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Parenting Skills to Prevent Adolescent Academic Failure
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In the last section, we discussed adolescents with oppositional disorder who become violent and techniques to prevent violent outbursts. These techniques included Nurture; Intervention; and Talk Back.
In this section, we will discuss adolescents with oppositional disorders who are prone to academic failure. We will also present techniques to help keep a adolescent in school. These techniques include: Working with the School; Back to School; Positive Praise and Recognition through Role Playing.
3 Techniques to Help Keep a Truant Teen in School
♦ Technique #1 - Working with the School
The first technique is Working with the School. Adolescents with oppositional defiant disorder who skip school and who are failing are sometimes able to continue their behavior if they can disrupt the lines of communication between the parent and the school.
For instance, Cameron was a 17 year old Junior in high school who skipped school regularly. Consequently, he was failing most of his classes. Eventually, his mother Betsy received a call from his teacher, asking if Cameron had received the homework that he missed while he was sick. Betsy stated, "He wasn't sick at all. I found out he had gotten one of his friends to call in sick for him. He had been ditching for two weeks!"
After this situation, I worked with Betsy to derive a system in which she could work with the school faculty as a team. Together, in a separate session, Betsy and I put together a letter to be sent to all of Cameron's teachers. It lists Three Strategies which include the following:
- I have included in this letter one self-addressed stamped envelope and several self-addressed stamped postcards. Please write down your individual room phone numbers and send them back to me in the envelope. If Cameron is sick, I will call each of you personally and either tell you or leave you a message. Only I will have these numbers.
- If you have not gotten a call from me and he is absent, please write so on the postcard and send it to me. These will come to my office.
- When he returns to school, he will need to hand you a note written on bright yellow paper with my own heading at the top.
With these techniques, Betsy instilled several signals that Cameron would not be able to get around or interfere with. The next time he skipped a class, Betsy knew about it the next day when the postcard arrived at her office. She then implemented the pre-determined punishment of taking away his Game Cube. Think of your Cameron. Could this technique help monitor his or her truancy? Would this prevent him or her from skipping school?
♦ Technique #2 - Back to School
The second technique is Back to School. This technique involves the parent attending school with their adolescent. Many parents are hesitant to try this technique, as it involves missing work to do so.
Ike, father of 14 year old Julie, voiced these concerns stating, "Why should I have to lose money because she can't seem to keep her butt in place?" I explained to Ike, "Think of it this way, Ike. It's better to lose a few days now, than to let the problem drag out until you can barely concentrate on your work. If that happens, you will become less productive and more likely to lose your job." Ike eventually relented and organized a face-to-face with the principle and teachers to discuss the idea.
After a few weeks passed and Julie's teachers reported her as absent without an excuse, Ike spontaneously showed up at her school in full construction worker regalia, hard hat and all. For the first offense, he sat next to her for one class and then left. The next time she skipped school, Ike stayed for two classes. Prior to showing up, Ike also organized strategies in case certain scenarios occurred.
For instance, if Julia threw a fit, Ike took her out into the hall and gave her two options. Either let him stay and keep calm or, if he left, lose several of her possessions to a pawn broker or e-bay to pay for his lost time at work. Also, Ike stated that he would come back the next day in suspenders and no undershirt. Appalled, Julie let her father stay.
After the threat of a shirtless construction foreman following her around school, Julie was very careful to attend school and be on time. What do you think of this extreme technique? Admittedly with many parents and adolescents this may backfire causing the adolescent to drop out of school all together. Sometimes, a adolescent has not yet developed connections between cause and effect. If this is the case, the adolescent will continue his or her behavior and the technique will be a waste of time. Do you have a parent of an oppositional defiant adolescents for which you might play this section?
♦ Technique #3 - Positive Praise and Recognition & Role Playing
In addition to working with the school and the Back to School technique, the third technique is Positive Praise and Recognition. Undeniably, adolescents feel singled out for their faults rather than praised for their positive attributes.
Trevor, age 16, began failing at the age of 13. Trevor’s mother, Diane, tried to instill in her son the importance of being successful in school. However, she did this by pointing out his faults. Trevor stated, "I wish my mom would encourage me in school. She just pays attention when I mess up. She yells at me all the time and tells me how stupid I am and that I will never amount to anything if I don’t get my ass in gear."
By indicating to her son that ultimately he has already failed at life if he cannot succeed in schoolwork, Diane has wounded Trevor’s confidence. Through the years, his self-esteem fell and the less confident he was in himself, the less he would ask for help. Eventually, Trevor began to act out in class so to mask his frustration.
To aid Diane in focusing on Trevor’s positive aspects, I asked her to try emphasizing praise instead of devaluation. I, probably like you, find Role Playing useful. I asked Diane to pretend that she was Trevor and asked Trevor to take on the role of Diane. In this exercise, I asked them to take on the mannerisms of the other. I then told Trevor to imitate what his mother’s criticism sounds like to him. Trevor stated, "You never try! You’re so lazy! Do you want to be a failure your whole life?"
Then I asked Trevor to imitate what it would sound like if Diane gave him praise instead of criticism. Trevor stated, "Trevor, I know you’re having trouble at school, but I also know that you are a smart guy. You can easily get this stuff. You did so well on your last test, I am very proud of you."
After Trevor finished, I asked Diane to tell Trevor what she learned. She said, "I guess I can see the difference. When he was doing the criticism, his entire tone of voice changed, and it wasn’t pretty. But when he was speaking praise, it seemed more gentle, but still firm." Through this exercise, Diane can start to better discern between effective praise and discouraging criticism.
In this section, we presented strategies for adolescents experiencing parent–adolescent conflict and who are prone to academic failure. We also presented techniques to help keep a truant adolescent in school. These techniques included: Working with the School; Back to School; Positive Praise and Recognition through Role Playing.
In the next section, we will present a common adolescent outburst in five levels and ways to diffuse it. These five levels of confrontation are: whining and complaining; stubborn refusal; verbal abuse; threats of violence; and acts of violence.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Adeusi, S. O. (2017). Parenting and demographic factors as predictors of adolescent conduct disorder: Efficacy of multi-modal intervention. Gender & Behaviour, 15(1), 8217-8230.
Casillas, A., Robbins, St., Allen, J., Kuo, Y., Hanson, M. A., & Schmeiser, C. (May 2012). Predicting early academic failure in high school from prior academic achievement, psychosocial characteristics, and behavior. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104(2), 407-420.
Lucio, R., Hunt, E., & Bornovalova, M. (Mar 2012). Identifying the necessary and sufficient number of risk factors for predicting academic failure. Developmental Psychology, 48(2), 422-428.
Martin, M. J., Sturge-Apple, M. L., Davies, P. T., & Gutierrez, G. (2019).
Attachment behavior and hostility as explanatory factors linking parent–adolescent conflict and adolescent adjustment. Journal of Family Psychology, 33(5), 586–596.
What are three parenting skills to prevent adolescent academic failure?
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