Parents. Teens. Independence. Responsibility.

Learning Road SignJust as parents are responsible for the physical well-being of their children, they are equally responsible for their students’ intellectual well-being. The responsibility is as weighty as it is inescapable.

Some parents will ignore that responsibility or betray it by portraying education as a burden to their child, “Well, I never liked school either, but you just have to go through it like everybody else.” With such cynical explanations, parents are jeopardizing their children’s educational goals.

On the other side of the coin, heavy-handedness and threats won’t work either. Parents can’t “make” a student learn. What parents can do, however, is keep away anti-intellectual influences that trivialize learning. Excuses such as, “all kids are like that,” or, comments such as, “I did all right and I never got much out of school,” are destructive.

The key to nurturing your student is making sure that, despite the twists and turns in your child’s education, your family continues to honor this concept: Education is always useful, always beneficial, always good — it opens the world to them, enables them to be everyday smart, helps them weigh options and make good decisions, prepares them for life and to succeed in their careers.  But how can parents keep their students energetic and optimistic about education?

If you talk to parents with middle school children or older, they will tell you practically the date when their student’s attitude about learning shifted from openly receptive to selective and overly critical. It was the same day their child voiced his/her revolutionary cry against educational oppression — both in and out of school. The declaration of adolescent independence! The storming of the Bastille of Learning New Things. Off with teachers’ heads!

Revolutionary metaphors aside, parents can channel this inevitable rebellion constructively by encouraging their students to become active learners, ones who accept responsibility to educate themselves. How? Parents can point out that one way of maturing and gaining that desired independence is by leaving behind childish ways of learning. “Growing up” really means teens learn to take care of themselves and their learning: things like tracking due dates, planning ahead and keeping up with classes.

The role of parents is to talk frequently about independence: it’s not so much about freedom as it is about accountability. Kids think their parents are “free,” and that adults can do whatever they want. Not so. Growing up means more, not less, responsibility. Tell teens stories about how your days at work are filled with things “to do.” Give them more responsibility and help them deal with it. Help them understand what “real” independence means.

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