As a professional educator for more than 20 years and the parent of a 15-year-old, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes for kids to succeed in middle and high school and what parents can do to support them. Here are some of the most important lessons:

Teach Them to Plan Ahead – and Backwards

On the first day of middle school, kids often get an “agenda book” (or calendar) to write down all of their assignments with deadlines. This is a great way to teach them the importance of planning ahead so they don’t hand in their assignments late. But an important thing kids have a hard time understanding is that the agenda book isn’t just for planning ahead but also for planning backwards, in the sense of creating a time line. Teach your kids to take each assignment deadline and work backwards, so they can see what they need to do each day to turn in their assignments on time. Once my son understood this idea of planning backwards, he became much better at managing his time and stopped spending all-nighters writing essays that were due the very next day. 

Teach Them to Study for Mastery – Not Time

An agenda book is great for teaching kids what and when to study. It doesn’t help much in teaching them how to study. You can teach them that by making them understand that they need to focus on learning the material and not on the amount of time they spend studying. When my son was in his first year of middle school, he used to give himself a certain amount of time each evening for homework. That was fine, but every so often he didn’t do as well on a test as he’d expected. As an experiment, I encouraged him to focus on the material instead of how long he studied it. That changed everything. Sometimes he now studies for several hours before he’s ready for a test. Other times 30 minutes or less is sufficient. He has learned to focus on the material, not the clock. 

Teach Them to Use the Internet – But Wisely 

No matter where you look, you see warnings about the dangers of letting you kids surf the internet when they’re studying. These warnings aren’t without merit. If your kids are constantly checking social media or playing games, they are distracted, and that will negatively affect how well they absorb the material. However, there are ways of using the internet that can actually boost your kids’ learning. For example, my son recently completed a fairly difficult high school course in physics. He’s a solid student who takes good notes and studies hard, but he got much better at solving physics problems when he started watching YouTube videos. He found a lot of videos where teachers from schools across the country demonstrated how to solve problems in different ways. 

Teach Them Real-World Applications of Learning

An excellent way to support your kids’ learning is to teach them the real-world applications of what they’re studying in school: it makes the material stick so much better than any amount of homework. To help my son better understand math concepts, I often ask him to help me with practical things that require an understanding of math, like adapting dinner recipes for more people than originally planned or taking measurements for new window treatments in our home.

Tanni Haas, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Communication Arts, Sciences, and Disorders at the City University of New York – Brooklyn College.