Before the current budget crisis came along and presented school systems and African American communities with reduced teaching staffs, intramural sports, free or reduced lunches, and counseling services, there was another lolling epidemic: the high school dropout rate among African American students. According to a 2009 U.S. Department of Education and National Center for Education Statistics report, the 2009 dropout rate for African Americans stood at a whopping 9.3 percent compared to whites at 5.2 percent. This is the beginning of a downward spiral for a young life. Dropouts are much more likely than peers who graduate from high school to be unemployed, living in poverty, receiving public assistance, in prison, on death row, unhealthy, divorced, and single parents with children who drop out from high school themselves. It is imperative that parents and families know the warning signs of a teenager’s potential to drop out of high school. It won’t be pretty, there will be confrontation, and the adults in the room must get their hands dirty. This is too critical to leave to beleaguered high school teaching staffs and administration. Much like the cautionary tale in the book The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore, grab your extended support group and prepare to change the course of your African American child’s life.
1. A lack of connection to the school environment. If your child does not participate in any school activities and is not building positive relationships and friendships, that’s a problem. These are social skills that will be required the rest of their lives, but also those that should be honed with increasing levels of maturity. Visit the school and talk to the principal and teachers, get a list of clubs, activities, etc. Include your teen in the decision-making, but make it clear that they will sincerely engage in something appropriate and you expect them to approach it with enthusiasm and verve. Another possible opportunity: start a club. That will stretch leadership and organizational skills.
2. Too much freedom, not enough rules. If your parenting skills tend to be those of a ‘friend’ and not of an authoritarian figure, that’s a problem. “Independence is earned, not given, and comes with much responsibility,” states Dr. Tony Evans of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas. The right to do as one wants to do, without expectation, is a myth. It’s a character trait best learned in freedom, because such lessons while incarcerated are not pretty or nice. Teens, by nature, push the boundaries of authority as they mature. It is incumbent upon you, as the parent, to set the boundaries and maintain them. Also, devise an appropriate reward system. In the real world, you aren’t rewarded for doing what you are supposed to do. Society expects it, period.
3. School is boring. This will require a deep dive into the “why” and the teachers will have to be engaged. More often than not this is really about academic challenges, not boredom. What are the behaviors in each class? Is there a deficiency in math skills or does your teen need glasses or an updated eye exam? Is peer pressure or a bully the reason your child purposely under-performs? With so many variations and aspects of high school, there is no way that it is boring 100 percent of the time. Get with the counseling staff for further testing, if necessary. A 14-year old who tests on the college level in math will be bored stiff in ninth grade math. A third-party, academically focused group may need to be enlisted to help, i.e. a mentoring group from a local church, college or university. Or, perhaps a course correction away from college prep and more toward technical and vocational skills is what is needed.
4. Too much responsibility. Times are hard, that’s a given. But, your 16-year-old can get overwhelmed just like any adult — and, without the maturity level to bear the tough times. Maintaining decent academic levels in five or six classes and having the responsibility of working outside or inside (read: raising younger children in the family) the home 30-40 hours a week is not easily done. An increased level of responsibility is normal, but your teen is not your adjunct wife or husband.
5. Missing classes, taking long lunches, late morning arrival on campus. Is any of this acceptable where you work? If not, what are the consequences? Exasperation is expected on your part, but just like a Tyson and Holyfield fight, you simply must get back in the ring. Consider your expectation levels as your child progressed. First lady Michelle Obama’s mother, Mrs. Marian Robinson, stated in an interview that she gave her two children responsibility early on. For example, they received alarm clocks by the age of 5. They were to be set for the appropriate time for them to awake and begin to prepare to get to school, and this was non-negotiable. She set the expectation early in life and it worked rather well.