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Parent: What Does Parent Engagement Look Like in High School?

What Does Parent Engagement Look Like in High School?


You may be thinking, parent engagement in high school? Does this mean I’m supposed to go PTA meetings? We don’t have time for that anymore! Shouldn’t my students be learning how to be more self-sufficient, after all? Should I still be in "engaged"?

The parent/child relationship gets complicated in high school. As adolescents push and pull toward autonomy, there can be a lot of friction. Sometimes, as parents, we can misinterpret this a reason to NOT be involved, to let our children figure it out on their own.

 Yes, but that's because you are probably thinking of parent engagement a little too narrowly. Sure, going to PTA meetings is one way to do it. But look a little deeper.

Aren’t you going to sporting events or band concerts? And what about those conversations around the kitchen table where you urge your child to think about what college they want to go to. These are also types of parent engagement, and studies show they can have a measurable effect on your student’s academic achievement.

The parent/child relationship gets complicated in high school. As adolescents push and pull toward autonomy, there can be a lot of friction, especially around school, friends and time management. Don’t even get me started about the phone.

As parents, sometimes we can misinterpret this as s reason to NOT be involved, to let our children figure it out on their own. But, in fact, research has shown that parent involvement at every level of school is important and will positively impact student achievement.

So what can you do to support your high schooler?

  • Consider asking your school to form a parent committee or other decision making body. The simple fact is some of these suggestions won’t work without the school’s support. And you can give suggestions until you’re blue in the face, but unless schools are interested in actually giving parents a voice, it may be an exercise in frustration. Start with the principal and work your way up. (Read here about helping your school transition to “shared leadership.” (link coming soon))

  • Set aside a structured time to check in, face-to-face, with your teenager about school. Life is busy for teenagers. After-school activities, jobs, mounting homework, social time — you may feel like you hardly see each other. Work together as a family to find a time to check in and talk about school routinely. Too often we only check in to put out the fires, like missed assignments and truancy. But then tensions are high and conversations can quickly sour.

 Instead, check in every week and ask non-loaded questions like, “What are you working on _____class? What are you learning? What do you find challenging? How do you think this might help you in the future?”

 If you are genuinely interested in what your child is learning and doing in school, then you can naturally ask, “So how did that presentation on ______ go?” without it feeling like an inquisition.

  • You probably have high hopes and high expectations for your child. But does she know it? Lots of research shows that having an adult at home who communicates high expectations helps students perform better in school. But don’t stop with the expectation. Put the expectation into real action. Ask the school to host career nights (volunteer to be a speaker), college fairs, take-your- student-to-work-days, resumé-writing workshops, financial aid nights, college application writing parties, research nights, etc… Go to events at the local colleges, even if your child isn’t interested in going to that actual school. Seek out and use resources that will help your student have a vision of life beyond high school.

  • Invest in personal relationships with school staff. Regularly check in, personally, with teachers and counselors. Ask, multiple times, if your child is taking the classes he needs to be successful in their post-high school plans. In short, be the squeaky wheel (and the polite and gracious wheel, of course).

 Consider asking your school to implement a homeroom or advisory period that is the same throughout high school. This way each student and family will have at least one adult at the school that can be their “point person.”

Also, if your school hosts back-to-school nights, or “coffee talks” or any other informal gatherings, go. Your attendance means more than you think. 

  • High school is a time when those “soft-skills” such as time-management, project management, goal setting, personal responsibility, researching skills and working in a group can make a big difference in academic success. While you may not be able to help with chemistry homework, you can help with these life skills. Not exactly sure what guidance to give? Ask the school to help by running a family workshop on these skills.

  • Help your high schooler use their out-of-school time effectively. The truth is there are a lot of hours in the day and while teenagers are busy, they still manage to squeeze in, on average, 7 hours a day on screens. So have conversations about ways to use time effectively, the dangers of multitasking their way through homework, and the need for some digital quiet time. 

  • Help your child use technology wisely. Research has shown that technology, such as a smart phone, can actually positively affect your relationship with your child. But you can’t just text or “like” your way to a good relationship. You have to do some research to understand the social media your child is using.

Dr. Gehan EL Nabawy Ahmed Moawad suggests: “Parents need to educate themselves about social media and the ways their teens may use it, as well as the common risks, to help them understand and navigate the technologies. Moreover, family discussions are positive for teens and can result in less risky online behaviors.”

Yep, sign up for an Instagram account and commit in that weekly meeting to talk about technology use. And/or ask the school to help by hosting a roundtable discussion for all parents to share ideas for helping your teens navigate the online world.

  • High-school students are at stage where they are proving to themselves and the adults around them that they are growing into capable and successful adults. So high schools should give them an opportunity to showcase real skills. If your school doesn’t currently have a capstone project and other academic showcases, ask for one. This is a natural way for you to be involved as an audience member, judge or project mentor. It’s also a great way for seniors to show they are ready to transition into the world of adults.

Don’t let high school be a time to pull back from school involvement.  Continue to support your child’s academic success through parent advocacy, conversations with your child about school and about his future, and relationships with teachers and school administrators.

Start here: Set aside a time each week to check in with your high schooler. 

Challenge: Email the principal of your school and suggest a topic for a parent class or two that would be helpful.

Originally published on the Power of Moms.

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