Here's an organizational tool that you can easily download to help your teen study in a proactive and methodical way. My clients show significant increases in data points (grades) when they adopt and implement this study strategy. Enjoy!
It’s late October and the honeymoon is over. Your teen’s new-year-new-me mindset is cracking beneath the weight of to-do lists, ho-hum motivation, and a stacked schedule. Gone is the early September optimism, replaced by the thought that this school year will “literally” never end.
Well...here are four steps you can take to help them weather the late October Grind.
Revisit your teen’s goals. Of course, revisit implies that they have set goals. Set goals in the following timeframes: long-term (think college), yearly (think GPA goals) and weekly (actionable accomplishments). Thinking about goals is fine, but writing goals down takes them next level. I recommend using a sharpie and writing them down on their bathroom or bedroom mirror. Goals keep the eyes on the prize and have proven extraordinarily effective with my clients. Students that set and revisit goals make exponential progress in comparison to those simply winging it.
Audit course progress and define target areas of improvement. Most classes are graded within category weights. For example, tests might be worth 40% of a student’s total grade, and homework might be worth 10%. It’s extraordinarily helpful to understand where within the course more efforts are needed and what skills (like test taking or preparation skills) should be honed. Quite often, you will find one aspect of each course needs attention. This audit will drive resources and time management decisions.
Schedule teacher meetings. Not for you, for them. Based on your class category audit, and according to your student’s goals, teacher meetings are a crucial next step. Teacher meetings are important for two reasons: they allow students to take accountable steps in demonstrating their commitment to succeeding and they strengthen the student-teacher relationship. A common delay occurs when students feel uncomfortable seeking help from teachers or only go to see teachers in times of crisis. The shift from reactive meetings to regular ones can increase grades dramatically and boost academic confidence. I suggest a rotating meeting schedule, where students meet with one teacher each week so that they see all teachers around once per month. Teachers are great at encouraging students and helping them know best preparation practices. For example in math, a student might do well on homework but lack a foundational math skill that is ruining their test scores.
Live in routine. Teens thrive in structure and flounder in free-choice. Not to say they don’t need or deserve downtime (they do), but those times should be within a larger scripted and well-monitored routine. Using a piece of paper, divide your teen’s week (by day) into 1-2 hour increments from 7:00 am - 10:00 pm. Next, fill in their obligations (school, sports, rehearsals, tutors, church etc.). Remaining, you will find pockets of time that should be separated into 4 remaining categories: study time, homework time, family time, and free time. Notice that study time and homework time are not the same. Homework time is great, it’s what’s handed in for credit. Study time, however, needs to be a separate concept rooted in long-term planning and be consumed with activities like re-reading dense chapters, creating outlines, being quizzed with flashcards, completing practice problems and gearing up for final exams. Again, use your child’s goals, grades, category weight audit, teacher meetings and real-time grades to plan the amount and depth required to study. Routine always wins.
A common trap in parenting teenagers is defaulting to a pattern of decision making where decisions rendered are based primarily on information from the past. This after-the-fact mode of operation is reactive and highly frustrating. After-the-fact data points are monopolized by quiz scores, test scores, essay results and report cards. Make no mistake, these are important, but if these are the markers used in determining standard teenage freedoms and privileges, you’re playing from behind.
And, as the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense. Part of reimagining your approach is done by shifting energy and placing greater emphasis on proactive data points. Proactive data points are monopolized by analyzing organization, planning, calendaring, communicating, study time and study location. These data points should be tracked to determine your teenager’s desired (within reason) freedoms and privileges. Think phone, car, friends, Xbox, money.
To solidify this concept, let’s use the familiar example of money. In a reactive parenting model, parents give teenagers money upfront and seek to recoup that money upon discovering negative after-the-fact data points, like a low test score. In a proactive parenting model, parents track the process of their teenager’s week by using clearly defined markers, and payout (or not) at the week’s end, similar to an employer paying an employee.
To implement your shift from reactive to proactive parenting, sit down with your teenager and establish trackable weekly markers. A reactive maker like earning all A's should be replaced with the specific amount of time your teenager will study each subject (setting a minimum), where they will study (other than in their room), and include evidence (notes, flashcards, annotations). In short, establish actions, and how they will be demonstrated. After establishing markers for the week, it’s then appropriate to discuss what your teenager can earn in the form of freedom or privilege. Demonstrated teenage efforts can be cashed in. Please note, this is not extra freedom or privilege--it’s the same standard ones, simply paid out at week’s end. Conversely, clearly establish the opposite response too, by outlining what your teenager will pay out (in the form of loss of freedom or privilege) if they do not properly complete or demonstrate their markers.
Here we go again! Back to school season evokes trepidation for many students. A new school year, especially within the context of a major shift (elementary to middle, private to public, middle to high or college prep to AP level courses) produces elevated levels of insecurity and self-doubt (click title to continue)...
EASY-TO-INSTALL TIPS FOR YOUR TEEN
End of the school year stumbles are common for teenagers. These trip-ups yield many-a-lecture and fun-crushing restrictions from parents. Though valid, lectures fall on deaf, summer-obsessed ears. Teens typically utilize defensive posturing (it’s everyone else’s fault) and then strategically shift to a proactive approach (I’ll do better next year). The good news? Each school year brings opportunity for course-correction and provides a chance to test the limits of teenage promises. And while there are no guarantees, several strategies can increase the odds.
Resist dwelling on last year’s results. While revisiting last year’s pitfalls can hold limited value, spending too much time rehashing the past depletes energy and drains emotions. Instead of micro-analyzing specifics, pivot to a macro-analytic approach. Macro-analysis is more solution oriented; it evaluates larger trends like attendance, work completion or time management, and uses the data to create better systems moving forward. Macro-analytics can identify specific areas of improvement, without opening a can of bad report-card worms.
Meet weekly with your teen. Regular communication is vital to maintaining a pulse on your teen’s academics. Rather than waiting for negative triggers to engage with your teen, establish a standing weekly meeting. Regularly scheduled meetings reduce smaller drive-by interactions (you know, nagging) and decrease avoidance strategies by teens. Talking solely in the context of have-to and should-do will drive your teen away. Anticipated meetings are more tolerable for teens and helpful for parents. They identify relevant markers like upcoming tests, study plans, obligations, teacher issues and stress levels. They also bring families together to problem-solve and collaboratively tackle minor roadblocks before they become insurmountable setbacks.
Establish bite-sized goals. Large-scale goals are important, but not the best use of time when supporting a teenager’s academic life. Help your teen replace statements like I’m going to get straight A’s with statements like I will complete all assignments this week; or I’m going to get a 100% on my test with I will study nightly for my test. Bite-sized goals are easier to accomplish, build confidence and replace nagging with positive affirmations. Bite-sized goals lead to buffet-sized results for your teen.
Ditch negativity. You never; you can’t; you won’t; you’re not. Phrases like these need to go. Teenagers are highly suggestible and negative comments quickly settle into their subconscious. Sure, there are scenarios for tough talk, but reframing your narrative will decrease the overall negativity projected onto the very teen you’re hoping to elevate. Negative statements reinforce negative behaviors and outcomes; positive changes come from positive thoughts and words. Try replacing phrases like you never with you haven’t yet; or you can’t with you’re choosing not to. Slight adjustments to your vocabulary will increase the productivity of your conversations.
MIDDLE SCHOOL MATTERS
There’s a suburban myth gaining strength and negatively impacting the performance index of thirteen-year-olds everywhere. This myth, both simple and dead-wrong, claims middle school doesn’t matter.
The middle school doesn’t matter mindset walks side-by-side students stubbornly withholding sincere effort, stunting their intellectual growth, rebuffing homework and stifling engaged classroom behavior. By adopting the philosophy of middle school irrelevance, young teens release themselves from accountability while lowering parental expectations. Operating under the assumption that middle school doesn’t matter is an error far too many students make.
Middle school matters; here’s why:
Student growth is born from consistency, not from stop-and-go expectations. Rumor has it, that it takes 22 days to form a habit. Once formed, habits become hard to break. Imagine the parental hangover stemming from a year of permissive middle school slacking. To assume your student will easily reframe their academic routine once in high school is a mistake. And while adopting your 8th grader’s mindset may create temporary peace at home, it results in residual conflict, when you eventually require elevated academic performance in high school. In short, the habits formed in middle school, either good or bad, will be hard to shake once in high school. Thus, the work it takes now to enforce a solid study routine, will have a strong ROI in the years to come.
Middle school academics translate directly into high academic opportunity. Middle school grades are like dominos, and impact high school class placement. They have the power to dictate a student’s entire course progression, either positively or negatively. Sometimes the impact is direct, in the form of prerequisites used to gatekeep honors level courses. For example, gaining placement into a 9th grade honors level math class, might require an A in their 8th grade math class. Other times, the impact is indirect. For example, foreign language classes often provide opportunity for acceleration following successful performance on an entrance exam; exams unpassable on the heels of subpar middle school experience. While colleges don’t evaluate middle school transcripts, they do see the ripple by way of the high school course progression.
Middle school is a pace lap for high school. Academic success is a marathon, not a sprint. Simply stated, taking years off from effort (as happens in 8th grade) can stunt intellectual growth and decrease the odds of a successful high school academic career. Attempting to validate the prioritization of specific school years over others is a slippery slope. While certain years hold more value for post-secondary institutions, accepting lower thresholds of effort leads to unanticipated consequences, specifically with academic inertia. Momentum is a critical ingredient to student success. Students in motion, tend to stay in motion; while students at a dead stop, have a tough time getting going again. Students do better with consistency; consistency in routine; consistency in their study habits; and consistency in expectations and interventions from their parents.
FIVE STRATEGIES FOR A MORE COHESIVE FAMILY SYSTEM
1) Gather information. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. As a family, take stock of all that needs to be accomplished heading into the school year. Sit down with your student and audit their impending obligations. Many schools assign summer reading, or even in-depth assignments for Advanced Placement courses. Paralysis by analysis is common with overwhelmed teens. I recommend using a large desk-style calendar that affords plenty of room for mapping, marking, erasing, crossing-out. Often, students avoid providing specifics, so, utilize teacher websites, school websites, parents with kids one year ahead and overachieving peers, to gather relevant information. Don’t do this for, but with, your student. Leave the calendar in plain view as both a reminder and to provide for quick access as the weeks evolve.
2) Create a weekly accountability calendar. I’m a huge fan of SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timed). Many teens don’t do well with long-term planning. Additionally, vague, long-term markers are difficult to monitor as a parent. Making smaller goals is more effective. Let’s take summer reading for example. A SMART goal outlines how many pages they will read, how you can validate their reading (think annotations), it establishes a realistic amount of reading (ex: 20 pages per day), and it clarifies the time in which it must get done (think per day). SMART goals should be created by the student with the help of an adult. By creating their own markers and timeline, a greater sense of ownership is established. If you want a template for SMART goals, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
3) Categorize and label. It’s helpful to organize the types of tasks and activities your student has to or wants to do. Let’s call their assigned or mandatory tasks intentions. Intentions are specific action items, some by choice, some by obligations which they have committed to do. This could include sports, chores, family travel and school work. All of the activities your student wants to do we will call integrations. Integrations include hanging out with friends, playing video games, using their iPhones, and sleeping in. As you plan their week, categorize their tasks and activities into either intentions or integrations. If they only have intentions it might be time to embed more opportunity for soul-feeding options, and if they only have integrations it’s time to dial in on goals. In short, strive for balance.
4) Consider an alpha day. Every teen deserves a day off, right? One strategy to explore is embedding one day for your student to formally decompress. With impacted weeks and busy schedules, it might have to be a half-day. In essence an alpha day is a time for permissive slacking when your teen has no major to-do’s. Preemptively identifying a day of rest, decreases conflict and also elevates the importance of utilizing their other outlined responsibilities. Alpha days make excellent incentives for autonomy and responsible task completion.
5) Customize as needed. These are simply suggestions and tools I use with many families; I know them to extremely beneficial. That said, families have unique dynamics and what works for one family, might not stick with another. Take bits and pieces of the above and mold them to fit your needs. Simply stated, building systems within your family will undeniably increase your student’s capacity and decrease conflict.
FIVE SCHOOL-RELATED PARENTING TIPS FOR THE NEW SCHOOL YEAR
1) Let your child talk to the teacher first.
The two people best fit to resolve a classroom conflict are the student and teacher. Swooping in prematurely will cause defensive posturing and complicate matters. Redirect this energy and help your teen think through, organize and properly record their thoughts in an email. Student-teacher emails are often efficient in problem-solving; or at least begin the process. Emails memorialize communication, while providing insight into the student-teacher interactions from a healthy distance. Teens need effective communication skills, and parents should teach, but not supplant those skills. After giving the two a chance to work it out, it may be time to become (responsibly) involved.
2) Don't circumvent the teacher.
Many parents avoid direct teacher contact in fear of retaliation against their child and instill similar passivity in their child. Part of this avoidance involves heading straight to the administration; a move that causes more harm than good. Circumventing teachers denies teenagers (and parents) an opportunity to practice dialogue and problem-solving skills. Tense conversations function similarly to training wheels on a bike. Hearing feedback and listening to others is vital to personal growth, even if that only means agreeing to disagree. Often, both family and teacher walk away with a better understanding and more respect for one another. That said, if yout student feels they are being subjected to retaliation, immediately report it to administration; for it’s only when behaviors are exposed, that behaviors change.
3) Let them breathe.
Reflect on the end of a long work day; there’s an element of decompression required to transition from work to home. The same is true with teens; they need time to decompress too. Although they’re thinking about school, they aren’t ready to discuss it. Teens require the mental real estate to operate without immediately being asked to rehash school with their parents. Without a school-free buffer, teens will avoid talking to parents at all costs. Once the norm of school-free discussions is established, teens can become more willing to communicate, which in turn, provides a natural segway into school-related topics.
4) Bad grades are warning signs of deeper problems.
School performance is a portal into the teen psyche; it has little to do with school, and really is a reflection of their mental and emotional state. Parents mistakenly focus too much on specific grades rather than trigger points. Parents can instead attempt to ignore the small stuff, and subtly look for deeper issues causing the manifestation. Teens will only engage with parents for so long, so don’t waste it nitpicking. With enough patience, parents can find an approach that yields enough honesty to eventually reveal the root cause. Without a cause, there will be no solution.
5) Foster lifelong skills.
Can you imagine if you still had to run next to your teenager whenever they wanted to ride a bike, like you did when they were younger? So, why embrace this practice with school? Your bike-riding child was appropriately supported and protected (think helmet, training wheels, hands-on assistance), but gradually, you scaled back until no longer needed. Strive to do the same with school, to groom an independent and capable being. Instead of emailing a teacher first, help your teen articulate thoughts; instead of rushing to administration, prepare your teen to speak directly with their teacher; instead of nitpicking assessment scores, create dialogue that will reveal root causes of poor performance. In so doing, you can take your hands off the bike and watch them ride successfully, and resiliently, off to college.