5. School

Your Teenager At School

With the start of the intermediate-grade years, school gradually becomes the epicenter of a youngster’s life. It is where he hones skills that are every bit as essential to his allaround development and future success as English, math, science and social studies, even if they don’t appear on a report card. These include critical thinking, problem solving, respecting authority (and, when appropriate, challenging it), asking questions, defending positions and learning to get along with one’s peers.

This article focuses on the many ways that parents can help teenagers to succeed both scholastically and emotionally. Studies show that children whose families take an interest in their education earn higher grades and test scores, miss fewer days of school, complete more homework, behave better and enjoy school more, and are more likely to graduate and matriculate to college. Let’s get started by taking an overview of the challenges that face your teenager as he moves from grade school to middle or junior high school and on to high school.

Transition No. 1: From Elementary School To Middle School

This is what the first day of junior high school can feel like to a child:

Imagine arriving at work Monday morning to discover that your company has merged with two others. You settle into your new office, but every forty-five minutes a bell rings, and you get chased out and have to take refuge in another office.

Although you recognize a few familiar faces, who are all of these strangers streaming through the hallways? Say, here comes your boss. And another one, somebody you’ve never met before. And another one. And another one. This is getting a little nerve-racking.

Well, at least you have your work as a computer programmer to fall back on. You’ve achieved a level of proficiency and feel reasonably confident that you can handle whatever comes your way. So why are you being handed a welding torch and goggles? You don’t know how to weld. Oh. Apparently, you’re about to learn. What’s that? You want to go home? But it’s not even lunchtime yet.

Advancing from elementary school to middle school can be disorienting at first. Everything seems so drastically different: scholastically, socially—even the structure of the day has changed. Youngsters face many more demands and are often thrown off-balance temporarily. Research compiled since the early 1980s shows that, on average, boys’ and girls’ grades plunge during their first year of junior high. Most eventually adapt and thrive. Others, however, fall into a rut of failure so deep, they never climb back out. The first step to preventing “middle school malaise” is for mothers and fathers to fully understand just how different this new learning environment is and how much is being asked of their son or daughter. Compared to elementary school, middle school offers fewer opportunities for decision making and classroom discussion, with more rote learning. Grades take on added importance; consequently, teenagers grow increasingly conscious of who is an student and who is a student.

Probably the most striking difference is the amount of homework given. In fourth grade, one in five students spend one to two hours or more per day on homework; roughly half knock off their assignments in under an hour. By eighth grade, one in three students are putting in one to two hours or more per day. Incoming middle schoolers find their adaptability, self-motivation and concentration put to the test like never before.


“In elementary school,” observes Dr. Coleman, “a child has the security of one, two, maybe three teachers for all of his subjects. Now he suddenly has a different teacher for each subject. That could mean five, six or seven different teaching styles, personalities and organizational demands.

“Kids also have to make what we call cognitive transitions extremely quickly. They go from, say, math to geography in the course of just a few minutes. The need to be adaptable in each of these settings is dramatic.”


Elementary school is a highly supportive environment for children. Beginning in middle school, students are expected to take more responsibility for themselves, from completing homework assignments, to having their own locker, to perhaps staying after school for an extracurricular activity. From here on, a youngster’s academic success will ride largely on his inner desire to do well. No amount of external motivation from parents and teachers can compensate for a lack of industriousness.


Teenagers must juggle all of these new demands in an environment buzzing with distractions. Each class fills up with a different set of students. While the possibilities for forming new friendships multiply in a larger, more diverse school, so do the potential opportunities for rejection. And what subject could compete with the daily drama of who’s hanging out with whom and its inevitable sequel, who’s not speaking to whom? Just finding their way through the hallways of the new building can be overwhelming initially.

The transition to junior high school is often when attention deficits and learning disorders that have gone undetected for years are finally recognized. Some children are intelligent enough or their disabilities mild enough that they can get through third and fourth grade—another critical juncture academically— and graduate from elementary school. But the heightened expectations of middle school may prove to be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Transition No. 2: From Middle School to High School

“In high school, students encounter a higher level of cognitive demands and achievement than what they were used to in middle school,” says Dr. Coleman, a former schoolteacher. The goal of attending college—which two in three high-school graduates will—is no longer a distant dream. Perhaps for the first time, youngsters may feel mounting pressure to achieve in order to get into the college of their choice.

Like the first year of middle school, the freshman year of high school marks a precarious point in a teenager’s academic career. According to the U.S. Department of Education, this is around the time that youngsters who’ve been struggling may drop out. An unhappy ninth-grade experience increases the odds of quitting before graduation.

5. School

When a Teen Wants to Drop Out

“I’m thinking of quitting school. I’ve never been a good student, and it’s not like I plan to become a doctor or a lawyer or anything like that. I want to be a master mechanic; maybe open up my own auto-repair shop someday.”

Most parents would probably be distraught if their youngster announced that he intended to drop out of high school. In today’s job market, not having a college degree can be a roadblock to many careers; lacking a high-school diploma closes off even more avenues. Overall, young people seem to understand the financial consequences of leaving school prematurely. From 1960 through 1996, the ratio of high-school dropouts among men and women ages sixteen to twenty-four declined steadily from about one in four to one in ten.

The law mandates that children must attend school until age sixteen. After that, neither parents nor school authorities have any legal recourse to prevent them from quitting. Some youngsters drop out to get married or because they’ve had a baby; others are eager to get a head start on earning a regular paycheck. However, it’s probably accurate to say that the vast majority are relieved to cut short their high-school years, which they often spent adrift, bored and socially isolated. For them, exiting the school doors may very well be the first step toward finding their direction in life. Let’s be honest: Not everyone is scholastically minded or meant to work at a so-called white-collar job. Other opportunities await. These youngsters can learn a trade or cultivate a talent in the arts, athletics or some other endeavor, and go on to become as successful and fulfilled as their peers with diplomas.

The parents of a youngster at this crossroads must assess his strengths and weaknesses honestly. If the proper educational program or extra assistance were provided, could he raise his school performance to an acceptable level? Or would pressuring him to stay in school merely prolong a futile, and possibly damaging, situation?

What You Can Do

To the youngster who is considering quitting school, point out the widening gulf between the earnings of high-school dropouts versus high-school graduates, and between high-school graduates and college graduates. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the median annual income of men who quit high school was just $13,961 in 1993. High-school graduates earned $20,870; men with some college under their belts, $23,435; and college grads, $32,708. Among women, the gap between median salaries for high-school dropouts and college grads was even wider: $7,674 and $26,043, respectively. Women who only graduated high school earn salaries 5 percent lower than those who graduated from college. What’s more, three in five recent highschool graduates not enrolled in college were employed, compared to just two in five recent high-school dropouts.

Work with the school staff to improve your child’s school experience. Perhaps your youngster would be interested in a work-study program, which allows her to gain practical experience in a field that appeals to her while continuing with school.

To give you an example, the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), located in Maryland, hires local high-school seniors to work sixteen to twenty-five hours per week in one of four areas, including accounting and clerical work. The students receive salaries, as well as sick leave and an option to participate in the NSA’s health- and life-insurance programs. Private companies, too, arrange similar programs with high schools. A member of the guidance-counseling staff should be able to route you to the person in charge of coordinating workexperience programs. Investigate all options before a teen drops out of school.

Once a teenager has made up his mind to drop out of school, be supportive— but don’t support him financially! If he lives at home, insist that he pay for room and board as well as cover his car insurance and other personal expenses. This is important, even though the average high-school dropout earns just $270 a week.

When parents let a grown child live at home rent-free, they’re feeding the adolescent’s fantasy that she is independent and self-supporting. They’re also smothering any incentive for moving up, not to mention moving out. Mom and Dad need to impose a reality check. The realization that her paycheck barely stretches far enough to cover necessities—never mind having money left over for recreation and luxuries—may be the impetus that motivates a dropout to become one of the 750,000 or so adults who earn a general equivalency diploma (GED) each year. With rare exception, employers hire GED graduates on the same basis as high-school grads. In fact, one in seven men and women who receive their high-school diploma do so by passing the GED tests, which cover writing skills, social studies, literature and the arts, and mathematics.

That’s important for discouraged parents to remember: A teenager’s quitting school doesn’t necessarily spell the end of her education. Through entering the workforce, she may discover a career that she enjoys, and decide to get her GED and a college degree in order to advance herself. According to the American Council on Education, two in three GED test-takers plan to enter a college, university, trade school, technical school or business school the following year.

5. School

What to Do If Your Child is Falling Behind in School

What to do when your child is falling behind in school

Regardless of your child’s age, the occasional school struggle is normal. But when that struggle becomes a pattern, it often raises concern―from parents and/or teachers.

If you suspect something isn’t quite right, trust your instincts and speak up!

Talk with Your Pediatrician  

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends talking with your child’s pediatrician about any school struggles. A child’s lack of academic progress is often a symptom of more complex issues such as various types and combinations of behavioral, psychological, and learning difficulties. Social stress, illness, and chronic medical problems may also play a role.

Not sure when to bring up concerns? 

Your child’s yearly checkup is a good time.

Pediatricians track your child’s growth and development at yearly checkups ―this includes academic growth since your last visit. To prepare for these checkups, make a list of topics you want to talk about such as school readiness, behavior problems, sleep issues, eating troubles, or mental health concerns. Bring them up with your pediatrician at the start of the visit.

FACT: Undiagnosed or poorly controlled chronic illnesses in children―such as asthma and type 1 diabetes―are linked with worsening academic performance, as well as poor school attendance. The AAP recommends talking with your pediatrician about developing a school action plan for managing your child’s condition at school.

Dig deeper for clues.  

Learn about specialty referrals and evaluations.

Your pediatrician may refer your child for psychological and educational evaluations to explore possible neurodevelopmental and language disorders, learning and intellectual disabilities, emotional health issues, and sources of stress. Don’t be alarmed if you receive a referral!

These in-depth evaluations can be done by professionals such as developmental-behavioral pediatricians, pediatric neuropsychologists, child neurologists, child psychiatrists, child psychologists, as well as speech and language pathologists, pediatric occupational therapists, and pediatric physical therapists.

Results from these evaluations can help determine why your child struggles in school, help you understand what your child needs, and offer strategies that could help and support your child.

Get Support at School

After an evaluation, pediatricians can help families request and advocate for the best Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan at the child’s school. The IEP spells out your child’s academic goals and outlines the exact education, services, and extra support the school district will provide.

Helping your child get back on track takes teamwork.

When a child is falling behind in school, a team-based approach between the family, the school, and the child’s healthcare providers is important. You and your child are the center of that team. 

Great teams are built on effective communication. And parents are often the ones whose shoulders it falls on to make sure all information is shared between everyone on your child’s healthcare team.

Know you are not alone on this parenting journey.An estimated that 6.6 million or 13% of total public school enrollment are supported by U.S. special education programs.In the 2017-18 school year, the most common conditions among children in these programs included:Specific learning disability (35%)Speech or language disorders (20%)Health conditions (13%)Autism spectrum disorder (9%)Intellectual disability (6%)Developmental delay (6%)Hearing, orthopedic and visual impairments, traumatic brain injuries & other (less than 2% each)

Be Patient with the Process

Resolving these kinds of complex issues can be a long and difficult process. As your child’s best advocate, you may need to consider test results, reflect on available choices, and work with your child’s healthcare team to make a plan that allows your child to reach his or her fullest potential. It may take time, and patience is key to keeping stress under control.

(And don’t forget to involve your child in any decision-making processes, if he or she is old enough; this can help build-up any self-esteem lost from falling behind in school).

​Some Health & Developmental Conditions thatCan Affect a Child’s Progress at School
Specific learning disabilitiesDifficulty in understanding or using language, causing struggles with listening, thinking, speaking, reading, writing, spelling, and/or doing math.
Heart, blood & circulatory systemPremature birth related bleeding inside the brainCongenital heart diseaseIron deficiency anemiaSickle cell anemia
Blood clotting disorders
Infectious diseasesMeningitis/encephalitis and certain infections passed from mother to baby
TraumaConcussion or head trauma with brain injuryChild abuse and neglectTraumatic stress
Toxic exposurePrenatal exposure to alcohol (FASD)
Lead and/or other environmental toxinsSubstance use
Attention, affective/mood, autism, and related disorders Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)DepressionAdjustment disordersGeneralized anxiety, separation anxiety, school phobiaAutism Spectrum Disorder
NeurologicIntellectual disabilitiesSeizuresMotor coordination disordersTourette syndrome
SocialPovertyHungerFrequent school absences, truancyParental/family mental health problems, substance use, domestic violenceSeparation and divorce, death of a loved one
Poor school- or teacher-child fitBullying, difficulty making friends, cyberbullyingMilitary deployment of a family member or loved one
Foster care/adoption
SensoryVision problemsHearing loss
SleepSleep hygiene problemsObstructive sleep apnea
Speech and languageReceptive expressive language and speech disordersLearning English as a second languageSocial communication disorder
Chronic diseasesAsthma
Diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2)Thyroid diseaseEczemaDental caries (cavities)
Childhood cancer-relatedAbnormal growths or neurologic effects of prior chemo- or radiation therapy treatment
OtherA number of additional issues can range from medication side effects to complicated genetic disorders and congenital abnormalities. 
5. School

Making Friends in High School

“I don’t have any friends. At school, everyone’s always making fun of me.” Few words are as painful to hear from a child of any age. Being unpopular during adolescence, however, can inflict deep, long-lasting psychological wounds. Youngsters who grow up as social outcasts may be more likely to misbehave, feel depressed and do poorly in school. What’s more, the damage to self-esteem can haunt them into adulthood.

When a youngster lacks friends, parents should be concerned regardless of whether she complains about her situation.

What You Can Do

Talk to her. Begin by saying that you’ve noticed that she spends a lot of time on her own, and ask if this is making her unhappy. Reassure her that many of her classmates probably feel just as uncertain of themselves as she does. It’s often effective to share a story about yourself, past or present. Kids generally assume that Mom and Dad glided through adolescence problem-free. This misconception fuels the eternal teenage cry, “You just don’t understand!” Oh yes we do, more than they’d ever imagine. Want to be a hero? Let them know how much you do understand:

“You know, honey, when I’m at business conventions, I have to make conversation with total strangers. Sometimes it comes easily to me, but other times I can’t seem to think of a single thing to say, and I get all nervous and feel like I’m going to pass out.”

Your teen may secretly be relieved that you noticed her loneliness. On the other hand, she may feel embarrassed and stubbornly deny that a problem exists. Don’t give up. Ask your child’s teachers, and any other adults who spend time around her, for their frank assessments of how she relates to others. What are her strengths and weaknesses? Does she tend to be overly shy around her peers, afraid to initiate friendships? Aggressive and bossy? Hostile and defensive? Add their input to your own observations.

Role-play different scenarios with your teen. Kids may act inappropriately in a social situation simply because they don’t know how to behave. In roleplaying, you set a scene and model socially acceptable alternatives. Concentrate on the areas where he seems to need the most help. Does he tend to stay on the sidelines and avoid group activities? Have a reputation for being a sore loser? Maybe he overreacts to teasing, as in the following example:

“Let’s say you drop a pass in touch football, and that smart-mouth kid Kevin who’s always bothering you says something sarcastic like, ‘Hey, good hands!’ Now, you could get mad and scream at him or take a swing at him, but that’s not going to win you any friends or make the other kids want to play with you. Instead, why not disarm Kevin with humor, by poking fun at yourself: ‘Yeah, I coat my hands with axle grease before every game.’

“Or you could return the insult, but with a smile on your face: ‘Gee, thanks so much for pointing that out, Kev. Love you too, dude.’

“Or you could ignore him. You really want to look cool? Keep your mind on the game and try to catch the next pass. That would be the sweetest revenge of all.

“Once you stop reacting to teasing, you take all the fun out of it. After a while, you probably won’t get teased as much.”

Play several more scenes, this time with you in the antagonist’s role and your child starring as himself. See how he does; offer positive feedback. Encourage him to try out these new responses the next time someone teases him. Follow up in a week or two to see if they made a difference.

Help your teenager improve his conversational skills. Most children who don’t fare well with peers are sensitive about their social limitations. They’re so used to editing themselves (What do I say to him? What if I sound stupid? ), that they often develop the equivalent of stage fright and say nothing at all.

Few of us are naturally gifted raconteurs, but the art of communication can be learned. The keys to being a good conversationalist are curiosity and generosity—inquiring about other people’s lives and interests, then giving them your undivided attention. There’s one subject that everyone is an authority on and will talk about endlessly: themselves. This is particularly true of adolescents.

Plan structured, pressure-free activities. For a youngster who feels socially inept, just hanging out at home with a friend can be stressful. To ease his anxiety and to help everyone have a better time, his parents will need to supervise these casual get-togethers more closely than is normally necessary.

Ask your teen if he would like to invite a friend over on a weekend afternoon for some structured activity. Dr. Jellinek, a father of four, suggests taking them to a movie, the ballet, the circus, a zoo, a museum, a sporting event—“anything that deflects the one-to-one time between the child and his friend.” Sitting side by side as spectators gives kids something to talk about during and afterward, but eliminates the need for constant conversation.

If you’re looking for something physical for them to do together, choose a noncompetitive pastime that plays to your child’s strengths and promotes sharing and cooperation. Avoid solitary activities or those that involve large groups. Examples include bike riding, ice-skating, in-line skating, rowing or canoeing, skateboarding, snowboarding, skiing, swimming, golf and martial arts.

Err on the side of making the activity too short rather than too long. Right now, the goal is to help your child relax and have fun, and to establish a pattern of successful relationships. “Once your teen begins to feel more comfortable dealing with free time,” Dr. Jellinek continues, “you gradually withdraw the structure. For instance, if the movie goes well, you might try giving him money to go to the shopping mall for an hour or two with his friend—not six hours. Then you might suggest that they go out together for a bite to eat. You also gradually encourage them to increase the time that they spend together.”

Enlist the cooperation of teachers, coaches, camp counselors and group activity leaders such as scoutmasters. Describe your teenager’s difficulties with socializing, and request that they pay a little extra attention to her. If you’ve discovered some strategies that seem to help your youngster in group situations, let them know, and ask that they keep you apprised of her progress.

Encourage your teen to join a club or group activity that appeals to him, whether it’s through the school system or through religious or community organizations. There he’s more likely to meet kids who share a common interest or purpose—always a promising foundation for new friendships.

Do not force a child to participate in an activity against his will. The goal is to set him up for success.

Seek the help of a professional. A number of child psychologists, psychotherapists and counselors specialize in social-skills development, with sessions conducted one-on-one or in a small group. Approaches vary somewhat, but most programs employ many of the techniques described here, such as role-playing. One benefit of the group setting is that the youngsters learn from and root for one another. Friendships often bloom, which in itself is therapeutic. For some kids, the social-skills group provides the support and acceptance that’s been missing from their lives.

Your child’s pediatrician may be able to refer you to professionals trained in this area. Or, call around to local mental-health providers and ask if they offer social-skills instruction. Ideally, the boys and girls in the group should be no more than two years apart in age.

5. School

Helping Your Teen Succeed In School

Helping a teenager get ready for school is not unlike training a boxer, only this bout takes place five times a week from September through June. It’s our job to make sure that he is mentally prepared and alert, and takes good care of himself physically. The following strategies will help your child to be at his best come the morning bell.

Creature Comforts

Feeling groggy lessens our ability to absorb and retain information. Contrary to what many parents believe, older adolescents need more sleep than younger teens, not less. But even a full night’s slumber may not prevent a boy or girl from nodding off during first or second period.

As with so many other idiosyncrasies of adolescence, biology is to blame. Sleep researchers at the E. P. Bradley Hospital Sleep Research Laboratory in Providence, Rhode Island, discovered that older teenagers’ brains secrete the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin an hour later than when they were in their early teens. Not only does this forestall the onset of sleep, it robs them of an hour or so of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the final and most restful phase of the sleep cycle.

If your child is well organized and willing to prepare for school the night before, consider allowing some extra sleep in the A.M.

Developing Good Homework and Study Habits

The children who endure the rockiest adjustment from elementary school to middle school tend to believe that basic intelligence is unalterable: Either you’re born with smarts or you’re not. Success or failure is seen as being all but predestined, not a product of hard work.

Teenagers who appreciate the importance of applying themselves have a far easier time, even if they’re low on self-confidence. They’re more willing to tackle the subjects that give them the most trouble. Parents can help in this regard by pointing out how a diligent effort often spells the difference between success and failure. “An eighty-nine on your geometry test? Way to go! See what you’re capable of when you put your mind to it? We’re really proud of you.”

Create An Environment That Is Conducive To Doing Homework

Youngsters need a permanent work space in their bedroom or another part of the home that offers privacy. Think mini-office. Buy a desk with drawers for storage and enough space for spreading out homework materials comfortably. Be sure that the entire room is well lit, not just the workstation, that your youngster has a comfortable chair and that all the supplies he needs are right there—a dictionary, thesaurus and any other essential reference books should also be within reach.

When the lure of the TV keeps overpowering the will to work, establish a household rule that the set stays off during homework time. (At least one study has found that the sound of a television, even from another room, interferes with retention of information and skills.) If a member of the family has a particular program she wants to watch, it can always be videotaped for viewing later. There are youngsters who claim they can study to music without losing their concentration. The quality of the work will tell you whether or not to let this practice continue. Although a private area for homework is best for your teen, make sure that any work that needs to be done on a computer is done in a common area of your home. This way, you can monitor his Internet usage.

Set Aside Ample Time For Homework

In high school, the late-afternoon hours often fill up with extracurricular activities, sports, part-time jobs and so on. Most days, homework now takes place after dinner. Usually this works out fine since the older teen’s changing sleep rhythm allows him to stay alert relatively late at night. But if there aren’t enough hours in the night for homework, then you might want to ask the school to include a study hall in your child’s day, or, failing that, suggest that he cut back on extracurricular activities or hours spent on a job.

Be Available To Answer Questions and offer Assistance. But Never Do A Child’s Homework For Him

Asking for help isn’t a sign of laziness, it’s one of the ways that adolescents learn. They have a broad range of subjects to master—a fact that adults don’t always appreciate. Dr. Lia Gaggino, a pediatrician from Kalamazoo, Michigan, says sympathetically, “We expect kids to be good at everything: reading, language, composition, math, spelling, memorization. It’s comforting for them to know that they’re not totally on their own and that parents are there to assist them. Let’s face it: Very few adults get through their day without somebody helping them.”

How Much Homework Is Too Much?

It’s one thing when a child’s procrastinating stretches one hour of homework into three. But if a teenager is burning the midnight oil night after night, the workload being assigned may be excessive. Homework aids comprehension by reinforcing concepts learned in school and imprinting information in the brain. One guideline sometimes used is ten minutes of homework per day per grade level: an hour for sixth graders, an hour and a half for ninth graders, two hours for high-school seniors and so on. A ten-year study found that anything more than that does not result in significantly higher test scores.

Show That You Value Learning

From an early age, children receive a stream of negative messages about school. How many movies, TV shows and commercials geared toward young people depict classrooms as penitentiaries run by sadistic teachers who delight in tormenting their terminally bored students?

We need to impart to youngsters a love of knowledge. Learning shouldn’t be a chore, but an adventure that enriches our lives. Mothers and fathers are in the best position to seize everyday opportunities for opening children’s minds to new ideas and experiences. To hear a teenager speak excitedly about something he’s just learned or had never considered before is one of the pleasures of parenting.

Let’s also instill in our youngsters an appreciation of the value of hard work and the pride that comes with a job well done, whether it’s pulling an on a chemistry test or stocking the shelves at the local minimart. One recurrent complaint of employers and managers is that too many young people feel it’s “degrading” to start at the bottom and work their way up. Adolescents need to hear that every job, no matter how menial, benefits society in some way and deserves a full effort. A diligent work ethic coupled with the right skills will make your teenager an attractive applicant when it comes time for him to enter the job market.

Encourage Reading

According to a study of approximately thirty-five hundred children and their families, children who read more do better on verbal and math tests. Each week the average boy or girl spends about twelve hours watching television and seventy-five minutes reading. Researchers at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research found that each additional hour spent reading translated into half a point higher test scores. In contrast, each additional five hours of TV viewing were reflected in math and verbal test scores half a point lower.

Consider Buying or Leasing a Computer

Between 1993 and 1997, the percentage of high-school students who had access to a computer at home rose from 29 percent to 49 percent. The computer has become an indispensable tool in our society and a ubiquitous presence both in schools and in the workplace. As youngsters grow older, they play fewer games on the computer and turn to the technology more for learning and word-processing. If you can’t afford a computer, schools and public libraries almost always have systems available for use at no charge.

If Your Teenager Has a Part-Time Job, Set A Limit On How Many Hours She Can Work

About half of all high-school students and college students work part time. Conventional wisdom says that after-school employment teaches responsibility and builds character. While that may be so, the number of hours worked can be a problem. Psychologist Laurence Steinberg of Pennsylvania’s Temple University and Elizabeth Cauffman analyzed dozens of studies, including several of Dr. Steinberg’s own, and concluded that twenty hours per week appears to be the border line. Cross it, and adolescents are more likely to exhibit emotional distress, school misconduct and alcohol and other drug use.

Academic performance, too, is affected. Students who put in long hours tend to have lower grades, miss more days of school, have difficulty staying awake in class, participate in fewer extracurricular activities and derive less enjoyment from school and less satisfaction in general. Yet one out of every two high-school seniors and one out of every three full-time college students works more than twenty hours per week.

The Child Labor Coalition of the National Consumers League, a private, nonprofit consumer-advocacy organization, suggests the following guidelines for hours, late-night hours and supervision:

Fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds:

  • No more than three hours per day and fifteen hours per week during the school year
  • No more than eight hours per day and forty hours per week during the Summer

Sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds:

  • No more than four hours per day and twenty hours per week during the school year
  • No more than eight hours per day and forty hours per week during the summer
  • No working before 7 A.M. or after 10 P.M.

To register a complaint regarding wages, work hours or illegal work by youngsters under eighteen, contact your local wage and hour office. You’ll find its telephone number under the “Department of Labor” in the “State Offices” section of the White Pages’ Government Listings. Each state’s department of labor also maintains a Web site.

Get Involved In Your Teenager’s School

When children leave the security of elementary school, parents may assume that their involvement is no longer needed. But it is more important than ever to attend parent-teacher conferences and to contact individual instructors, even if there are no apparent problems. Youngsters perform better in school when their families are kept apprised of their progress. In addition, parents can gain information about their teens’ strengths, which can be important in encouraging their adolescents.

Nowadays much of the interaction between parents and teachers takes place over the telephone. “Teachers are harder to get a hold of than doctors,” jokes Dr. Coleman, M.D., “because they don’t wear beepers!” He suggests that when there’s an urgent matter to take up with a teacher, send in a polite note asking her to call you at home in the evening.

Most will be agreeable; they understand that working parents may not have any other occasion to talk. (For that matter, a teacher’s responsibilities leave them few breaks for lengthy conversations during the day.) Parents, in turn, shouldn’t overlook the fact that many teachers are working moms and dads too. In your note, specify what you wish to discuss, then stick to your point, so that you’re not taking up more time than you need to.

About half of all parents of school-age children belong to a parents’ group such as the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) or the smaller Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO). It’s a wonderful idea, and not only because the meetings and other functions provide opportunities to help shape school policies. By attending, you get to know the teachers, some of whom may have your youngster in their class. As a recognizable face, and someone who is perhaps perceived as a cooperative, concerned parent, you may be privy to more information about your youngster’s in-school performance and behavior than the parent who is rarely if ever seen.

5. School

Helping Girls Overcome the Education Gender Gap

Young girls frequently experience a crisis of confidence beginning in early adolescence, when self-esteem is inextricably bound to their changing physical appearance and body image. A survey of seven thousand teenage girls and boys in grades five through twelve found that girls’ insecurity tends to intensify as they get older. According to the poll, from the Commonwealth Fund, only two in five high-school girls described themselves as highly self-confident, while one in four claimed they either disliked or hated themselves.

Boys’ egos, too, take a bruising during the teen years. But a girl’s rickety self-esteem is more likely to contribute to an overall decline in scholastic performance beginning with junior high school. A groundbreaking poll of students ages nine to fifteen contended that both our educational system and our culture unintentionally discourage girls from developing interests in science, math and other academic pursuits. The survey was commissioned by the American Association of University Women (AAUW).

A second AAUW report, made public the following year, expanded on the original findings. “How Schools Shortchange Girls” charged that from kindergarten through grade twelve, girls’ educations are inferior to those of boys. The researchers revealed that girls are called on less in class, ask fewer questions, spend less hands-on time in computer labs and science labs, and generally are accorded less attention from teachers. Furthermore, school curricula often underplay women’s roles throughout history or promote female stereotypes, while gender bias plagues many standardized tests.

What You Can Do

Teach Your Daughter Not To Let Gender Dictate Her Interests and Aspirations

Why are girls only half as likely as boys to use a computer? Certainly not because they’re less capable. The major reason for the discrepancy is that girls aren’t encouraged to master technology to the same extent that boys are. Computer science is still viewed predominantly as a male calling, just as the nursing profession remains largely the domain of females. Although gender gaps have narrowed in medicine, law, and business, only 6 percent of women are in careers that would be considered nontraditional.

To broaden your daughter’s opportunities in life, nurture interests that run counter to male-female stereotypes. A girl should be complimented on more than looks; her intellect and athletic prowess deserve no less praise than you would shower on a boy. Below are other ways to create a household free of gender bias:

  • Mom, you go cheer on Brother at his next hockey game; Dad, you attend Sis’s concert with the middle-school band.
  • See to it that sons and daughters have equal access to computers and other forms of technology.
  • Put a stop to brothers and sisters hurling insults based on gender. Example: “You want to borrow my free weights? But you’re a girl! You couldn’t bench-press twenty pounds!”
  • Model equality in your marriage. For instance, on weekends let Dad handle the cooking and cleaning in between his other responsibilities, while Mom gets to do the mowing and other outdoor work. The point is to show children that neither sex has to be confined to rigid husband-wife roles. You’re also providing them with a wonderful example of a true partnership.
  • Similarly, if you have a teenage son and daughter, assign household chores equitably, not according to sex. There’s no reason that he can’t babysit younger siblings now and then, and she is no less capable of taking out the garbage.

Support Your Daughter’s Independence and Assertiveness

Long-held sexual stereotypes die hard, evidently, for women still must contend now and then with the lingering perception that assertiveness, independence and intelligence are somehow incompatible with being feminine. In the worlds of junior high and high school, a teenager who is unsure of herself may take this to heart in an effort to fit in among her peers. It can be puzzling to parents and teachers when a girl’s competitiveness and self-assurance are replaced by passivity and a reluctance to voice opinions.

You can help your daughter withstand the pressure to suppress her natural intelligence by providing her with opportunities to make decisions, encouraging her to speak her mind, and teaching her how to do things for herself, such as changing the tires on the car.

Counter The Mixed Messages That Girls Receive About Women’s Worth In Society

The women’s liberation movement that took root in the 1970s raised women’s expectations of themselves. Yet TV, films and magazines continue to inundate girls (and boys) with narrow images of women—the majority unnaturally shapely and attractive.

“Girls don’t get to see many role models of intellectual, achievement-oriented women,” observes Dr. William Lord Coleman. Search for positive women role models—say, a biography of the First Lady, or a female astronaut, comedian or business executive. But also point out possible role models she actually knows, like yourself. Discuss incidents of sexism that you’ve faced and how you surmounted them. If you went through a phase as a teenager where you tried not to appear “too smart,” tell her about it.

Finally, encourage both your sons and daughters to pursue their particular interests. Give them opportunities to try a number of different things and try to avoid pitching them on specific activities just because they fit a stereotype or run counter to it.

5. School

Gifted Students

Interestingly, students who are gifted may face many of the same stresses as do teens with learning deficits. In fact, they experience more anxiety and depression than all other social groups of youngsters, while boys and girls with genius-level IQs are at extremely high risk of abusing drugs.

It’s really not all that surprising. Intelligence is not as valued during adolescence as it is later in life, which can set these youngsters apart from their peers. Their social skills may be stunted, and not just because they’re isolated: Extremely bright children sometimes expend so much energy cultivating their intellect, they neglect their “emotional intelligence.” Then there’s the practical matter of being out of the social loop much of the time; youngsters who are gifted spend an average of thirteen hours a week honing their talent. Other children who are gifted may have such advanced social skills that they relate better to adults than to their peers.

Parallels between gifted students and those who are learning disabled don’t end there. Their potential, as measured by intelligence tests, doesn’t always lead to school success, much to their parents’ dismay. One reason may be that these youngsters are bored, their curiosity and imaginations untapped; or, desperate to fit in, they may deliberately sabotage their academic success. They’ll act dumb, pretend to be stumped by teachers’ questions in class and so forth.

If that describes your youngster, you have a right to be concerned. There are a number of ways parents can help a child who is gifted, both at home and at school, such as:

Demand that advanced placement classes be made available in high school, to keep gifted boys and girls stimulated intellectually and to let them get a jump on racking up college-level credits.

Investigate after-school or weekend enrichment programs, either at your child’s school or perhaps at a local community college.

Find him a mentoring or tutoring program, in which he assists and befriends younger students who need help with their schoolwork.

Stock your bookshelves at home with reading material that will both challenge and entertain him.

Request that the school district test your child for giftedness. Although children who are gifted do not have protection under federal law as do students with learning disabilities, most states have some form of legislation to serve gifted youngsters. If a school district refuses to assess a child presumed to be gifted, or parents are dissatisfied with the academic program for their son or daughter, they may have their case heard by an impartial hearing officer, in much the same way that parents of learning-disabled children can challenge decisions made regarding an IEP (individualized education plan).

As proud as you are of your child’s giftedness, never lose sight of the fact that teens need to have friends and to feel reasonably accepted by their peers. At the same time, encourage her love of learning. Remind her that with the start of college, she’ll be entering a world where being smart isn’t equated with being a dweeb—it’s considered cool! 

5. School

Disputes Over Grades

“Here it is!” Seventeen-year-old Michelle proudly hands her father her analysis of the use of metaphor in the works of Charles Dickens.

When Dad finishes reading, he lets out a whistle, genuinely impressed. “Wow! You did some terrific job here, honey!” he exclaims. “If any paper deserves an A, this one certainly does.”

So he’s as stunned as she is when the following week she shows him the returned composition, which bears a B-minus marked in red pencil.

“A B-minus, can you believe it, Daddy?!” Frankly, no, he can’t.

“Now I probably won’t get an in English!” she frets. “I absolutely, definitely have to get an A, or how else am I going to get into the English lit program at State University?”

What You Can Do

A parent might be tempted to challenge the grade. But before reaching for a pen or for the telephone, keep in mind that as parents, we’re not always in the best position to evaluate the quality of our youngster’s work. Not only are we inclined to see it in the best possible light, but we may not have a context in which to judge it. For instance, when the father in the above scenario speaks to the teacher, he’s surprised to hear the instructor agree that Michelle’s composition on Charles Dickens was extremely well written.

But as the teacher patiently explains, she didn’t address the main objective of the assignment, which was to make the case that Dickens was an important commentator on his time. The fact that Michelle slaved over the paper for two weeks is immaterial; her effort was misdirected. Furthermore, she included only eight of the ten required sources, did not follow standard footnote form and overlooked several misspellings and grammatical errors. Hence, her grade of B-minus.

5. School

Conflicts with the Teacher

“I don’t know why, but my physics teacher has it in for me. He’s always trying to make me look stupid in front of the other kids. I can’t stand being in his class.”

For the record, we are avid supporters of teachers. Most of them are dedicated professionals who devote themselves to the welfare of children and are deserving of parents’ admiration and respect. Years from now, when your youngster reflects back on the adults who most inspired him while he was growing up—aside from Mom and Dad, naturally—one or more teachers will probably rank high on his list.

What You Can Do

The question many mothers and fathers have is, when if ever does a teacher’s action warrant parental intervention? Under certain circumstances, it is appropriate to speak up on your youngster’s behalf, particularly during the junior-high years. Legitimate gripes include a teacher’s humiliating a child in front of the class or not responding to a struggling student’s repeated requests for help.

In situations like these, approach the teacher first with your concerns. Explain the problem, refraining from accusatory or insulting language. Then allow the instructor to recount his version of events—which may differ appreciably from your teenager’s story. Ideally, a resolution is reached right then and there, but if not, take your complaint up the chain of command. Start with the guidance counselor or assistant principal, who can perhaps act as an intermediary. If this fails to produce a satisfactory solution, your next stop is the principal’s office. Rarely is it necessary to go any further.

Now change the setting to high school. At this point, youngsters are old enough to handle minor crises themselves. Offer advice, of course, but resist the urge to dash to the rescue. One of the central lessons of adolescence is coming to the realization that Mom and Dad can’t always make everything okay. Learning how to deal with disagreeable personalities, overbearing authority figures, small injustices—welcome to Life, kid.

5. School

Back to School: Tips to Help Kids Have a Healthy Year

Children are more likely to learn, thrive and develop appropriately and thrive when attending school in-person, alongside their peers. As classrooms reopen this fall, families can take steps to help keep their students healthy and in school.

The basics: sleep, exercise & nutrition

Begin with the basics, ensuring that students get nutritious meals, sufficient sleep and physical activity. All of these are key to academic and social success. Studies show that children who eat a nutritious breakfast function better at school, for example. Many children qualify for free or reduced-price food at school, including breakfast. The forms for these services can be completed at the school office.

Getting enough sleep is also critical to staying healthy and thriving at school. Not getting enough sleep can affect memory, concentration, creativity and learning. In fact, lack of sleep is linked with lower academic performance, school attendance and tardiness.

Stay up to date on immunizations & checkups

Make sure your child is up-to-date on their vaccines and gets a yearly check-up. If your child will be playing a sport, be sure to get a pre-participation (sports) exam. This type of exam also includes screening for mental health conditions. Your pediatrician can help you update any forms your child’s school may need in case of a medical emergency.

If you have health insurance coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), check that your contact information is up to date with your state Medicaid agency. This will ensure you get timely updates about your health coverage so you can avoid any gaps in coverage.The single most effective way to protect our children before they return to school is to make sure they are up to date on all of their immunizations.

We’ve seen a decline in vaccination rates nationally and are concerned about potential outbreaks of life-threatening diseases. A recent case of polio reported in New York reminds us that we cannot let down our guard. We also know that people vaccinated against viruses such as COVID and influenza (flu) are much less likely to have a severe illness or be hospitalized if they do get sick, compared with those who are unvaccinated.

Keeping COVID under control

The AAP recommends COVID vaccination for everyone 6 months and older. Children should get fully immunized as soon as they are eligible. Keep children and teens home from school if they are sick or show new symptoms, and continue to emphasize handwashing. Although not required in many school districts, indoor masking is still a good idea. Use well-fitting masks if your child is currently ineligible for the COVID-19 vaccine; is unvaccinated; immunocompromised; if a family member is at high risk; or you live in a community with “high” COVID-19 transmission.

Stay tuned in to your child’s mental health

Many children and teens have experienced mental health struggles over the past few years. It’s important to let them know it’s ok to talk about how they’re feeling. Stay on the lookout for any changes in behavior that worry you or any signs of anxiety or distress. Try to prioritize family meals and exercise breaks, like taking walks together. These can be great opportunities to talk.

Ask your pediatrician if you are unsure if your child needs help or how to start a discussion. Schools may also offer sources of mental health support.

If you have a firearm in your home, make sure to lock it up and store the ammunition separately. The increased risk of suicide is higher for children and teens who live in a home where guns are stored loaded or unlocked.

Talk about racism, bullying & kindness

Talk with your child about racism and hate. Encourage children to seek help from a trusted adult if they are discriminated against or witness an act of bullying or discrimination against others. Emphasize the value of treating others with respect and how simple acts of kindness can make a big difference.

Plan for mindful media use

The change in routine is a good time to create or update your family media plan so you can help your child balance screen time with sleep, exercise and other healthy activities. Help your children choose high-quality programs or games and help them recognize sites that that promote false information.


Children are resilient and can overcome many challenges with the help of trusted adults around them. Talk with your pediatrician if you have any questions or concerns about your child’s health as the school year starts.