Tell me who your friends are, and I will tell you who you are. So goes the often quoted proverb. As a high school assistant principal, I can attest to the genuine reality of this proverb. Take a smart kid and place him/her with a bunch of bad kids, and you’ll get one smart kid doing bad things in poor company. It is that simple. At the other end is taking an average student and placing him/her with a bunch of above-average students. Will the habits and smarts of the academically gifted be passed on to the average student, in this case? Yes, I see it happen all the time.
I’m going to reveal to you why educators and parents across the land experience the phenomenon of the good kid gone bad because of poor friends, and the struggling kid turning things around because of great new friends. It boils down to this: mindset. Time and time again in my office, after hundreds of conversations, I have come to the conclusion that having a mindset that is steadfast, positive, and practice-oriented are the only things that matter. The academically inclined students have the right mindset. The students who fail at school do not.
Here is why relationships are so important for the coming of age adolescent. Breaking away from poor companions is extremely difficult for adolescents. It’s even more difficult when friendships that were once constructive become destructive as a result of one party’s personal setbacks and shortcomings. Take the case of a young elementary male who befriends two other males at school. By junior high, one of the three decides to explore being in a gang, leaving the other two conflicted. Peer pressure could decide the fate of the other two. Will they too follow in their friend’s footsteps or decide to break away? If they do disassociate themselves from the soon to be gang recruit, will there be a social penalty at school? Now instead of the bad element being membership in a gang, imagine it being part of a tagging/graffiti crew, or a group of mean girls with self-esteem issues, a bunch of skaters who skate at the park after school instead of going home to do homework, and so on. As adults, we can sometimes forget how easily a younger mind can be misled, especially a mind that is trying to find itself in life.
Friendships are everything! As I alluded to earlier, a mindset that has internalized the importance of practice and is steadfast positive about anything, especially about learning and the future, is what separates the achievers from the “slackers.” At the high school level, the college-going students all believe studying and doing practice problems will help their minds grow. They don’t resign themselves to the belief that their intelligence or behavior is stuck in the mud. In contrast, the underachievers believe they are who they are, and nothing can change them. They easily quit, despite any cheerleading they may get from an adult. They don’t believe they can be smarter, college material, or successful. This attitude is drawing, sort of like food is to flies, and it’s the reason we see “birds of a feather flock together.” The allure of being part of a group bent set on high school academic success is not as strong, for obvious social reasons. Nonetheless, this is where all parents should want their kids to be. So how do you get your high school student to be part of the fast track club, guaranteeing them a better chance at college? Here is a list of ways you can do this:
1) Keep them occupied and off the streets. Downtime is the enemy of the fast track club.
2) As soon as middle-school, get your student in honors classes. Get them tutors if needed for them to remain in honors classes. Remember, honors classes are places where unrelenting doers with a positive attitude come together.
3) Have your children do sport and keep them in sports throughout their schooling. In order to participate in sports, you must have a 2.0 minimum grade point average. The best sports for befriending scholars are soccer, cross-country, track, badminton, tennis, field hockey, and golf. Basketball, football, and baseball are your typical “jock” sports, and finding scholars in these sports is a hit or miss.
4) Encourage your child to be in a club at school, especially robotics, secret millionaires Club, Science Olympiad, future entrepreneurs, computer coding, etc. Even if your student is not into these things, just being in attendance will get them exposed to more savory characters, so to speak. If you’re lucky, your student will come to like the club happenings and start to imitate its members.
5) Find them college tours as soon as ninth grade. The students that end up on the bus may be the most motivated/determined out of the entire freshman class.
You can’t obviously force your teen to have specific friends. You can make it easier on yourself, however, to be able to recommend friends if you start exposing your child to the right set of kids early going. Be committed to placing your child and adolescent in situations that will help strengthen and fortify their positive, growth mindset. If you don’t, they will be more vulnerable to other people’s whims, negativity, and fixed mindsets.