The teen boy is having a difficult school year which is surprising after a strong academic year his freshman year. But as I met with his advisor this fall and saw his daily schedule, I realized how lucky we were with course content last year. Almost every single class utilized his strengths. For example, Biology required lots of memorization… super easy. Algebra used rules to solve problems. Follow the rules, you get the right answer.
This year before he even has lunch, he tackles Communities in Literature, Geometry, Chemistry, and Spanish 2. Sheesh, that’s a lot. Geometry and Spanish have been especially challenging for him. He asked me once why Spanish was so hard for him. My explanation – you have to take in information (mostly oral), hold it in your short term memory, do something with that information, and get it out orally or in written form… in another language. For students with attention and processing deficits, this is hard to do even in English, so add in the other language piece and it is super challenging.
So what do you do when school is hard for your teen? Here is what we have been doing. Please chime in with other ideas. I am all ears.
- Find something positive for your teen outside of school academics. For our teen that is volunteering at the New Hope Railway on the weekends, playing on the school’s Ultimate Frisbee team, and jamming with his band playing guitar or bass.
- Get an academic coach or tutor. We have someone that works with our teen at school which is helpful in a few ways. The academic coach knows the teachers and can check in with them regularly, and he can meet with our teen during his free period during the school day. It is a lot easier for teens to hear feedback from a neutral person vs mom. Trust me.
- Have realistic expectations. I know my teen will never be a fluent Spanish speaker, but he does have to try his best in the class. Effort can go a long way in terms of how a teacher perceives your teen.
- Teach your teen to advocate for himself. This skill is crucial in the high school grades. Sometimes I want to reach out to teachers for him but try to remember that he needs to learn how to do this himself. And if he doesn’t (and should have) walk him through what would have been a better approach. Some of the best lessons are learned when mistakes are made.
- Talk about strengths and weakness, and not as a way of getting out of doing hard things. But learning what you are good at and what will be a challenge is an excellent life lesson to learn earlier rather than later in life.
- Celebrate successes. I am lucky in that my son attends a super small Quaker school that truly tries to find the best in every student. My teen has been given the role of student mentor more than once because is really good at making new students feel comfortable “learning the ropes.” He has also played guitar in plays and other celebrations. He would never want to actually be in the play, but playing the guitar as a part of a performance was a perfect fit for him.
I remember being in a seminar about adolescents with ADHD in graduate school and the job analogy was used to try and help us understand what it is like to be in school with ADHD. You are constantly doing things that are hard. You are always getting negative feedback from your boss, but you are expected to keep coming back to that job day after day and keep trying. Who would want that job?
Every single teen has something great to offer in this world. I know mine does. It is our job to help them figure out what that great thing is.