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Parents: 5 Ways to Help Your Teen Adjust to High School


For many parents, the high school years are a distant memory. Yet if you try, maybe you can remember how it felt to start high school. There were new friendships to be made, an uncertain class schedule, and new teachers to get to know. The teen years were well underway. Maybe you were popular, maybe you were awkward, maybe you were content to be a wallflower. No matter who you were, high school was a period of transition.


Even if you can’t remember starting high school, think back to the last time you started a new job. Remember that strange mix of excitement and anxiety paired with the desire to fit right in and hit the ground running? If you’re the parent of a teen about to start high school, maybe now you can appreciate what he or she is going through. It’s no cakewalk, but there are definitely ways you can help. In this post, we’ll outline 5 ways to support your teen as he or she adjusts to high school.



1. Attend Orientation

Some high schools have a formal orientation day for incoming students. This is sometimes a casual open house, where families are invited to walk through the school. Other times it is a formal event with a rigid schedule. In any case, try to make sure that your student doesn’t miss this important opportunity.


Many of the first-day jitters are simply a fear of the unknown. If your student has the chance to walk through his or her class schedule, locate classrooms, note resources like the nurse’s office or bathrooms, and even practice using his or her locker a few times, at least some of these fears can be laid to rest.


Keep in mind that these events are not always designed to include parents. If parents are invited, make yourself available, but don’t be surprised if your teen chooses to attend alone. After all, high school is an important milestone in independence and the sooner your teen gets used to doing it on his or her own, the better prepared he or she will be for the first day. At the same time though, make sure that your student knows you’re ready and willing to go if he or she wants you there. Sometimes the comfort of a parent is the just reassurance teens need as they approach this important day.



2. Encourage Involvement

The easiest way to guarantee some kind of social support network as high school begins is to join fall activities.


If your teen plays on a sports team, encourage him or her to try out for fall sports. If his or her sport isn’t offered in the fall, suggest that he or she asks around to find out if there’s a group of winter or spring athletes who work out together during the off season. If your teen is into art, theater, community service, or specific academic pursuits, suggest that he or she joins a related school activity.


Often times, these clubs or activities can provide ready-made social networks to provide support and positive peer pressure as your teen acclimates to high school.


3. Don’t Expect Your Teen to Relive Your Own High School Experiences

Odds are that if you made it through your teens, at some point in time you made decisions that you now regret. Odds are also that you sometimes found yourself in the midst of other teens making poor choices. The teenage years are often a time of pushing limits, experimenting with newfound independence, and discovering who one truly is.


It’s important to remember that your teen’s high school experience will be unique to him or her. While it’s more than okay to discuss your own mistakes, don’t jump to the conclusion that your teen is poised to make the same ones. Instead, face each challenge head on as it arises and try to keep your own mistakes out of it when emotions flare (as they likely will at some point).


At the same time, avoid pushing your own interests and strengths on your teen. You may have been the star of the 100 meter hurdle or the lead of four major theatrical productions, but that doesn’t mean that your teen is going to follow in your footsteps. In fact, often the more you push it, the less likely your teen is to prioritize your agenda.

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4. Provide Organizational Tools and Guidance

As high school begins, your teen is likely to experience an increasingly complicated schedule. There will be school assignments in multiple classes to track. Sometimes class schedules rotate on 4 or 6 day cycles. Extracurricular commitments can stack up quickly.


Get your teen ahead of the game by establishing an organizational system before the school year starts. For some families, this means a weekly and monthly calendar posted prominently in a common space. For other families it means a shared calendar app or online schedule. Some teens like the option of using a calendar on their phone that includes scheduled notifications to avoid any forgotten deadlines.


Find a system that your teen seems comfortable with and implement it before the first day of school. For some more ideas about getting organized, see our post Eight Tips to Use Your Time Efficiently and Stay Organized in High School.



5. Consider Setting a Code Word

As your teen spreads his or her wings, it’s likely that he or she will someday find him or herself in an uncomfortable or even dangerous situation. As parents, we do our best to guide our teens away from these scenarios, but it’s equally as important to provide them with the tools to deal with them when they’re face to face. Part of helping your teen adjust to high school means making a gameplay for the unexpected.


What will your teen do when he’s stuck someplace with a driver who’s been drinking? How will your teen respond when he realizes the party he’s arrived at isn’t the kind he wants to be associated with? How can he or she escape without losing face or being judged by peers?


A few years back, one dad’s brilliant way of providing his teens with an easy excuse to get out of an uncomfortable situation went viral. His system essentially included an innocuous “code word” that when texted to him as a single word signaled that his teens needed help.


If he received a text with the code word, he or a sibling would call the teen on his or her cell phone and tell him or her that something had come up at home and he or she needed to return immediately. Then, they could arrange a ride together and he could extricate his teen from whatever situation had made him or her feel unsafe or uncomfortable, without peer judgement for having called dad.


You can read more about implementing a code word for your teen in the original viral post.


Starting high school is an important milestone that’s often fraught with anxiety and fear of the unknown. As parents, we can help to support our teens through this transition by providing them with the tools they’ll need to build confidence, establish meaningful social connections, and make smart decisions along the way.


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For more information about tackling 9th grade, check out these posts:


Starting 9th Grade: 6 Things You Need to Do To Own Your Freshman Year

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

Make the Right Moves: Your 2018 Freshman Year Action Plan

5 Tips for Incoming High School Freshmen

What To Expect Your Freshman Year of High School

Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.