The teenage years are marked by paradoxes. Even as teens' cognitive and problem-solving capacities are expanding, many adolescents experience declines in academic performance, coupled with an increase in behavioral and mental health concerns. Research shows that parental involvement helps stave off these negative trends -- but it also reveals that parents’ school-related involvement drops during these years as teens seek greater independence. To add to the challenge, parents may find that strategies that worked in elementary school are no longer effective.
Into this mix comes a recent study of middle and high school students that highlights ways that parents can effectively adapt their involvement to meet the changing needs of adolescents. Teens and parents are on a “paired journey,” marked by shifting family dynamics. The key for parents? Engage teens in a way that honors their autonomy while also providing structure and support.
“The good news is that youth still want their parents to be involved," says Harvard University Professor Nancy Hill, one of the study’s co-authors. "This involvement doesn’t have to be a power struggle. Parents need not be afraid to allow teens to try and succeed or try, fail and try again. Parents are in the single-best position to cultivate, encourage and affirm their teen’s development.”
Hill and her colleagues identified specific types of parental involvement that were associated with increased grade-point averages, decreased behavioral concerns and reduced depressive symptoms.