High School

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How to deal with your child entering high school

Teen girl - how to deal with your child entering high schoolAs your teen makes the jump to high
school, are you scratching your head and
asking yourself, “Now what?”

That’s what I found myself doing
when my teenage son came home and
removed a frozen pack of bacon from
his backpack. He had “found” it in the
refrigerator of the room where they were
having a soccer meeting.

As he proceeded to thaw the bacon
in the microwave to make a sandwich, I
wondered if I should call the principal
and report the missing bacon. This was
just one of many times I questioned how
much a parent gets involved once your
kid is in high school.

While schools prepare students to deal
with the transition of that first year of
high school, parents are often confused
as to how their role changes. Should
parents help with homework? Volunteer
at school? Or should they just step back
to encourage independence? What
exactly is the parent protocol in a high
school environment?

When Dr. Carmen Mombourquette
was a high school principal, he found
parents tended to be one of two extremes.
“Parents would either take a hands-off
approach – sink or swim – or would
be far too involved at a time when the
teenager is craving independence.”

While research supports that being
involved in our children’s education
contributes to their success, what is
less clear is what type of involvement
works best for high school students. This
led Dr. Mombourquette, now assistant
professor at the University of Lethbridge,
to study the relationship between the
type of parent involvement and the
impact it has on high school students.
His study focused on four areas: student
engagement in school-related activities,
academic achievement, attendance and
attitude toward school.

The research uncovered something
surprising: Parents being active
volunteers or more visible within the
school didn’t translate into their kids
having better grades or better attitudes
toward school. In fact, his research of
500 high school students showed there
was a negative relationship between
the two. This runs counter to what is
known about parental involvement at the
elementary level.

Does this mean parents shouldn’t
venture past the high school parking lot?

Not exactly. Dr. Mombourquette
encourages paying special attention to
what your teenager is doing at school
through ongoing conversations and
rich dialogue. “By keeping a solid
understanding of what’s going on in
their lives, parents can continue to play
a signifi cant role without being actively
involved, without being bossy, but
maintaining an active interest.”

When asked how parents should
deal with the ubiquitous one-word
answers to “How was school today?”,
Dr. Mombourquette suggests taking
a back door route. “Talk about what’s
happening with the playoffs, in your
community, world events and from there,
tie that in with what they’re doing at

The type of parent involvement that
had the most positive infl uence came
from a combination of what parents did
at home and in their participation in the
more formal decision-making process of
the school (PTA, School Council, sports
governing bodies). Student attendance
was the only area where the type of
parental involvement didn’t seem to have
any particular impact.

In short, it’s not how much you are
involved in your teenager’s education,
but rather, how you are involved. For
positive ways to be involved, see sidebar.

In case you’re wondering how I
handled the case of the missing bacon, I
decided not to report it. I chalked it up to
a lapse in judgment and told my son
if he wanted to bring bacon home, it
had to be the kind we could put in his
bank account.

Here’s how you can stay positively involved in high school

  • Set up the house
    to support the
    extra workload
    and establish basic
    house rules. Create
    study spaces and
    set time limits for
    digital devices and
    TV. It’s okay to be
    flexible with the
    rules as long as the
    exception doesn’t
    slowly become the
  • Ask about
    assignments and
    classroom learning
    – not by doing it or
    correcting it – just
    be up to date with
    the topics discussed
    in class. Pick up on
    cues to further the
    discussion about
    topics you may
    know something
    about or inquire
    about the ones you
    don’t; your teen
    may just bring that
    question back to
  • Attend school
    sessions, meettheteacher
    night and
    sporting events
    with your teen.
    Encourage school
    spirit and belonging
    by attending cultural
    and variety shows
    put on by the
    students. Check out
    the school website
    for photos and
    videos of events
    you are unable to
  • Set expectations
    and goals, and
    keep an ongoing
    dialogue about the
    future and what
    that may include,
    whether it’s work,
    college or university.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, August/September 2013.

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