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9 Tips for Helping Your Teen Transition to High School

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Making the move from middle school to high school is daunting. Suddenly, teens are immersed in a new culture with more students, challenging classes and new social pressures. Surrounded by older teens, your child will long for independence. But teens need parental support to navigate changes and make choices that set the stage for success in high school, college and beyond.


How can you help your child make smart decisions while enjoying new opportunities? What should you do to help your child become ready to get the most out of high school?


The following tips will help you prepare your teen for the rigors of high school, encourage growing self-direction and provide a guiding hand and stabilizing influence.



1. Establish a consistent, organized homework routine

To help your child build good study habits, create a calm, organized homework environment together. Teens need a quiet spot without TV, music, games and phone distractions. Encouraging consistent homework times helps, too.


Your child should set up a homework agenda and use it daily. Assignments may be available online, but when they’re all together, your child can look ahead and plan more effectively. Including extracurricular activities and upcoming tests in the agenda makes prioritizing easier. Your child will see when working ahead might be necessary to meet upcoming deadlines.


Children can prepare for increased high school workloads by reviewing assignments before they begin homework each night. They should do the most pressing or difficult things first. If they can’t finish everything, they’ll have completed the most important assignments.


Many middle and high schools post grades and assignments online. Make going over grades and assignments together a weekly habit. Begin by praising your child for successful efforts and improvements. After that, discuss late or missing work. Help your child set goals to improve grades and homework turn-in rates.



2. Help teens think ahead and understand the benefits of early preparation

Forethought and focus aren’t teens’ strong suits. Lack of preparation leads to disorganized, rushed mornings. Encourage children to post reminder notes for themselves on backpacks and doors, and set reminder alarms on phones.


Everyone can start the day with less rushing and stress and fewer missed buses by preparing  more the night before. Choosing school clothes and packing up homework at night, when students are less rushed, helps. Teens should make sure uniforms are ready, instruments and music are packed and extracurricular equipment is collected in one place.


Some families post signs on front doors with reminders of all that must be done before leaving for school. But kids forget to read lists. Remind them to go over these lists daily. It can take many repetitions for children to turn actions into habits. The more you can laugh instead of roll your eyes at their forgetfulness, the less defensive and the more pleasant they’ll be about reminders.



3. Focus on ultimate goals

The point of working hard isn’t just getting good grades. It’s building chances for a happy, successful future filled with better opportunities. Encourage children to fantasize about their future. Don’t be too quick to shoot down dreams. Ask them what kind of educational steps they think are necessary to achieve their goals.


Just as you wouldn’t do children’s homework for them, you don’t want to supply answers to complaints about problems at school. Ask them what they think caused each problem, what they’ve done so far to deal with it and what they plan to do next.


When kids feel listened to, they share more. Offer sympathy and appreciation for their efforts. If they seem stuck, ask whether they’ve asked teachers for assistance. If they have, discuss other options that you think could be helpful. But let them share and explore their experiences and plans first. They may not need your intervention after all.  


It is painful to see children suffer or fail. But everyone experiences challenges and failures occasionally. Teens can learn to handle them without giving up or lashing out. Remind them that everyone fails sometimes. Share examples of your own struggles. Help them see that even when things go badly, there are always other options and new opportunities to improve.


Sympathy is  important, but don’t insulate children from all consequences. That teaches them that actions have no repercussions. Doing everything for them says you think they’re incapable of improving. Children who are protected from all the discomfort of failure react badly to setbacks later in life. By then, stakes are higher, and it’s tougher to bounce back and move on.



4. Introduce children to colleges early

It’s never too early to visit colleges to see how they look and feel and what activities, classes and resources they offer. Visiting your child’s most likely or favored colleges is great, but in the early stages, visiting anycollege helps foster a college-bound mindset. Kids might see or hear things that send them in directions they hadn’t considered.


Visit local colleges, or colleges near vacation sites. Early college visits needn’t involve formal tours; in fact, casual tours are ideal. Starting the search early makes it more fun and less of a chore, and makes later, more formal college visits less daunting.

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5. Start college-prep courses early

Classes taken during middle school have a strong impact on a teen’s readiness for college. The more classes a child places out of in 9th grade, the more AP and elective options they can choose later. Taking algebra in 8th grade is helpful; this makes more advanced math classes possible later. Studying a foreign language during middle school gives your child a jump on the high school language requirements most colleges set for admission.


Similarly, high school-level English, social science classes or advanced science classes in middle school free up time in high school for AP classes. These may increase chances of admittance to selective colleges. Taking college courses early may open up expensive slots in your college schedule for more advanced coursework—a great way to get more bang for your tuition buck.



6. Consider a mentorship program

Eighth graders and their parents should think about starting a college mentorship program early in the child’s high school career. Individual attention from a successful current college student with recent knowledge of admissions requirements can be invaluable. Mentors can help your child improve study skills, clarify goals, prepare for entrance exams and admissions essays and choose appropriate classes and extracurriculars.



7. Address health issues now

Many mental, emotional and physical challenges surface during the teen years. Addressing them early avoids being overwhelmed by setbacks that leave teens unable to fulfill educational goals, or that cause interruptions which delay achievements.


Note challenges that could be addressed with early intervention. Discuss concerns with your family doctor or school counselor. When addressed early, most middle schoolers with challenges gain health and confidence and become quite successful in high school and beyond.



8. Let teens know you care about feelings, not just accomplishments

Teens may seem to grow distant as they get older, but they still crave connection with their families. Many parents back away during middle school and high school to avoid “drama.” But high school students consistently say that they trust parents more than anyone else, and value relationships with parents highly.


While teens are children, they crave independence. Some roll their eyes or challenge rules, but your willingness to set boundaries and model consistency and civil behavior will pay off over time.


The teen years are full of challenge and change. So congratulate successes. Urge children on to further achievement. Provide children with a sense of security, innate value and unconditional love to build self-confidence, maturity and scholastic success. Show children that you appreciate effort, even when the results are not what they (or you) hoped for.



9. Choose long-term extracurricular activities

Colleges like students to develop passions and pursue them with determination. This applies to extracurriculars and school work. Students should try different interests on for size; it’s both fun and valuable during this time of exploration.


Middle school is also a good time to think about how students will build on interests during high school. Choosing one or two activities and developing them over time shows determination and mastery. Consider which ones to emphasize and continue throughout high school.


The bridge to high school from middle school can feel long and scary. But with parental help, students can develop helpful habits, explore college and career goals in a gentle way and see high school as something to look forward to, not run from.


Want to do more to calm the pre-high school jitters? Here are a few CollegeVine blog posts that can help you make the most of your time before 9th grade begins:


8th Graders: Here’s How You Can Prepare for High School This Summer

Do 8th Grade Classes Matter for College Admissions?

What to Expect Your Freshman Year of High School

How Using a Planner or Calendar Can Make Your Life Easier


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Laura Grey
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Laura Grey is an alumna of Mills College and the mother of a Simmons College graduate. Laura’s liberal arts education has served her well over the course of her writing and editing career, and she’s a big supporter of the women’s college experience. She enjoys writing film and music reviews, creating art, studying history and incorporating Godzilla figurines into her holiday decorating.