Health Care Dialogue
Kim S. Hwang, PsyD
August 17, 2012
Dear Dr. Hwang:
“My son is entering junior high and doesn’t feel confident academically. How much should I push him without turning him off to school?”
Whether your adolescent is struggling in school or not, building awareness about what extent to involve yourself in your son’s academic life is the $100,000.00 question that all caring parents ask themselves. I’d say however, that there is a big difference between, “Pushing,” your son versus, “Encouraging,” your adolescent son. I would submit that the term push implies a level of resistance and tension, whereas encourage purports that both parties are likely flowing in a similar direction?
I’ve had the opportunity to naturalistically observe positive, specific and meaningful encouragement from parent(s) is extremely important towards helping your adolescent construct a healthy self-esteem related to school. Boosting your son’s confidence with praise and noticing his success is important, even though he may not show it initially. Confidence takes time to build, especially if previous evidence from schoolwork revealed that grade differences were perceived negatively. Academic and letter grade differences among your son’s same age group are normal. At the same time, be aware of academic differences so that you can work together with your child’s teacher to meet academic needs unique to him. Junior high is an age where some adolescents are hyper aware and even critical of anything and everything that is perceived as different. Too often, anything different is misperceived and unfortunately pathologized. Therefore, try to focus on what’s going well and the progress your son is makes. Paying attention to incremental success over time is a critical first step towards guiding your child’s thought process about his academic experience towards making it a positive one.
Habitually, parents also tend to look at themselves based on deficit models. Some adults hyper-focus on what’s wrong, what’s needed, what’s left to do and what others seem to be doing better. Therefore, parents need to model a variety of ways they hold themselves positively as well. When children see and experience adults who model positive self-esteem, they are more likely to give themselves permission to be positive too. We are submerged in information overloaded with what’s wrong with us versus what’s right with us. Teachers and parents need to help children identify and examine their strengths, so they can use their strengths to build up areas that are more challenging for them.
One of the best things a parent can do is to help their adolescent child learn to reflect, identify, examine and evaluate oneself towards heightened levels of self-insight. This process builds life long skills towards increased progress, positive self-esteem, confidence and achievement. Self-reflection modeled without harsh judgment, can offer teenagers the opportunity to make changes in behaviors without feeling overwhelmed by life’s challenges. Remind your child that learning is a process and to believe in and have confidence in their abilities. Education is not only about one year in the life of an adolescent. Education is a journey called life.