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Encouraging Heroes. You can be one too.

(Editor’s note: please welcome this syndicated column from Dom Testa. Dom is an author, speaker, morning radio show host, and has kept a ficus tree alive for twenty one years. He’s also the founder and president of The Big Brain Club, a non-profit foundation that helps young people recognize that Smart Is Cool. More info at DomTesta.com.

It wasn’t until I began working with students on a regular basis that I realized how the beginning of a new school year is like the proverbial fork in the road. Young people face a new class, a new teacher, perhaps a new school, even new friends. Many parents breathe a sigh of relief that summer is over and life can fall back into its routine.

But while we tend to associate the start of school with the continuation of a student’s education, it’s really a whole new chapter in their life. And, as with many new starts, all sorts of new possibilities lie before them.

It’s similar to the beginning of a sports season. Every team starts with the same record, but each will ultimately define that season through a series of events, some that are within their control, some that are consequences of fate. Not surprisingly, it’s often the team that does the best job of overcoming adversity that rises to the top.

Now think of a student transitioning into a new class. Yes, it’s still school, but much has changed. No matter what success or failure they might have experienced in years past, the clock starts all over again, and – as they say in the financial world – past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Maybe the student receives an emotional shock to the system by going to a different school, and they’re uncomfortable with the new environment. Or perhaps their peer group shifts, from one that was supportive and enthusiastic about education to one that “hates school.”

There’s also a change in curricula. Where once the work was perceived as easy, now in this new school year there are more challenging classes, or a change in the amount of homework. Teaching styles are as unique as our individual personalities; will your child’s connection with this year’s teacher be similar to what they shared last year?

The beginning of a school year is indeed a fresh start. Sure, as adults we see it as a blur from one year to the next, with the only difference being a new supply list to purchase. But every student is, in some respects, back at the starting line. Whether or not they continue to embrace their education is dependent upon many factors, only a few of which – such as the peer group – rest out of your sphere of influence.

Parents, there’s no better time than August to sit and talk about school with your student. If they’re excited about the fresh start, then stoke those fires with your own enthusiasm, asking what they’re most interested in learning. If they’re worried about the new year, spend some quiet time with them and paint a positive image in their mind about the incredible new opportunities that await them. If they see you taking a vested interest – instead of just packing them off with a wave – they’ll develop a more open-minded attitude.

This particular fork in the road can be crucial in the development of a young person. Right now, while the slate is clean, use your influence as an adult to help them choose the path that will best serve them in years to come.