Excerpted from Understanding Your Teen edited by Christine Langlois. Copyright 1999 by Telemedia Communications. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Most teens understand the importance of getting an education, but less than half say they enjoy going to school, according to Alberta sociologist Reginald Bibby and youth worker Donald Posterski, coauthors of the book Teen Trends, A Nation in Motion (Stoddart, 1992). In their survey of 4,000 Canadian high-school students, Bibby and Posterski found that more than 75 per cent identified school as a source of considerable strain. And when asked what they liked about school, the answer was "friends." What they disliked most were classes and homework.
Your teen may not share with you how unhappy he is at school. And even when his behaviour suggests that he isn't happy, he may not admit it. He may tell you that failing a test is nothing, or that everybody skips math. But underneath the macho bravado is a kid who's worried that he's not making the grade. Try to assess what's at the root of his dissatisfaction, then help him to get the most out of his high-school career.
I hate school because it's too difficult for me.
She may be right, or at least she may be right about the particular program she's enrolled in. But your teen may be able to overcome this feeling with a little extra attention from one or more of her subject teachers. It's possible they are unaware that your daughter is having problems with their subject. Find out which subject or topics within the subject pose the greatest difficulty for her; then ask her guidance counsellor for advice. The counsellor may be able to match up your daughter with a tutor who can help her get back on track in a subject.
Don't rule out a learning disability. It's possible that your teen has managed to compensate for a learning disability throughout elementary school, but the more demanding curriculum of junior high or high school overcomes her coping strategies. You might consult your family doctor first and arrange for an examination to determine if there's any medical problem. Talk with the teachers and principal concerned or a counsellor at the school or the board to begin an assessment process. If the assessment reveals a learning disability, follow up to get help for her.
I hate school because I have no friends.
A friendless teen feels like a lost soul. Joining clubs or school teams can provide an immediate source of likeminded people to befriend, but even taking the step of joining may be difficult for a teen who has low self-esteem or is shy or anxious. Talk to a guidance counsellor and let her know how your teen feels. She may suggest that one of his teachers nudge, prod, or pull your teen into an activity or club that will introduce him to a new group of people.
I hate school because it's so boring.
It's true that most students find some school classes boring and others exciting and challenging. But if your square peg won't or can't fit into the round hole called school, try to find ways to convince her that the end result-a job, a choice of college or university-makes "the torture" worthwhile. Your teen needs to know that not everyone who graduates looks back on their high-school years as a wonderful experience. Many people stuck it out because they had long-term goals that would have been unattainable without a high-school diploma.
Help your teen focus on what needs to be done now to reach long-term goals. Talk about her passions and her interests and what she wants in her future. Help her establish short-term goals that will lead toward her current long-term objective. When you have an idea what future work she envisions for herself, help her find ways to meet with people who work in her "dream" fields, and to interview them about the kinds of courses they took to prepare for the work they do. Once she has a clearer sense of the academic background and skills or training she'll need to be successful at the work, she will be more motivated to complete the relevant high-school courses to qualify for advanced courses.