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Help your teen make the most of school

Almost a third of your child’s life is spent in school. Other than family, school is the most important influence on your child’s life. That remains true in the teen years.

One of the most powerful impacts on teens’ school performance is the connection they feel to their school. Feeling connected means that students have a sense of belonging and feel close to people, including teachers. Attachment to school is associated with reduced alcohol, cigarette, and marijuana use. It’s also associated with:

  • Lower rates of sexual activity.
  • Fewer thoughts about or attempts at suicide.
  • Lower levels of violent behavior.

Parents make a difference

Research shows children do better in school and have more positive attitudes about it when their parents are involved in school life. Many parents become less involved with school activities as their children move on to high school. Yet teenagers benefit when their parents show interest. There are many ways for parents to get involved in their teens’ school lives.

Expect success

When parents set high expectations for school performance, teens are more likely to meet those expectations. As a parent, you should encourage your teen to work toward their personal best — not perfection. This way they are less likely to become depressed or involved in harmful violent, sexual, or drug-related behaviors.

Teens whose parents expect them to make school a priority are much more likely to do well in school. Likewise, teens whose parents expect them to attend college are more likely to do so.

Communicate with teachers

Build a partnership with teachers so your teen sees you working with teachers, not against them.

  • Ask about the ways your teen’s school communicates with parents. Tell teachers which method of communication works best for you.
  • Keep in touch with your teen’s teachers and other school staff, such as principals or counselors. Knowing teachers’ names and subject areas is an important first step.
  • Make the family-teacher connection early in the school year, before any problems arise.
  • Take advantage of school open houses and parent-teacher conferences. Ask teachers specific questions about:
    • What subjects your teen is studying.
    • Their expectations of your teen.
    • What you can do to support both the teacher and your child.
    • Opportunities you will have for future communication.

Support student activities

Students become connected to school by taking part in extracurricular activities and sports. This leads to commitment to school.

Many young people find they have talents in areas outside of the classroom, such as music, theater or sports. They need your support to develop those talents. Encourage your child to join school activities. Ask your teen’s teachers to encourage involvement. If your teen is already involved, show your support by attending school events.

Volunteer in the school

School staff can always use an extra hand. Here are some opportunities to volunteer your time.

  • Act as a chaperone for field trips and other outings.
  • Tutor students who need extra help.
  • Assist at school concerts, plays, games, and other events.
  • Become a resource for career classes by talking to students about your job.
  • Join committees for special projects. These might include selecting educational materials or assisting in budget matters.
  • Join a parent-teacher association or organization (PTA or PTO).
  • Join a music or athletic booster group.

Involve both parents

It’s not unusual for mothers to be involved with their children’s school lives. But research shows that youth do better when fathers take part, too. For example, young people whose mothers and fathers participate in school life are more likely to:

  • Earn “A’s.”
  • Take part in extracurricular activities.
  • Enjoy school.

Encourage your teen to tutor or mentor others

Many schools offer programs for older students to serve as tutors or mentors to younger children. Being a “big buddy” to an elementary-school student may help a teen feel valued.

What parents can do

Here are some essential things parents can do to help their teen make the most of school:

  • Set high expectations for school success. Help your teen set reasonable goals and work toward them. Tell teens that you believe in their abilities and that is why you expect success.
  • Recognize your teen’s academic accomplishments. Don’t assume that because your teen is maturing, he or she doesn’t need or want attention from you. Sometimes, teens are pressured not to excel by peers, or to “just get by.” You can offset negative peer pressure with positive recognition.
  • Create a positive home environment that encourages learning. Keep learning resources handy. These can be as simple as a dictionary and library books, or as elaborate as a computer with an encyclopedia software program. If possible, set up a comfortable, well-lit study place in your home.
  • Establish quiet time every night for studying, reading, or writing. Keep the time period consistent (for example, from 7 to 8 p.m.). Have everyone in your family take part to show the value you place on lifelong learning.
  • Provide extra support to your teen during transitional times, such as when she enters middle/junior or senior high school. Visit the school with your teen and meet with teachers.
  • Talk with your teen about his school classes and activities, and monitor his school attendance.
  • Keep a calendar that lists school events, projects, and activities, as well as dates of family events.
  • Use screens wisely. Limit teens’ use of smartphones, tablets, PCs, and other electronic devices. Monitor use of these devices, especially video games and social media platforms.
  • Know how and where your kids spend free time, especially after school. Encourage your teen to be involved in productive activities when not in school, rather than just “hanging out.”

Related Resources

Check & Connect School Engagement ProgramCheck & Connect is a comprehensive intervention designed to enhance student engagement at school and with learning for marginalized, disengaged students in grades K-12, through relationship building, problem solving and capacity building, and persistence.

National Dropout Prevention Center/Network — There is no one single answer, or silver bullet, to keeping students in school. The National Dropout Prevention Center has developed 15 effective strategies that help combat the dropout rate. Family involvement with the school and their children is vital.

NEA Parents' Resources — National Education Association — Adults have a lot of responsibilities in life, and one of the most important is supporting the education and growth of children. The resources on this website are provided to help ensure your child receives the best possible education.

National PTA: For Families — National PTA offers a variety of resources to assist families in their children's education. There are Parent's Guides for students in grades K-12, programs meant to strengthen diversity in schools and communities, health and safety initiatives, and ways to serve and provide a valuable education to children with special needs.

Kathleen A. Olson, Associate professor and Extension educator in family resiliency

Revised 2011; reviewed 2017 by author

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