• Many parents and students don’t really know what independent study or home school is.  Others see it as a sign of failure.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  For some teens, independent study can be a great alternative to traditional high school.

    What is “Independent Study?”  Do I have to stay home all day and teach my teenager trigonometry?

    That is one option… but probably not a particularly fun one for either of you.  Susan H. Nelson School offers two programs to choose from (virtual or packet-based) and we work with you to create a curriculum that best suits your child’s needs towards graduation and a good education. Students meet with their teacher for a minimum of one hour per week during a predetermined appointment time.  

    Why would I want my teen to leave a traditional high school to do independent study?

    You might not want to.  In fact, only a small percentage of kids take part in these programs. However, some students thrive in a more independent learning environment more than they do in the social quagmire that is high school.

    There are those students who are easily distracted by others in class.  Some have difficulty with the social pressures placed upon them.  While others can’t seem to stop fighting the authority that teachers represent. On the other hand, some adolescents want to move faster than standard high school education can provide for them.  Independent study can help escalate their education faster then they could ever receive at a traditional school.

     Wait a minute.  Is my kid is just supposed to run away from his problems and become a hermit?

    This is the big question that will always need serious consideration. After all, how do you know when the right time is to transition to an independent study program?  There is no clear-cut answer. While it is important for students to face tough problems and learn from them, there are those times when the whole family can feel overwhelmed by a teenager’s challenges in life.  Sometimes making this kind of change can alleviate enough pressure so your family can re-examine the option of returning to a standard high school.

     Susan H. Nelson School is unique in that our virtual program offers a drop-in lab for students who wish to be more social, or who just need some extra help.

    Okay, let’s say I enrolled my teen in an independent study program.  What’s he/she going to do all day?

    Well, if you leave it up to him/her, it will be Twitter, Instagram, texting, perhaps some TV and a few video games round off the day.  You probably don’t want that, so instead it is incredibly important to sit down with your child and work together at setting up a structured day.  He/She may try to resist this with a pair of folded arms and sighs of boredom, but don’t lose heart.  He/She really wants you to help her (she just can’t let you know it… it would be too embarrassing).

    Don’t assume that your teen knows how to organize his/her time just because she’s a wise and sagely sixteen-year-old.  Remember that his/her brain is only sixteen and it’s not as advanced as yours.  If you let him/her do it on his/her own, he’ll/she’ll sleep in until 3:30 p.m. and go to sleep at 4:30 a.m., all the while making excuses that he/she just doesn’t have time to do schoolwork or chores.

    Try these tips in working with your teenager to organize their day:

    • keep to normal wakeup and bedtimes
    • plan regular meal times
    • create a schedule with deadlines for schoolwork, chores, free time, etc.
    • establish a homework environment that is conducive to helping your teen focus on schoolwork
    • set up an achievable incentive program for compliance with the daily agenda
    • allow your kid to have input and co-create the rules and incentives with you
    • encourage your teen to get a job to fill up some of that free time

    Isn’t my kid going to miss out on all the fun high school experiences?

    Maybe not; often teens will keep their friends from school so your kid may still get to go to prom.  On the other hand, many kids don’t think that they are missing out and feel like they are just done with high school. After all, just because you were voted most popular or captain of the drill-team, doesn’t mean that your teen has the same enthusiasm for such things.

     Encourage your child to get a job or begin a sport to fill up some of that free time.  This can help your child feel more responsible and independent.  More importantly, it can provide a positive social outlet instead of living a life of isolation or just hanging out with the friends that he used to get in trouble with.  

    If employment isn’t a viable option, look into getting him involved in some sort of social activity such as community sports, art class, donating time to a charity, etc.  Being productive in a collective environment can help him feel like he is not so alone.  Making friends outside of a school setting just might guide him towards more positive peer relationships along with building a stronger identity.

    I’ve tried your tips and my teenager isn’t cooperating.  She won’t do her schoolwork or show any motivation towards getting her life in order.  What now?

    Step back and take a breath for a moment.  Take an objective inventory of what is getting in the way.  Ask yourself some questions:

    • Is it just a power struggle between the two of you?
    • Are you communicating to her in a way that she feels threatened?
    • Does your child struggle with substance use?

    Obviously this isn’t an exhaustive list, just a few suggestions to get you thinking. Nevertheless, whatever answers you come to, ask yourself, “Is my family equipped to deal with this problem alone?  If so, make a plan and go for it.  If not, you may want to get some help in creating new ways to communicate with one another.