3 Tips to Keep Your Teen Focused During the Holiday Season

Kelsey Sheehy

There are 32 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, and it's a safe bet that high school students are counting each and every one of them.

The excitement of the holidays--and the corresponding break from school--can make it hard for teens to focus, but schoolwork can't take a backseat to holiday activities.

"If kids are excelling in school, they don't want to fizzle out now, and if they've been struggling ... now [is] the time that they really need to step up to the plate," says Jennifer Bernstein, a professor at Le Moyne College and founder of Get Yourself Into College, which guides students through the college application process.

Finals and college applications don't disappear during the holiday season, either, so parents should pay close attention to ensure their teen finishes the year on a strong note. The following tips can help parents keep students on track through New Year's.

1. Map it out: Schedules are hectic over the holidays. Jotting application deadlines, assignment due dates, and big exams on the calendar can help parents and students prioritize their time.

"Make a list, check it twice, then make your plan of attack," says Melissa Khan, a Los Angeles-based life coach who works with teens.

That plan should include blocking time out each day so students aren't overwhelmed during the final days of the semester, adds Le Moyne's Bernstein.

[Get three tips to teach teens healthy study habits.]

Using an online calendar allows parents to keep track of their teen's progress without nagging them, she adds.

"Google Calendar is great because it has a share feature," she says. "You can have your teenager indicate on the calendar what he or she accomplished each day, and then you can just keep your eye on things."

2. Embrace the spirit: Don't pretend like this is any other time of year. Instead, harness the excitement to motivate your teen, says Sherri Ziff, a life coach who has two teenagers at home.

"Don't ignore that the energy in the air is all about the holidays coming up," Ziff says. "Encourage a break between English and math and surprise them with a hot chocolate or talk about what gifts they should get friends or family."

Parents can also harness the holiday spirit to engage their teen in service learning activities, says Merle McGee, vice president of programs at the Harlem Educational Activities Fund, an after-school program focused on getting teens to college.

[Learn why high school students are not ready for college.]

Volunteering at a soup kitchen or donating gifts to a needy family gets students involved in their community and helps parents promote their family values, McGee says. It also helps build experiences for college applications and essays.

3. Keep looking ahead: December is often a time to reflect on the past year, but parents should also push students to focus on what is in front of them, McGee says.

For juniors, that means starting the college search in earnest. For seniors, that means finishing college essays, submitting applications, and researching financial aid options.

[Get 10 tips for writing college application essays.]

Younger students aren't off the hook, either. Underclassmen should spend the holidays thinking about internships, camps, or classes they want to participate in over the summer, she adds.

"It's an opportunity for them to reflect on ... [how] they will continue to explore themselves and their interests while building a strong collegiate profile," McGee says. "The role of parents is helping to keep their child focused on the activities that they need in order to propel themselves forward towards those higher education goals."

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