Two Things To Know And One Thing To Do To Start The School Year Off Right

by John Fletcher

With the new school year starting for most students over the next couple of weeks, both parents and adolescents will undergo predictable stressors that come each fall.  Parents begin another school year doing all they can to be prepared, yet more often than not they anticipate that by October or November the typical struggle will ensue: their child has fallen behind once again, homework is a battleground, and daily arguments have broken out in an attempt to help the student catch up on his/her school work.  This is the all too familiar plight of millions of school students and their families, but with a better understanding of what is occurring and a simple plan consistently followed by the parent, this daily battle can be avoided altogether.  The resulting benefit is a successful school year both academically, socially and emotionally.

There are 2 skills that every adolescent must develop if they are to have hope in becoming a successful adult:

1. First, he/she must learn to make themselves do what they don’t want to do. Successful adults practice this skill every day.  Students who have play as their first priority in life cannot make themselves do what they don’t want to do and therefore will typically avoid anything that they perceive as hard or not fun. 

2. Secondly, the child must also learn to restrain their self from pleasure (self-control).  This is not just implying play/entertainment, but also emotional control.  An angry outburst is an act of pleasure.  A parent’s understanding of these two developmental tasks and the implications on their own student will go far in predicting, not just a successful school year, but also a successful life after their education is completed. 

The One Thing To Do: the application of these two skills is a basic one (but not necessarily easy!) and is best communicated with an easy-to-remember principle: “A doesn’t happen until B gets done”.  This concept is taken from Dr. Kevin Lehman’s book, Have A New Kid By Friday.  The primary and most important job of every school student is to get their homework completed on time.  The parental communication to the student is: “The answer is ‘no’ to everything until homework is done”.  Now, the definition of completed homework is often the tricky part and depends on what structure the individual student needs. It should also be defined by the parent, not the teenager.  For example, for the student who consistently does not complete his/her homework and would rather play, the definition of completed homework might be when it is spread out on the dining room table and ready for a parent’s inspection. In this scenario, unless the parent has inspected the work and has approved the work,  the homework is not done. The answer to everything is “no” until this task is done every day. 

Each parent will need to determine a plan best suited for their student. Regardless of the chosen plan of action, consistency is the key and is vital to the student’s success. It will take some work on the part of the parent--perhaps in checking the student portal to make sure that the homework being shown to the parent is the actual homework that was assigned or by checking the completed work.  It may also require a parent’s storing all entertainment hubs as well removing any avenue the student might have access to as a means of entertainment until the work is done.

For students who struggle with completing homework or in moving from “play” to “competency” in his/her personal development, a consistent enforcement of this simple “A doesn’t happen until B gets done” principle will greatly benefit the student (and the parent!).  Usually after 6 weeks of consistently checking homework or following the plan determined by the parent, the habit is formed and the parent can start to loosen the structure a little each week with the goal of the student becoming self-responsible for homework completion.  During this transition, It is also vital for the parent to be emotionally calm and avoid intense emotions and intense interactions with their student.  When a parent becomes emotional, the student cannot feel their own emotions, and it becomes much more difficult for the student to learn self-motivation in getting homework done.  When a parent calmly says “no” and remains calm the teenager then must wrestle through these emotions and hopefully apply them to motivation in getting their work done. 

Most students will adjust quickly to the new requirements and experience a more successful school year.  For the student who cannot or who will not adjust to this structure, some counseling might be helpful in order to support the parent or to determine whether there are other mitigating factors that are interfering in the student’s growth and development.  Every student is different and requires a customized approach based on the students abilities and needs but stereotypically, if a parent follows this simple principle most students will enjoy a successful school year!