In the past seventeen years, I've known many students who have graduated from high school and have reached personal and professional success. One of my students who graduated in 1989 is now a helicopter pilot for a local rescue squad in Hawaii. Unfortunately, some students did not graduate. Some are struggling. Some are lost. From my perspective, I believe there exist four specific areas which can help produce success for students entering high school as ninth graders.
1. Parents, Shut Up
This epithet sounds coarse and non-productive. Yet, for students to succeed, parents must stop the incessant chatter, nagging, and mindless nattering that fail to recognize that kids need parents to just not say anything.
This concept involves more than simply listening with a tendency toward being a "Yes Man" in a teenager's world. So many students have confided to me over the years that if their parents would just be quiet for 5 seconds and not say anything then a problem that wasn't there would never have existed.
Sometimes parents can't help themselves because they want to help. Teens really appreciate your advice, your ability to listen. But, it's more important to them to verbally dump all they need to say.
I attended many IEP (Individual Education Plan) meetings and Child Study meetings where parents -- with all good intention -- kept asking what was wrong or how can I help? They weren't the average apathetic parent, yet they did not give their daughter or son the opportunity to speak about anything and everything.
Middle school and high school are about as similar as Bob Dylan and Bob Dole. The transition involves a concerted effort from you and your ninth grader. Sitting down and seriously talking about the problems, stresses, social upheaval, peer pressure, workload, and whatever else comes to mind will certainly benefit both of you.
Academically, the most effective way of finding solutions to high school concerns is to become highly organized. From notebooks to study schedules, from breakfast to pens creating an organized, workable high school lifestyle breeds successful students.
- A binder having a folder for handouts and worksheets from each class.
- An agenda/daily reminder for keeping track of assignments and projects.
- A specific, organized place to study without any distractions, such as TV, music, phone.
It is true that now many schools have websites that post assignments and homework. But relying solely on this venue would be a mistake. Kids who take responsibility for their education as 9th graders continue that accountability as sophomores and even college freshman.
3. Goals: Short and Long Term
On the first day of school, each and every year I taught, our class began by creating short and long term goals, both academical and personal. Goal making involves more than just knowing what you want to achieve. It also entails creating a plan of how you are going to achieve that goal and what obstacles might you have to overcome.
I urge all parents to sit down and discuss this with their kids. Most students have no conception of process or obstacle. But once these are known quantities, a sense of manageability enters the realm of high school.
An academic goal of a B+ in Earth Science becomes doable, knowing the how and the problems that could get in the way. A personal goal of making the cheerleading squad has more substantive value.
Finally, this is a strategy that your child can use throughout his entire life; for career, investment, relationships, personal growth.
4. Be There. Really.
At one parent/teacher conference, a father said to me these exact words: "He doesn't need us anymore. He's in high school. He'll do better without us."
Do not believe that for a moment.
Adolescents need to push and bully and test and argue and pull because they do need you. Yes, this is a paradox. And, it's true.
As the stress and pressures of high school increase, adolescents want and need to know that no matter what they do -- positive and negative -- you will be there. They cannot shake you off.
14 year old human beings are not adults. They are teenagers; some more mature than others, but they are still teenagers. Some parents I have been able to persuade, and some parents let their 9th graders dress as if they're 25. Or let them speak as if they, too, had teenage children.
It's not even a matter of quantity vs quality. Teens need to know that when they look into the audience they see your face, your hand, your acknowledgment that everything is going to be all right. Parents represent and symbolize stability; that undergirding of trust.
Students need to understand this on the first day of high school. Knowing they can count on you gives them a sense of calm. It may not be evident. But in those first few months of high school, when so much of their world is different and challenging, success is predicated on the positive presence of parents or parent.