In the Trenches: PW Talks with Karyn Rashoff
If you publish traditionally with an agent, the process could take years.
A high school counselor with 33 years of experience, Karyn Rashoff self-published Parents in Highschooland: Helping Students Succeed in the Critical Years last year. The guidebook for parents and students received a starred review from PW Select with our reviewer saying, "Rashoff has compiled such a helpful book -- well researched, on topic, with plenty of good examples -- that it's hard to give her anything but an A." PW caught up with Rashoff recently to talk about indie publishing and the issues facing parents and adolescents.
Why did you choose to self-publish your book?
I've been going to writers' conferences for about eight years. I've learned so much information about the publishing industry. But with traditional publishing, you need an agent, the publisher has an editor -- so you lose control when you publish traditionally. And if you publish traditionally with an agent and a large corporation, the time frame for actually getting your book in print and on the shelves to the public could be years. And I was just too impatient for that. I wanted this book to come out as soon as possible -- while it was still in my head -- and to get this information out there.
How does your book fit in with other books about parents and adolescents?
There hasn't been a book written that I could ever find from someone in the trenches like I was for 33 years as a high school guidance counselor. I wanted something that talked about real families, not theories. The other parenting books on the market are kind of scholarly. They go into, for instance, brain research on ADD. This is not like that. It's very concrete, it's very behavioral.
One of the stories in your book was about a mother giving too much help with a homework assignment. The paper came back, and the teacher had written "Mom's grade: B." What's your advice to parents who are unsure when to step in and when to hang back?I think it has a lot to do with their [children's] age. So little kids need to have a lot more help and support and guidance than older kids. But don't step back all the way from helping them with high school. We want our kids to be happy and successful, and that's why we try so hard. We want to guide them, but we can't manage them every step of the way. The most important thing is to talk with your teen. Find out the facts. You might be surprised at what your teen doesn't know.
You also write about how teenagers actually need structure when it comes to studying and homework. Can you give us a few examples of a good amount of structure to give?
I'd say that even at the beginning of freshman year in high school, start out having them study 20 minutes each night for each subject. They'll say, "No, I don't have any homework in math or science!" But they still need to study it for 20 minutes. And then they can get up and run around or have something to eat or walk the dog. But they have to be in charge of their time.
Parents tend to micromanage, and that sometimes creates a really bad relationship. So give them the freedom to keep track of their own time. And don't let them do their homework in their bedrooms. The best place to do homework is the kitchen table or the dining room table. You don't need to sit with them at all; they would hate that, and you would, too. But be around and make sure they've got their nose to the grindstone.
You mentioned that some teens who don't do well in school will often blame teachers. And parents tend to side with their kids, of course. So what's really going on here, and how should parents deal with it?
Parents need to see this as, you're all on the same side. You're all interested in the student getting good grades. And a teacher likes to give good grades! In my book, I have different instructions for parents. So in this case, I'd ask my teen, "What can I do to help you at school?" And you might be surprised what you hear back. Once, I was having a parent conference with a mother and her son. We were not getting anywhere. And I said, "Well, what can you ask your mother for that would help you improve in school?" He stood up, and he faced her, and he almost yelled, "Turn off your TV!" Who knew that was bothering him? So it could be something as simple as having a quieter house.
Grace Bello is a freelance writer in New York.