As kids get older and advance to high school, talking to them about their school life can become more difficult for parents. With younger children, parents may have been required to sign off on report cards and progress reports, attend more parent-teacher conferences, or simply drive their kids to school. But when students reach high school, connecting with children over school can become challenging.
Even if parent engagement in academics is hard, it's incredibly important, says Sherri Wilson, senior manager of family engagement at the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA). Wilson helped organize the recent National Take Your Family to School Week, designed to build partnerships between families and schools through individual school events such as teacher-parent breakfasts, game nights, and workshops for applying to college.
Wilson cites a report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) that surveyed the same 25,000 students, once in 8th grade, again in 10th, and lastly in 12th. The students' responses—along with surveys of their parents and educators, and academic data—showed that parental involvement in school correlates with higher grade point averages.
The most important way for family members to get involved is to show interest in the student's academics at home, says Wilson.
"Unfortunately [engagement] often tapers off as children get older," she says. So, parents and other family members who care for students should be "making sure their children are taking the right classes and maintaining passing grades."
Wilson also says parents should be working with their high school kids on pre-college activities, such as filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). "It's about making sure that their child is going to be able to leave high school and go to college or start a career," she says.
For students who could become the first in their family to seek higher education, Wilson says, "Having an expectation that their child should go to college will have a profound shift for them."
While offering support and guidance at home is the first step in engaging in a high school student's academics, it's certainly not the last. Families should work with the school, too, specifically by communicating with teachers and giving them helpful background information on their children, Wilson says.
Usually, she adds, the parents and high school teachers are on the same team in that they both want the child to succeed.
"It really needs to be a partnership between the school and the parents," Wilson says. They should "build trusting and respectful relationships."