Many teenagers experience times when keeping up with schoolwork is difficult. These periods may last for several weeks and may result in social problems as well as a decline in academic performance.
Some adolescents get through these difficult times with minimal assistance from their parents or teachers. It may be enough for parents to listen to the teenager’s problems and suggest coping strategies, provide a supportive home environment, and encourage the teenager’s participation in extracurricular school activities.
However, when the difficulties last longer than a single grading period or are linked to a long-term pattern of poor school performance or problematic behaviors, parents and teachers may need to intervene.
Who's at Risk for Failure?
Some students may exhibit at-risk behaviors from the early elementary school years on; others may overcome early difficulties but could experience related problems during the middle or high school years. Still others may not exhibit at-risk behaviors until early adolescence.
To intervene effectively, parents and teachers need to know some common characteristics of adolescents at risk for school failure. These characteristics include:
When an adolescent exhibits more than one of these characteristics, he or she will likely need assistance from parents and teachers if he or she is to be successful in school. If parents and teachers step back and let these students "figure it out" or "take responsibility for their own learning,"this may lead to a deeper cycle of failure at school.
What Role Does Parenting Style Play?
Parenting style may affect a child’s school behavior. Many experts distinguish among permissive, authoritarian, and authoritative parenting styles. These parenting styles are associated with different combinations of warmth and support, and limit-setting and supervision for children.
The permissive style tends to emphasize warmth and support, and the authoritarian style tends to emphasize limit-setting and supervision. The authoritative style offers a combination of both warmth and support and limit-setting and supervision, and it has been identified as the parenting style that is more likely to encourage academic success in adolescents. Authoritative parents are warm and responsive but are also able to establish and enforce standards for their children’s behavior, to monitor conduct, and to encourage communication. Authoritative parents make it clear that they expect responsible behavior from their children and that they are available to support their children as needed.
How Should I Respond?
Parents often feel uncertain about how to approach their adolescent or the school when their teenager seems to be having difficulty. However, it is important to remember that adolescents need their parents not only to set appropriate expectations and boundaries, but also to advocate for them. Teachers can ease parents’ concerns by including the parents as part of the student’s educational support team. When an adolescent is having difficulty, parents can help by:
Understanding the factors that may put an adolescent at risk for academic failure can help parents and teachers to determine if a student is in need of extra help or support. Being aware of common problems can help parents know when it is important to reach out to the student before a "difficult time" develops into a more serious situation.
Where Can I Get More Information?
The following organizations offer information about at-risk students and about elementary and early childhood education:
ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education
University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign
Children’s Research Center
51 Gerty Drive
Champaign, IL 61820–7469
Toll Free: 800–583–4135
National Middle School Association
2600 Corporate Exchange Drive, Suite 370
Columbus, OH 43231
Toll Free: 800–528–NMSA (6672)
(Information provided by Educational Resources Information Center)