09/05/2012 10:45 am ET Updated Nov 05, 2012

10 Back to School Tips for Parents of Tweens

I'm a teacher, author and a mom -- not always a perfect mom, but one who has learned from her mistakes and can offer insight into the keys to academic success. I taught middle school tweens in the Los Angeles Unified School District for several years and just published a tween novel, Lola Zola and the Lemonade Crush, to empower young people to overcome tough times. The key question to ask yourself as a parent is "How can I empower my tween?" Answer: Take a deep breath and let go -- but just a little.

Here's my list of 10 back to school tips for parents of tweens:

(1) Encourage your tween to be his or her own advocate.
Rather than always advocating for our children, let's encourage tweens to assert themselves when their needs are not being met in the classroom. Examples: "I'm sorry, but I don't understand the assignment," or "How will this assignment be graded? What are you looking for?"

(2) Help your tween get organized.
Moms and dads don't need to instruct their tweens on the importance of organization, but they do need to model good organizational strategies (systems for paying bills, calendars for keeping track of appointments, etc.) and provide the tools for their children to organize their notebooks to easily access homework agendas, different subjects and sub-dividers within subjects. Example: English, vocabulary, reading, writing, grammar. Backpack looks (I hate to use the word "inspections") are useful to make sure our sons and daughters are not collecting paper wads.

(3) Read with your tween.
Once we're done with the picture books, we can still enjoy the closeness that comes with a shared appreciation for language. Whether it's poetry or the newspaper, we need to find common ground that can lead to laughter, frames of reference, discussion and debate. I recommend Jim Trelease's The Read Aloud Handbook as well as my own book, Lola Zola and the Lemonade Crush -- a tween novel (ages 8-12, available on Amazon) that offers you and your young teens opportunities to discuss family strategies during hard economic times. When reading fiction together, discuss the plot, characters and theme. What do think will happen next? Do you like this character? Why or why not? What's the message here? When reading non-fiction, discuss the main idea and details. What's the author's evidence?

(4) When your tweens makes a questionable claim, challenge them with
two words: "Prove it." In other words, encourage them to support their assertion with evidence: facts, details, anecdotes. This elevates their thinking.

(5) Also elevate their thinking by asking their opinion about their learning. Don't just ask, "What did you learn today?" Ask, "What do you think about what you learned?" This pushes the envelope to access higher order thinking and meta-cognition or thinking about thinking.

(6) Make room in your home for a study center, a desk or table where your
tween can spread out and work without needless interruption.

(7) Restrict time spent on cell phones and other electronic devices.
I've seen tweens addicted to playing games and texting who are virtually unable to put down their phones to join the conversation in the room. There's nothing wrong with setting limits on cell phone use.

(8) Turn off the television and leave it off most of the time.
Some tweens will watch five hours of television after school. Not only does this detract from their school work, but it also leaves them fatigued and cranky.

(9) Practice strategies to ensure tween academic success.
In fourth grade, the school focus changes from reading for pleasure to reading for information. That's why it's so important that we tackle expository text with our tweens. Preview a chapter by reading the titles and turning them into questions; read the comprehension questions at the back first. Turning titles and headings into questions gives tweens a purpose for reading. Additionally, two column notes -- main idea and details -- can be helpful in analyzing a chapter in a textbook. With hand-outs, encourage your tween to highlight main ideas or topic sentences and to check off or number supporting details. Concept map vocabulary words by drawing symbols to represent the words. Example: resilient: rubber band

10) Do not do your tween's homework.
Set aside the same time every day, if possible, for your tweens to complete their own homework. When you do most of the work, be it a nightly assignment or a more involved project, you send the message, "You're not capable" to your child. Instead, empower your children by affirming their abilities. "You were able to tackle that difficult assignment last time. What strategies did you use? What worked best for you? How would you get started on this? What might you do next? I know you are capable."

Good luck with the school year, and remember these three "E" words: Encourage, Empower and Elevate!

This blog was first posted at

Marcy Winograd and Jackie Hirtz's tween novel Lola Zola and the Lemonade Crush tells the story of a sixth grade girl who tries to support her laid-off parents by selling lemonade rumored to zap wrinkles, cure allergies and promote world peace. Trouble arises when a rival for class president opens a competing limo-stand out of the back of his father's Cadillac. Lola Zola and the Lemonade Crush is available on Amazon and at Diesel book stores in Brentwood and Malibu. For more information, check out Marcy and Jackie's blog at