Could Compassion Be the Key to Reducing Dropout Rates?

When teens know someone cares, they have a better chance at success.

Compassionate communication is key to helping teens through their tough high school years. (Photo: Getty Images)

Jan 24, 2013

Each week parenting expert Annie Fox will share her wit and wisdom for teaching kids to be good people and strong learners.

Recall a favorite teacher and you’re more likely to remember how it felt being in that class than what you learned there. Most likely, your interactions with that teacher included smiles and laughter. You felt appreciated and stretched (in a good way).

You probably did well in that class because we learn best when we feel valued, intellectually challenged, and free to make and learn from our mistakes. That’s why good teachers are masters at creating safe classrooms where they actively engage their students’ hearts and minds.

Engagement between teachers and students is one key to student success. On the most basic level, engagement demonstrates caring. When students feel that someone at school cares about them, they are less likely to drop out. This is also the case at home. As Oscar Cruz, the CEO and President of Families in Schools, wrote on TakePart, “If parents help their children at home, work with schools to support learning, and advocate for their child’s needs,” he says, “the chances are that children will do better.”

To that I’ll add: If parents and teachers support students’ social and emotional development, they will also increase a sense of belonging and, concurrently, support academic learning. When you include the character education piece, the chances are that children will do better in school and in life.

Whether we’re talking about academics or social and emotional learning, the most effective teaching tool is compassionate communication. Effective parenting requires the same.

It’s fairly easy to engage with young kids because they crave adult approval. Teens also thrive on the approval of parents and teachers, but they’re less likely to show it. Therefore, our approach needs to be more nuanced. There’s no single “right” way to stay engaged with teens, though there are plenty of wrong ways. Keeping these 10 tips in mind will help you stay centered—exactly where you need to be as a positive role model.

1. Remember, you are the adult. Whether you’re a parent and/or a teacher, your job is to prepare each child to become a fully functioning adult of good character. Being a moral leader and a compassionate mentor is more important than being a teen’s friend.

2. Remain calm. Living and working with kids can at times be very stressful. Some days you’ll get your buttons pushed. But nothing gets resolved when stress makes it impossible to think clearly. If you cannot respond rationally to the situation at hand, then take a breathing break until you can.

3. Talk less and listen more. Just like adults, teens want to feel respected and be heard. Be a safe (nonjudgmental) person to talk to.

4. It’s a balancing act. A key challenge in guiding teens into young adulthood is to remain emotionally connected while granting them the independence needed to make their own choices.

5. They’re always watching. Want your teen to be trustworthy, responsible, and compassionate? Make sure you're modeling those values in your own life because they are listening and watching—whether you know it or not.

6. Make your expectations clear and be consistent with your follow-through. If teens have a hand in making “policy” in the family or in class, they are more likely to respect the rules and make healthy choices.

7. Catch your teen in the act of doing something right. Kind words mean a lot. Praise shows that you noticed your teen’s sincere effort. Praise also reinforces the behavior you want to see more of and builds self-confidence in doing the right thing 

8. Be real. Adults do not always know best, so don’t pretend that you do. Admit your own confusion and mistakes. Apologize when appropriate. Make amends. Show your teens that we are all a “work in progress.”

9. Create time to relax and enjoy being together. Having regular family meals, or school lunch with teacher, is a gift with long-lasting benefits.

10. Lighten up! Humor is a great de-stressor. Remember, no one stays a teen (or the parent of a teen) forever!

ANNIE FOX, M.Ed. is the award-winning author of eight books. An online advisor to teens and parents, she is also a respected character educator. Annie’s award-winning books include: Teaching Kids to Be Good People and the groundbreaking Middle School Confidential™ book and app series. Learn more about Annie at her website

Show Comments ()

More on TakePart

Thousands Share Their Messages of Support With Navajo Nation’s ‘Water Lady’