ERIC Identifier: ED415001
Publication Date: 1997-10-00
Author: Robertson, Anne S.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Champaign IL.
If an Adolescent Begins To Fail in School, What Can Parents and
Teachers Do? ERIC Digest.
"How was school today?" Carol's mother asked tentatively."Awful!" was the
reply as Carol dropped her backpack in the middle of the kitchen floor and
started stomping up the stairs to her bedroom. "It was the worst day ever. I
don't know why you even bother to ask me!" Carol's mother sighed. She had
expected that the teen years would be difficult, but she hoped that Carol would
grow out of this difficult time soon.
IS THIS SIMPLY A "PHASE?"
Many teens experience a time when
keeping up with school work is difficult. These periods may last several weeks
and may include social problems as well as a slide in academic performance.
Research suggests that problems are more likely to occur during a transitional
year, such as moving from elementary to middle school, or middle school to high
school (Baker & Sansone, 1990; Pantleo, 1992). Some adolescents are able to
get through this time with minimal assistance from their parents or teachers. It
may be enough for a parent to be available simply to listen and suggest coping
strategies, provide a supportive home environment, and encourage the child's
participation in 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
IDENTIFYING ADOLESCENTS WHO ARE AT RISK FOR FAILURE
Some "at-risk" indicators, such as those listed here, may represent persistent
problems from the early elementary school years for some children (Jacobsen
& Hofmann, 1997; O'Sullivan, 1989). Other students may overcome early
difficulties but begin to experience related problems during middle school or
high school. For others, some of these indicators may become noticeable only in
early adolescence. To intervene effectively, parents and teachers can be aware
of some common indicators of an adolescent at risk for school failure,
Attention problems as a young child--the student has a school history of
attention issues or disruptive behavior.
Multiple retentions in grade--the student has been retained one or more years.
Poor grades--the student consistently performs at barely average or below
Absenteeism--the student is absent five or more days per term.
Lack of connection with the school--the student is not involved in sports,
music, or other school-related extracurricular activities.
Behavior problems--the student may be frequently disciplined or show a sudden
change in school behavior, such as withdrawing from class discussions.
Lack of confidence--the student believes that success is linked to native
intelligence rather than hard work, and believes that his or her own ability is
insufficient, and nothing can be done to change the situation.
Limited goals for the future--the student seems unaware of career options
available or how to attain those goals.
When more than one of these attributes characterizes an adolescent, the
student will likely need assistance from both parents and teachers to complete
his or her educational experience successfully. Girls, and students from
culturally or linguistically diverse groups, may be especially at risk for
academic failure if they exhibit these behaviors (Steinberg, 1996; Debold,
1995). Stepping back and letting these students "figure it out" or "take
responsibility for their own learning" may lead to a deeper cycle of failure
within the school environment.
ADOLESCENTS WANT TO FEEL CONNECTED TO THEIR FAMILY, SCHOOL, TEACHERS, AND PEERS
In a recent survey, when students were asked to
evaluate their transitional years, they indicated interest in connecting to
their new school and requested more information about extracurricular
activities, careers, class schedules, and study skills. Schools that develop
programs that ease transitions for students and increase communication between
schools may be able to reduce student failure rates (Baker & Sansone, 1990;
Pantleo, 1992). Some schools make a special effort to keep in touch with their
students. One example is the Young Adult Learning Academy (YALA), a successful
alternative school for adolescent dropouts. According to YALA's director, Peter
Klienbard, if a student at YALA appears to be having a problem or family
emergency, teachers and counselors follow up quickly (Siegel, 1996, p. 50).
THE ROLE OF PARENTING STYLE
Parenting style may have an impact on the child's schoolbehavior. Many
experts distinguish among permissive,authoritarian, and authoritative parenting
styles (Baumrind,1991). These parenting styles are associated with
differentcombinations of warmth, support, and limit-setting andsupervision for
children. The permissive style tends to emphasizewarmth and neglect
limit-setting and supervision; theauthoritarian style tends to emphasize the
latter and not theformer; while the authoritative style is one in which
parentsoffer warmth and support, and limit-setting and supervision. Whenthe
authoritative parenting style is used, the adolescent may bemore likely to
experience academic success (Glasgow et al., 1997,p. 521). Authoritative parents
are warm and responsive but arealso able to establish and enforce standards for
their children'sbehavior, monitor conduct, and encourage
communication.Authoritative parents make clear that they expect
responsiblebehavior from their child their adolescent or the school when their
teen 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 a parent's concerns
by including the parent as part of the student's educational support team. When
an adolescent is having difficulty, parents and teachers can assist by:
making the time to listen to and try to understand the teen's fears or concerns;
setting appropriate boundaries for behavior that are consistently enforced;
encouraging the teen to participate in one or more school activities;
attending school functions, sports, and plays;
meeting as a team, including parents, teachers, and school counselor, asking how
they can support the teen's learning environment, and sharing their expectations
for the child's future;
arranging tutoring or study group support for the teen from the school or the
community through organizations such as the local YMCA or a local college or
providing a supportive home and school environment that clearly values
helping the child think about career options by arranging for visits to local
companies and colleges, picking up information on careers and courses, and
encouraging an internship or career-oriented part-time job;
encouraging the teen to volunteer in the community or to participate in
community groups such as the YMCA, Scouting, 4-H, religious organizations, or
other service-oriented groups to provide an out-of-school support system;
emphasizing at home and in school the importance of study skills, hard work, and
Understanding the factors that may put an
adolescent at-risk for academic failure will help parents determine if their
teen is in need of extra support. Above all, parents need to persevere. The teen
years do pass, and most adolescents survive them, in spite of bumps along the
way. Being aware of common problems can help parents know when it is important
to reach out and ask for help before a "difficult time" develops into a more
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