My son is currently a 9th grader who spent last summer asking me questions about starting high school. The conversation came up at least once a day, so I knew he was nervous. What I did not realize was how emotional I was, until I dropped him that first day of high school. It was a bigger transition than I anticipated. That first semester was a bit of a roller coaster ride because everything felt new to both me and my son. Somehow, we both survived.
What was the difference?
Going to high school from junior high meant moving to a much bigger building with more teachers, more students, and new classes. There was just more to navigate. Meeting new people while encountering new ways of learning stretched and challenged my son.
These moments are not unique to me and my son. As a college counselor, I frequently talk to families about this transition to high school, as well as the transition to college. Here are a few things I share.
How Can Parents Help?
Find time to touch base daily or weekly
As a parent, I was not always sure what to ask or how to anticipate what would be coming up for my son. Luckily, I can drop him off and pick him up from school every day. Those are 10 fantastic minutes where we chat about his day. Setting aside that time daily has been wonderful for me as a parent, and I hope it helps him reflect on his day. Many families set aside time at dinner to chat about their days and check in, while others have weekly family traditions where they spend time together. Finally, other families may be too busy to set aside structured time, but they will take advantage of those little moments in the car or while waiting for an activity. The most important thing is to find a few moments in our busy lives to just connect and be present with another for a few minutes in whatever way works.
My son and I talk about school. Mostly we talk about his academic work. My dear son never had to study before high school, so his new classes and the workload were a bit shocking to him. We spent time talking about study skills and even cleaning out his backpack once to make sure he was organized better. He also tells me so much about his new friends and I love hearing about their unique personalities.I do realize my son is more talkative than most teens. If you have a quieter teen who might be struggling to articulate themselves to you, take it slow and try to just spend time with them doing what they enjoy. Waiting and listening for them to open up can be hard, but it’s worth it.
Establish practice steps
To help spur your conversations, you might do a few things. The first is to see or create a four year academic plan with them and their school counselor. You might want to read the high school course guide and/or list of requirements together, with particular focus to the five core academic areas: Math, Science, English, Social Science, and World Language. Plot out what they are required to take and where they might have choices.
The second practical thing you can do is look for a list of activities offered at your child’s high school and help them find just 2-4 clubs to join. For some students, it’s hard to find just two, while other students will want to do all the activities. Along the way, help them find balance, especially with their activities after school. If your student is struggling with time management or focus, you might think about our study skills or tutoring resources. Finally, you might attend some webinars with them. We have quite a few at Collegewise.
Go to School Events or Find Other Ways to Connect
Luckily, I was able to attend the high school curriculum night to meet all my son’s new teachers. I have also had a chance to meet many of my son’s new friends, which is particularly important to me. Unlike the younger years, there aren’t many opportunities for me to meet other parents, unless I go to school events. For family members who can’t attend school events, consider emailing their teachers or setting up meetings at times more convenient for you.
Remind Them How Unique They Are
My son’s confidence took a tiny hit as he entered his new school with all the new expectations for courses. Along the way, they need us to be a safe space to help them process all they have learned. They also need to be reminded of their own strengths at those moments when they doubt themselves. Remind them to do what’s best for them, not their best friend or even their counselors. Making tough decisions is part of growing up.
In particular, teens sometimes need to be reminded that they need to make the best decisions for their individual selves, rather than thinking about what anyone is doing. I sometimes tell students that two best friends will look completely different in the same exact outfit. While the two friends might share values and viewpoints about what makes for a great look, they also must think individually about their own body types, their own skin tones, and their own budgets. The same goes for decisions about classes, activities, and colleges. Students should lean into their own strengths and think about how wonderfully unique they are as they make these important personal decisions.
Think about Expectations
On a more sensitive note, I would sincerely ask you to think about what expectations you are conveying to your child, especially regarding grades and college. At Collegewise, we love to talk about how colleges want “excellence, not perfection.” Helping your teen think about their own short and long-term goals will help them achieve excellence. I highly recommend a recent podcast by Adam Grant with Dr. Becky. They talk about what success might mean and how those definitions might be different for a child and a parent. While it’s hard, it’s important for parents to let go of their own wishes sometimes so that students can motivate themselves and succeed in their own way.
As I think about my next child entering high school in another two years, I know a bit more about what to expect. At the same, she is a very different person with her own unique set of skills, traits, and interests. I hope what I have learned with my son can help her and all the families I work with at Collegewise.
About Us: With more than 23 of experience, Collegewise counselors and tutors are at the forefront of the ever-evolving admissions landscape. Our work has always centered on you: the student. And just like we’ve always done, we look for ways for you to be your best self - whether it’s in the classroom, in your applications, or in the right-fit college environment. Our range of tools include counseling, test prep, academic tutoring, and essay management, all with the support of our proprietary platform, leading to 4x higher than average admissions rates.