By Agnes Robl (Outreach and Prevention) and
Deb Ashton (Safe & Drug Free Schools & Attendance Specialist Coordinator)
Every school year seems to start off with the best intentions. This is the year that will be better than the last year. Students/Your child maybe even do better for a little while. Then the time for report cards role around again and the F’s and D-‘s make you wonder “what is going on that my child is doing so poorly in school?’ Though there often is not a simple solution here are a few possibilities to consider:
- Please do not assume that if your child needs special help at school the school will automatically meet your child’s needs. I have seen quite a few teenagers who probably should be getting special education services who simply aren’t. A child with special needs including attention deficit and many other learning disabilities should have an Individualized Education Plan. As a parent you may need to request in writing that the child has this plan. For more help in this process contact the Utah Parent Center. Please keep in mind if your child has an IEP it should be reviewed once a year with a team including you and resigned.Students struggle in school for a wide variety of reasons. Some students may have missed important concepts and fall behind their peers academically; others may be frustrated trying to stay organized and complete their assignments on time. Family and peer relationships also play an important role in helping students to be successful academically and socially. Teachers are able to make many classroom accommodations to help students engage in school and be successful. When needed, a 504 Plan for regular education students can be implemented.If you’re concerned about how your child is doing in school, contact their teacher. There are also other support staff that may be of assistance such as, counselor, social worker and/or administrator. Communicate what you think could help your child succeed and work together as a team to address any barriers to success.
- Your teen is either really social or not fitting in socially. If you are fairly certain the problem isn’t a learning disability then it is possible that the problem is social. Everyone wants to fit in and in Jr High and High school this becomes extremely important. If a child feels disconnected from their school and peers or worse are being teased they may withdraw to protect themselves. A withdrawn child may simply stop turning in schoolwork that they are perfectly capable doing. Or they may find a group of friends who don’t show interest in school and they feel like they may have more in common with these friends. Obviously you can’t be there and pick their friends for them, but you can know who their friends are and gauge their interest in school. Encourage teens and children who have withdrawn from school to re-engage. Know the principals, counselors and teachers and have a conversation about how your child could become more involved with the school. Know what the schools strengths and weaknesses are. Encourage children and teens who are struggling socially to engage in pro-social activities either at school or elsewhere. There are many school clubs, groups and activities students can participate in to foster a positive school experience academically and socially. Community organizations offer sports activities and classes in art, dance, graphic design and much more. The Boys & Girls Club also provides numerous fun events for children & teens along with assistance completing homework!
- Your teen needs a positive role model. You! As a parent or guardian what is your relationship with learning new things. Doing things like including your child in conversations about world events, taking many opportunities to teach and always being interested in learning new things all model a positive relationship with learning. It’s easy to talk about grades, attendance and assignments over and over with your child. Don’t let this be your only topic. Make sure to talk about other areas they like (movies, video games, friends, etc.) challenges they are dealing with and ways to solve them, along with what they want their future to be like.
- Your teen needs an advocate. Be your teen’s advocate but do not do things for your teen. This includes making a plan that a child or teenager can follow through with. Be careful about labeling your child “smart but just not trying.” I believe that “capable but not trying” is often used as a reason to simply not try to intervene and let the student continue to fail. Please don’t let that be the last word. Keep on digging until you get to the root of the problem. Even if the problem is lack of motivation this is something that can be addressed.
- Your teen needs connections outside of the school. Perhaps your child learns differently but has some strength in other areas. Help your child foster those strengths and increase self-esteem through accomplishments elsewhere. Encourage positive community engagement, which can be a protective factor against drugs and alcohol. Encourage mentorships with adults and other youth who can be positive role models.
Finally, keep in mind that not doing well in high school does not doom your teen to be a failure in life. Many people mature later and catch up on credits or finish as an adult. Many people who didn’t really fit in during high school find their niche and do really well in real life. If you are consistent as a parent in your message that school is important and to not give up on something because it is hard your teen will be better off in the long run. Remember parenting from a place of love is always more affective then parenting from a place of anger. Celebrate the small successes and encourage positive involvement, whether it is in school or in your community. For more information about parenting tips and getting help for our student contact Salt Lake County Youth Services.