Academics & Activities

As children grow up, many activities - sports, music, clubs, jobs - can compete with their schoolwork.  When they approach the teenage years, the distractions become even more numerous - phone calls, e-mail, dating - as they develop more independent social lives.

Help your child find the proper balance between academics and activities.  Keep in mind that every child has different interests and varying abilities to "juggle" those interests with schoolwork. 

Good study habits

  • We've all heard young people insist that they can work in front of the TV or with music blasting through headphones.  Research shows otherwise.  Few of us can do our best work amid such distractions.
  • Here are some tips to help your child develop good habits for academic success - and allow time for other activities:
  • Provide a time and place to work.  Teach your child to "manage" his or her day by scheduling time for homework along with other commitments.
  • Show interest in your child's schoolwork.  Ask questions, but don't nag or offer to do the work.
  • Make sure your child understands the consequences of not completing assignments.  Express concern without berating or scolding - especially among teenagers, who often rebel against such pressure.
  • Be skeptical if you always hear "I don't have any homework" or "I did it in study hall."  If grades aren't up to par, ask why and get a clear answer from your child.  If you're unsure, talk to teachers or your child's school counselor.
  • Set an example.  Turn off the TV.  Read.  Discuss your work, what you're reading, and why education is important to you personally.
  • Recognize and reward children for academic achievement - just as you would applaud their athletic or artistic talents.  Encourage your school to do the same - too often, extracurricular activities receive more recognition than academic excellence.  Take special note of your child's improvement - such as bringing up a grade in a tough subject.

Extracurricular activities

  • Public schools offer a wide variety of activities beyond the school day, including sports, artistic pursuits, academic enrichment, and community service programs.
  • Encourage children to participate in the activities that interest them.  Extracurricular activities are not only fun; they can teach leadership skills, teamwork, and personal responsibility.
  • To some young people, however, these activities become more important than schoolwork.  Students must recognize that extracurricular activities are intended to supplement - not substitute for - their education.
  • That's why most school districts have policies that limit students' involvement in school activities if they do not meet certain academic standards.  Check your school's policy and be sure your child is aware of these rules.
  • The working student
  • Part-time employment can be another way for young people to develop personal responsibility, a strong "work ethic," and leadership skills.  Like school activities, however, too much work can interfere with a child's academic performance.
  • For this reason, all New Jersey minors (under age 18) must have employment certificates or "working papers" in order to be employed.  The school guidance counselor or district administrative office can help your child obtain an employment certificate.  In addition, state and federal laws limit the hours students can work during the school year (see back panel).
  • Even within the limitations of the law, work and school could be too much for your child to handle.  If your child begins employment, monitor his or her schoolwork and grades, and make sure he or she is not skipping meals or sleep in order to "keep up."  Be sure your child is a student first and an employee second.

Planning for the future

  • Children are often asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"  As they complete their secondary school years, this question becomes increasingly important.
  • Early career planning is helpful, but flexibility is even more important.  It's common for students to change majors in college, and for students who don't pursue higher education immediately after high school to later enter college or technical school.
  • About half of New Jersey's high school graduates enter four-year colleges, a choice that can lead to many promising careers.  But community colleges, technical schools, and military service also offer education and training that can prepare your child for such opportunities.

Consider all the options

  • Be sure you and your child understand his or her options.  Your child's counselor at school can help by reviewing your child's strengths and interests, possible career paths, and the education needed for those fields.  Information on college entrance requirements, costs, and financial aid are also available from the counselor, as well as the school library and the Internet.
  • In addition, many high schools provide career exploration and school-to-career programs that help young people make informed decisions about career choices.
  • If senior year approaches and your child has not chosen a career path, don't worry.  Most colleges allow students to enroll without initially declaring a major field of study so they can complete the more general course requirements while deciding what degree to pursue.
  • What's most important is that your child receives a well-rounded K-12 education that will provide the necessary foundation for whatever path he or she eventually chooses.
  • A strong foundation in the core subjects will also ensure that your child is prepared for the High School Proficiency Assessment, a rigorous state test that all students must pass in order to graduate from high school.
  • It may be tempting for you to plan your child's life - what you think he or she should be, or perhaps what you wanted to be.  But your child's feelings and interests may be drastically different from your own.
  • Each child is an individual with special talents and capabilities.  Schools and families need to help each child recognize and develop those talents.

Child Labor Laws

These laws are designed to protect children who work.  While most employers follow the law, be sure your child is not encouraged to work too many hours or perform hazardous work, such as operating dangerous machinery.

  • Under age 14: Most work is prohibited, except employment as an actor or model (under prescribed guidelines), employment in a parent's business (except in hazardous occupations), or delivery of newspapers.
  • Ages 14-15: May work outside of school hours in prescribed occupations, such as clerical and office work, retail sales and merchandising, and food service.  Work hours cannot be before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. (9 p.m. from June 1 to Labor Day).  Exceptions to this time frame are often allowed, with parental permission, for youth whose employment is part of a learning experience.  Work hours for this age group are limited to not more than three hours on a school day and a total of 18 hours in a school week, or eight hours on a non-school day and a total of 40 hours in a non-school week; they cannot work more than six consecutive days.
  • Ages 16-17: May work in non-hazardous occupations or in agriculture up to eight hours per day and a total of 40 hours per week, but not more than six consecutive days.  During the school year, work hours cannot be before 6 a.m. or after 11 p.m.

School staff and families...the more we work together, the more we'll help our children.

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