I'm veering off-topic today. Hope you don't mind.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 1 out of every 20 teens drops out of high school each year. Out of those who do remain in school, many others fail to achieve even average grades. School is a constant source of frustration for them, their teachers, and their parents. At the source of the problem lie various factors, which may include learning disabilities or ADHD, substance abuse, gang involvement, or poverty.
“These are the kids who are at risk,” says Anne Messersmith, former Addiction specialist with the Interagency Drug Abuse Recovery Program in Los Angeles, California. “People can sit back, point their fingers and judge, but they haven’t a clue what these kids go through. They give up on them.”
But is it possible to turn struggling students around? Messersmith believes it is. “The only way to change these kids is to build their self-esteem,” she says.
Beth Larsen, a high school resource instructor who specializes in teaching adolescents with learning problems, agrees. “These kids are sick of school,” she says. “It’s never easy and is a constant struggle. They often think ‘I got a bad grade, so I’m stupid,’ but intelligence isn’t the issue.”
For parents, having teens who do not live up to their expectations can be disappointing to say the least. Just getting them to do their homework, let alone stay in school, can be a challenge. According to Larsen, however, the greatest challenge is finding a way to motivate them.
“Teenagers aren’t motivated by the same external rewards as younger children,” she explains. “The best motivation comes from inside.”
Larsen often infuses her lessons with stories of successful people who have overcome the same challenges her students now face, such as her own cousin who never did well in school grade wise, but who, after attending culinary school, is now a leading chef working at an upscale restaurant.
Like Larsen, Messersmith also believes that kids need to recognize their own potential in order to succeed.
“You have to ask them what they want in life. What are their dreams? Help them reflect back to what their hopes and dreams were when they were children and go from there.”
Teens need to clearly see their goals, whether it is graduating from high school, going to college, or just passing the next big test. But kids who struggle with school cannot be expected to reach their goals alone. They need support from both parents and teachers. Below are seven ways to motivate struggling teens to stay on task:
- PAY ATTENTION – Parents often assume that teens do not need the same amount of attention they received when they were younger. But nothing could be further from the truth. “The most motivated students,” says Larsen, “are those whose parents sit with them during homework and do not ignore problems until it’s too late.”
- BE INVOLVED –Kids whose parents are involved in their lives often want to please their parents, which is a perfectly acceptable motivator. But all too often kids who struggle in school do not ask for help when they need it. Parents should be willing to help every time they do ask.
- COMMUNICATE – Parents should be aware of what is going on at school and what assignments their children have been given. Larsen advises parents to communicate regularly with teachers about their child’s progress. “Teachers want your child to succeed as much as you do.”
- DON’T MAKE EXCUSES – Sometimes parents enable their kid’s poor performance in school by laying the blame on that child’s disability or situation. Instead, parents ought to expect teens to be responsible for their own education, while keeping such expectations reasonable. “Parents should also set the example for their kids,” says Messersmith. “No double standards.”
- RECOGNIZE ACHIEVEMENTS – For teens who struggle in school, even the slightest improvement is an achievement. Praise your child for his efforts. Receiving recognition for accomplishments is a great motivator.
- CELEBRATE STRENGTHS – “We all have different abilities,” says Larsen. “Parents can motivate their teens to succeed by focusing on their strengths and helping them improve on their weaknesses.”
- NEVER GIVE UP – High school students who face academic challenges can sometimes feel like throwing in the towel. But with the love and support of their parents and teachers, even the most frustrated teen can set and meet goals. “It’s so much easier to give up,” says Messersmith, “but don’t get discouraged. Stand your ground.” The key, as Larsen reminds us, “is to never settle, but also don’t have crazy, unreachable goals.” In other words, set realistic goals and never stop helping your child attain them.