How can I help my daughter succeed in high school? How do we define “success”?

            The other night was “Open House” at the high school. Since my oldest child is a freshman, I dutifully went to school to learn as much as I could about what she’s doing. I wanted to be able to at least know who she’s talking about when she mentions different teachers.

            The evening was set up so parents walked their child’s schedule, finding their way through the crowded high school that is home to more than 3000 students.  

            We spent about 15 minutes in each “class”—the teachers introduced themselves and gave a brief overview of what they were covering in class.

            Each of them also reminded us that we could go to the school’s website to check our child’s grade in their class. Not just at report card time, but any time, you can go online and see the exact scores—a peek into the grading book. You can see their grades on quizzes, homework, and so on.

            I have not yet done this. Many of my friends have already been online numerous times in the four weeks since school began, and engaged in heated discussions with their kids about their grades. Before Melanie started high school, I had friends with older kids tell me about how wonderful it is to be able to check your kids’ grades online.

            I smiled and nodded, but actually, I was slightly horrified. I mean, I’m still learning as I go, but I’m thinking that checking up on the grades, especially in the first few weeks of school, is counter-productive. Now, sometimes, with some kids, it might be necessary. But how much checking is okay? where is the line between concern and hovering?

            What, exactly, is the goal of the next four years? My goal is not to make Melanie get straight A’s (as if I could achieve that). My goal is to prepare her for being an independent adult, who can manage her life. My goal is to allow her to become responsible. Her teachers are preparing her for college academically, I want to help prepare her for college emotionally and psychologically. In college, no one nags you to do your homework or checks the syllabus for you to remind you that you have a paper due or a test next week. No one wakes you up if you sleep through your alarm. You have to have the maturity to self-manage. So how do I teach her that? By telling her I trust her, clearly stating my expectations, but then, backing off.

            How do I make someone responsible? By nagging? I don’t think so. I think I help her grow in responsibility by giving her responsibility. So, she’s responsible for her grades (and her chores, her laundry, and making her own lunch each day). She’s responsible for studying, for getting homework done. She’s responsible for managing her time. That’s not my job, it’s her job.

             So I told her, I am not going to check the grades every week, which apparently many parents do. Maybe half way through the semester, we can sit down together and take a look. I will have actual conversations with you to ask how things are going. She’s told me when she has tests, and how she’s done. But the only one who needs to check Melanie’s grades is Melanie.

            I told her I expect her to do her best, and to let me know if she is having trouble. But she needs to be the one to recognize that, to take responsibility for it. When I told her she was in charge of her own grades, she thanked me.

            When I told Melanie I trust her to be responsible, I moved toward my goal of helping her become just that. The goal of parenting is to work yourself out of a job, and telling your kids, “I believe in you, I trust you to do this,” and then letting them do it, is a good way to move toward that goal.