School: Making the Most of It
Kathleen A. Olson, Extension Educator — Family Relations
Revised 2011. Reviewed February 2017 by author.
Almost a third of your child’s life is spent in school. Other than family, school is the most important influence on your child’s life. And one of the most powerful impacts on teens’ school performance is the connection they feel to their school. Feeling connected means that students have a sense of belonging and feel close to people, including teachers. Attachment to school is associated with reduced alcohol, cigarette, and marijuana use; lower rates of sexual activity; fewer thoughts about or attempts at suicide; and lower levels of violent behavior.
Parents Make a Difference
Research shows children do better in school and have more positive attitudes about it when their parents are involved in school life. Many parents become less involved with school activities as their children move on to high school, yet teenagers benefit when their parents show interest. There are many ways for you to get involved.
When parents set high expectations for their children’s school performances, teens are more likely to meet those expectations. When teens work toward their “personal best,” which does not mean “perfection,” they are less likely to become depressed or involved in harmful violent, sexual, or drug-related behaviors. Teens whose parents expect them to make school a priority are much more likely to do well in school. Students whose parents expect them to attend college are more likely to do so.
Build a partnership with teachers so your teen sees you working with teachers, not against them.
- Ask what format your school prefers to communicate with parents. Share with teachers the method of communication that works best for you.
- Keep in touch with your teen’s teachers and other school staff such as principals or counselors. Knowing teachers’ names and subject areas is an important first step.
- Make the family-teacher connection early in the school year, before any problems arise.
- Take advantage of school open houses or parent-teacher conferences. Ask teachers specific questions about curriculum, their expectations of students, what you can do to support both the teacher and your child, and the opportunities you will have for future communication.
Students become connected and committed to school by taking part in extracurricular activities and sports. Many young people find they have talents in areas outside of the classroom and need support to develop them. Encourage your child to join school activities. Ask your teen’s teachers to encourage involvement. If your teen is already involved, show your support by attending school events.
Volunteer in the School
School staff can always use an extra hand. Here are some opportunities to volunteer your time.
- As a chaperone for field trips and other outings.
- As a tutor for students who need extra help.
- Assisting at school sporting events and other events.
- Becoming a resource for career classes by talking to students about your job.
- Joining committees for special projects, like selecting educational materials or assisting in budget matters.
- Joining a parent-teacher association or organization (PTA or PTO)
- Joining a music or athletic booster group.
Involve Both Parents
Research shows that youth do better when both parents, if possible, are involved in school. In fact, young people are more likely to earn “A’s,” participate in extracurricular activities, and enjoy school if their fathers participate in their school life.
Encourage Involvement in Leadership Opportunities
Many schools offer programs for older students to serve as tutors or mentors to younger children. Being a “big buddy” to an elementary student may help a teen feel valued.
What Parents Can Do
- Set high expectations for school success. Help your teen set reasonable goals and work toward them. Tell teens that you believe in their abilities and that is why you expect success.
- Recognize your teen’s academic accomplishments. Don’t assume that because your teen is maturing, he or she doesn’t need or want attention from you. Sometimes, teens are pressured not to excel by peers, or to “just get by.” You can offset negative expectations with positive recognition.
- Create a positive home environment that encourages learning. Keep learning resources handy. These can be as simple as a dictionary and educational books from the library, and as elaborate as a computer with an encyclopedia software program. If possible, designate a comfortable, well-lit study place.
- Establish quiet time every night for studying, reading, or writing. Keep the time period consistent (for example, from 7 to 8 p.m.). Have everyone in your family participate to show the value you place on lifelong learning.
- Be especially supportive of your teen during transitional times, like when entering middle/junior or senior high school. Visit the school with your teen and meet with teachers.
- Talk with your teen about school and his classes and monitor his school attendance.
- Keep a calendar that lists school events, projects, and activities, as well as dates of family events.
- Use screens wisely. Limit teens’ use of smart phones, tablets, and computers. Monitor use of video games, social networking sites, and computers.
- Know how and where your kids spend free time, especially after school. Encourage your teen to be involved in productive activities when not in school, rather than “hanging out.”
Bempechat, J. (2000). Getting our kids back on track: Educating children for the future. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Christenson, S.L. (2004). The family-school partnership: An opportunity to promote the learning competence of all students. School Psychology Review, 33(1), 83-104.
Christenson, S. L., & Sheridan, S. M. (2001). School and families: Creating essential connections for learning. New York: Guilford Press.Van den Beck, J. (2004). Television viewing, computer game playing, and internet use and self-reported time to bed and time out of bed in secondary-school children. SLEEP, 27(1), 101-104.
School success: Families — Get tips for creating a supportive learning environment at home; helping your children transition into, between, and out of school; and strengthening your own relationships with your children to help them succeed in school.
Check & Connect School Engagement Program — Check & Connect is a comprehensive intervention designed to enhance student engagement at school and with learning for marginalized, disengaged students in grades K-12, through relationship building, problem solving and capacity building, and persistence.
National Dropout Prevention Center/Network — There is no one single answer, or silver bullet, to keeping students in school. The National Dropout Prevention Center has developed 15 effective strategies that help combat the dropout rate. Family involvement with the school and their children is vital.
NEA Parents' Resources — National Education Association — Adults have a lot of responsibilities in life, and one of the most important is supporting the education and growth of children. The resources on this website are provided to help ensure your child receives the best possible education.
National PTA: For Families — National PTA offers a variety of resources to assist families in their children's education. There are Parent's Guides for students in grades K-12, programs meant to strengthen diversity in schools and communities, health and safety initiatives, and ways to serve and provide a valuable education to children with special needs.