Communicating with Schools when Your Kids Are Teenagers

For most parents, the days of volunteering in the classroom or for the school field trip end when their children outgrow elementary school and become teenagers. While parents may still find ways to be involved in their children’s education once they hit the middle-school years, we are less likely to know the names of all their teachers and classmates, or even who or how to talk to the administrators in the high school office. That doesn’t mean we should give up, however, and there are some great ways parents can stay connected (often without their teen’s knowledge) during their kid’s high school career.

Attending open houses, parent-teacher meetings and other school events is one tried and true way to stay connected with the school. If you child attends a large high school, this still may not make you feel like you are on very intimate terms with teachers and staff, but you’ll at least have a feel for the school and an understanding of the culture and procedures. It’s a fine line as to how involved to become without squelching or horning in on your child’s growing independence. By the time they are Juniors and Seniors, school really needs to be “their domain,” but as a parent, you’ll want to feel a part of things too.

Making contact with your child’s counselor is another way to stay in touch. Either by making a call or in person, it might be worth your while to set up a meeting (with your child, if possible) to go over your student’s academic progress and what they might need to work on to accomplish their college admission or beginning career goals. Again, this can take a gentle touch, depending on your child – you may need to be a little clandestine in your operations, but you’ll feel more on top of things if you really understand what’s going on.

If your student is less than angelic (and all of mine definitely fit in this category), you’ll likely come in contact with the administrative staff, or at least the attendance office once or twice during their high school careers. My advice to you is to be as open and available as possible – return and take calls (even at work, if you can), utilize email if that is acceptable and make it known that you are a willing participant in your child’s school life. By making it known that you are an interested and involved parent, it will help everyone look out for the best interest’s of your child. When one of my children got into trouble with attendance, I was able to establish such a comfortable rapport that the attendance office would call me within moments if she wasn’t in class. She soon caught on that she wasn’t going to be able to “get lost” in high school and that not only did everyone know who she was, but they knew her mom too!

If you develop concerns about something going on at your student’s high school, try to get all the facts and your emotions in check before storming down to the principal’s office. It might help to talk to a friend or older family member to sort out what you think is happening and what you need to accomplish before you make contact with the school. If you’re concerned about homework, or your child’s grades, or choice of friends, attendance, etc. – those are all valid concerns to talk with school officials about, but it helps if you are calm and clear – if possible, involve your child in solving problems and concerns since one of the main tasks of the teen years is to become increasingly independent and capable of addressing one’s own problems.

There will come times when you, as a parent, will have to take a back seat and let your child face consequences and deal with their own school “issues.” This doesn’t mean you should throw up your hands and let the chips fall where they may, but it will require you to model and support your child in developing the problem-solving and communication techniques instead of rushing in to “take care of things.” By remaining neutral (neither taking your child’s side nor the school’s) you will help your child learn that he or she will have to answer for choices and behavior without your intervention.

The key to continuing to have quality communications with your child’s school when he or she is a teenager is to not give up. Although you may not be able to help out in the classroom or, heaven forbid, chaperone the high school dances – you can still make your presence felt as you work with school staff to provide the best education possible for your student.

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