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Teens & School – How Involved Should You Be?

Lori Freson

Development & Learning

It is hard to be a teenager. As anyone with teenaged children can tell you, it’s even harder to parent them. Teenagers are vacillating between developmental stages, wanting to both be much like an adult, but have none of the responsibility or accountability that comes with that. As parents, we can easily become frustrated, and most of us tend to have a hard time remembering what it was like for ourselves when we were teenagers.

Most teenagers believe that they can be totally independent and don’t really need you at all, except to finance them and transport them everywhere. They believe themselves to be wise beyond their years, believe nothing bad will happen to them no matter what terrible decisions they might make, and rarely take ownership of the mistakes they make. This makes for some very challenging interactions.

As if that is not enough, throw in some hormones, moodiness, acne, social problems, and academic problems, and parents, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Navigating your relationship with your teenager is delicate and challenging. One might say you have to walk on egg shells a bit, as you never really know what type of response you might get to anything you say or do. Sometimes, the communication is well-received and all is good; other times, you say the most seemingly innocuous thing and your teen flies off the handle.

It’s common knowledge that your teen wants you out of his or her life completely, except when he or she doesn’t. This is particularly true when it comes to school and academics. These days, many schools post assignments and grades online. Parents and students alike can look and see what they’re supposed to be doing, as well as the grades they have received on every assignment, quiz or test. No need for a planner, no questions about grades, it’s all right there. Sounds great, right? Maybe it’s not so great, but more of a double-edged sword.

Having too much information available can have its negative side, too. For example, when I was a student, my parents only saw my progress reports and my report cards. They never knew what was going in between. They did not know my grades on every single assignment, quiz or test; rather, they knew what my grade was in each class halfway through the semester. That’s all they got. So now, parents can see it all and hover over their kids with concerns about what they should be doing and the grades they have, and kids are feeling smothered.

But what’s a parent to do? We all want our children to succeed and be the best they can be, and we are just trying to help them stay on top of everything, right? We know this to be true, but teenagers see this in a completely different light. They feel that we should back off, let them succeed or fail on their own, and let them deal with the consequences. They will tell you that they’ll never learn if you’re always telling them what to do. And they’ve got a point, really. You certainly made mistakes when you were teen, and I’m quite certain you learned how to solve your own problems and figure things out when you messed up. Kids today are not learning this, and it is a most important life skill.

As parents, it is painfully difficult to sit back and watch them potentially fail. It is our nature to help them and not let that happen. But the truth of the matter is, no child can soar if we are afraid to let them learn to fly. We have to be prepared to watch them fall down, get back up, and try again. Otherwise, they will go out into the world lacking the most essential skills to have a successful life, which is really the exact opposite of what you’re trying to help them accomplish.

Here some tips for how to pull away when it comes to your teens and school.


You know your teenager better than anyone. If you being over-involved is causing problems in your relationship because you’re fighting all the time, take a step back. It might be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, because it requires you to let go in a huge way of the child he or she once was, when you needed to do everything for your children. You must acknowledge that he or she is growing up, and give him or her a chance to spread his or her wings. Your precious relationship with your child, mutual respect, and keeping communication open is far more important, in the long run, than hovering over grades and homework.


If your teen is asking you to back down on monitoring homework and grades, you can agree to do so, with conditions. For example, you might agree not to ask about anything, but if a progress report shows missing work or a grade D or F, all bets are off. You can agree that once every other week, the two of you will sit down together and he or she will show you his or her grades. If any grade is dropping, ask how he or she plans to raise it, rather than tell him or her what to do.


My teen has ADHD and is incredibly disorganized, lacking the necessary executive functioning skills that one needs to be successful. But, he is also a teenager, desiring his independence and not wanting his mother telling him everything he needs to do. As a parent, it is so hard, because I want to give him the independence he so wants and needs, but also can’t stand to watch him struggle. When there is no perfect answer, it’s okay to ask for help. I recently had a long conversation with an administrator at the high school about the dilemma that I’m in. Not surprisingly, she offered to help by talking to my son about expectations, monitoring his progress, and making suggestions to help keep him on track. And guess what, my son will be more receptive to hearing all of this from her, since she is not his mother. Utilize the resources available to you and your child; that’s what they’re there for.

Most importantly, keep your word, and expect the same from your teen. Here is an opportunity for you to demonstrate what it means to be trustworthy. If you said you’re going to stay out of it, then stay out of it. Be prepared for your teen to make mistakes, and be ready and willing to give help if and when it is asked for. Otherwise, start enjoying the freedom you’re starting to get back. You will have more time to focus on yourself now that your teen is growing up and doesn’t need you to do everything for him anymore. Your teen isn’t the only one moving on to the next stage of life.

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Lori Freson

Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas.