The move from middle school to an often larger, bustling high school can be both exciting and daunting-for both your teenager and you.
Just the age difference and maturity level between a 14-year-old freshman and an 18-year-old senior can be intimidating for some students.
But family support and open, honest communication at home can help your child fare better in the transition, says Julia V. Taylor, a counselor at Apex (N.C) High School and author of three books on child and teen behavior and culture.
“They’re going through so many different changes emotionally, culturally and even geographically,” says Taylor, who also has worked as a middle school counselor and is a member of the American School Counselor Association.
Taylor offers parents these tips to help their children make a smooth transition to high school:
- Take advantage of high school orientation opportunities.
- Listen intently and “cherish” conversations initiated by your teen, especially those during their first weeks of high school. Taylor suggests asking your child, “Do you want my advice, or do you want me to just listen?”
- Don’t minimize your child’s feelings as they navigate the challenges and pitfalls of high school. “Kids that age have this ‘imaginary audience syndrome.’ They think everybody is watching everything they do,” she says. The emotion is “very real,” she explains, and empathy is your best response.
- Encourage your child to be his or her own advocate. High school is when parents should begin stepping back and letting their teenager deal with problems, whether it’s scheduling issues, a difficult teacher or a broken locker door.
- Help your teen review and organize the mounds of papers collected during the first few weeks-outlining everything from school medical and safety policies to teachers’ expectations in each class. Not only does processing this information together help smooth the transition, the time invested is valuable for your relationship with your child.
- Suggest an after-school schedule, at least initially, to ensure adequate time for homework, then make sure your child is studying during the agreed-upon time.
- Encourage your teen to think beyond their freshman year. “High school counts from day one,” Taylor says. “Even if they say, ‘College is not for me,’ they still need to have the grades, the behavior and the attendance to be able to do what they want to when they graduate.”