, and encouraging an internship or career-oriented part-time job
- Encouraging the teen to volunteer in the community or to participate in community groups such as the YMCA, Scouting, 4-H, religious organizations, or other service-oriented groups to provide an out-of-school support system
- Emphasizing the importance of study skills, hard work, and follow-through
Don't Give Up on Your Child
Understanding the factors that may put an adolescent at-risk for academic failure will help parents determine if their teen is in need of extra support. Above all, parents need to persevere. The teen years do pass, and most adolescents survive them, in spite of bumps along the way.
Being aware of common problems can help parents know when it is important to reach out and ask for help before a difficult time develops into a more serious situation.