You know there is a bright and promising future out there for your teen, and you want to do everything you can to help them get there.
And yet, with each passing grade, it can start to feel as though you have less and less insight into what your teen is working on, and more importantly, where they might need extra help.
Know the feeling? You’re not alone. We’ve got some tips on what to look out for when determining if your teen needs extra help.
Complaining About a Class (or Teacher)
Your child has a great temperament. While they may not like school any more than the next kid, they aren’t the type to cause trouble in school. And outward frustration? That’s a rarity unless it involves siblings.
So when your student complains about a specific class, and whoever teaches it, you might find it alarming. Among other things, you’re wondering what’s caused your well-mannered student to turn into a soundtrack of hopelessness and frustration?
When your high schooler turns to hopelessness, take it as a sign they have hit a wall. In math, this might mean they’ve struggled with the jump from basic to advanced Algebra, while in English it might manifest itself in the leap from reading critically to understanding more complex literary devices like allegory and metaphors.
“When your high schooler turns to hopelessness, take it as a sign they have hit a wall."
Spending an Increased Amount of Time on Work
By the early high school years, your student likely has the outline of a homework routine—a period of time, somewhat consistent throughout the week, when they complete out of class work. Whether it’s after practice, before dinner, or even brushing shoulders with bedtime, it’s something you rarely have to nag them about.
It’s all well and good until you notice an increase in the time it takes to complete that work. Of course, it’s common for a new subject and new material to take some digesting, but if homework persistently takes one or two hours more than it used to, something might be up.
In which case, make a point to visit them periodically during homework time. Glance at their materials. Does it seem like they are always on the same topic?
If the answer is yes, then the culprit is likely gaps in their understanding of the concepts and subject matter they are working. If it’s no, the problem might be more fundamental—an inability to organize or problems with reading comprehension.
Not Spending Time on Things They Enjoy
Undoubtedly, there’s at least one thing that makes your child’s eyes beam. Whether it’s a skill that’ll make them lots of money some day, or just something that they’re passionate about for reasons beyond your understanding, it makes you happy when they’re happy.
Pay attention when the things that invigorate your child start to disappear from their schedule. It’s normal for kids not want to go to school, but when it becomes a battle to get them to skateboard, or play games, or code, deeper questions should arise.
“Pay attention when the things that invigorate your child start to disappear from their schedule."
Not doing the things they normally enjoy doing could be a sign of stress. Fun activities and hobbies are as necessary to teens as sleeping through their alarms. Why skip them? They might feel like they don’t have the time, in which case, they aren’t being productive with their study time or are bogged down by parts of their homework load.
Acting Out (or Out of Character)
You might hear stories of kids disrupting class and rebelling against authority in any way they can during school. And you think to yourself, “I’m glad (and lucky) that my child has a good head on those shoulders.” You’ve always appreciated your child’s intelligence, but it’s their behavior that really makes you thank the stars.
Until you notice your student becoming a little more sluggish. He has trouble remembering things, and looks more exhausted by the day. Or maybe it’s the opposite. They are a little more rambunctious than normal, uncharacteristically clashing with siblings and friends or getting into disciplinary trouble. Key responsibilities—class materials or assignments—are being ignored.
It’s a tale of two extremes. In one instance, they are getting overworked, cracking under the stress and as a result, withdrawing in frustration. In the latter, it’s either a lack of challenge, or a disconnect in how they need to be motivated and how they are being motivated.
A Dislike of Reading
You know reading is as crucial to long-term success as eating vegetables. That’s why you’ve taken the time to find articles about things they like, or maybe even purchase the hard-copy version of their favorite movie. Whether they actually like reading has never crossed your mind. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
But when you start to think about it, you don’t see your child reading anything that’s not a text message or push notification. And you wonder if they dislike reading. If so, why?
If you don’t ever see your child reading, dig deeper. Identify how they feel about reading. Is it frustrating? Or just boring? If it’s the former, it could be a struggle with reading comprehension that, when fixed, would enable them both in school and out. And if it’s boredom? If your teen thinks reading is “boring”, you’ve found a golden opportunity to spark an infectious curiosity. The kind that bolsters an excitement for learning into university and beyond.
“If your teen thinks reading is ‘boring’, it’s a golden opportunity to spark an infectious curiosity.”
Once you’ve surveyed the situation and are ready to approach your child, how should the conversation go? Start the dialogue with this list of honed but open-ended questions to help you determine healthy next steps.
If you suspect the issue revolves around content and concepts from a given class:
Why are you having a hard time with this?
Is there anything that interests you about this subject?
I understand that you don’t like it, but how can you succeed at this?
If you suspect the issue is with foundational skills or emotionally driven:
How can you take some of the ambition you have for [name activity] and transfer that to your schoolwork, which is also important?
What do you like about school? What do you dislike about school?
How can I help with your workload?
What can I do to relieve some of the pressure?
Gather as much of the story from your student as possible and don’t jump to conclusions. They need you, and they need you to listen. The best thing you can do—and you CAN do it—is be open and positive.
One thing is for sure: When you’re diligent about improving their scholastic experience, it pays off tenfold.