The First Year of High School

The first year of high school can be daunting for many freshmen. They are besieged by excitement and fears. They worry about everything from what they should wear on the first day to how they will find their classes to whether the work will be harder. Although these feelings are normal, there are things parents can do to help prepare their teen for their freshman year.

Take advantage of orientation. Most high schools offer freshman orientation a week or so before school starts. Incoming freshman will be given their class schedule, as well as a tour of the campus. This is a great time to walk around the school, making note of important places such as the cafeteria, restrooms, lockers, and gym. It’s also a good idea to actually walk your teen’s schedule so they can see how close each class is – then, they can plan when they have time to get to their locker, when they need to rush, or when they have more time to spend chatting with buddies in the halls. If your child’s school does not offer an orientation, take your child to the school several days before it starts in order to get familiar with the campus.

Teach your teen time management. Managing your time wisely is key to being successful in high school, college and beyond. Juggling homework, extra-curricular activities, social life and sports will be inevitable. Before school starts, ask your teen to make a list of their priorities. Then, help them understand that if good grades are on the top of their priority list, spending two hours on Facebook won’t help them achieve that goal. For those teens who play sports, it is vital they keep their grades up or risk being taken off the team. Suggest that your teen create a schedule and stick to it. If their workload gets too tough to handle, recommend that they ask their teacher for help. When you notice that a club is weighing your teen down, remind them that they can always take a break from it.

Encourage organization. A common complaint of many teenagers is that they feel stressed the majority of the time. One way to not be so stressed is simply to be organized. Purchase your teen an organizer to jot down assignments, important due dates and extracurricular schedules. Recommend that your teen create “to do” lists, which give you a visual of what you want to get done, and helps you stay organized. Ensure that your teen has at least a notebook or folder for each class, regardless of whether the teacher requires it. Have them color code and label their supplies for easier identification of subjects.

Establish rules. Although you may have had standard family rules for many years, new experiences like school dances and Friday night football games bring up new issues. Consider sitting down with your teen before school begins and discussing new responsibilities and privileges before they become a problem. Be clear about curfew (weekends and weeknights), transportation issues, expectations for grades, and the consequences of breaking these rules.

Work on your communication skills. Communicating with teens is a skill that parents must improve. There are definitely some “must do’s” and some “never do’s” with high school students. Review our previous blog “Effectively Communicating with Teens” for specifics on how best to keep the lines open. But for the short version, consider this advice from mothers who have survived the high school years. Listen more than you talk. Think really hard before you speak because teens will clam up once they perceive you are judging them or their friends. The best place for difficult talks is in the car or while folding laundry (or other chore) because limited eye contact allows for maximum honesty.  Consider carpooling so there are more kids in the car than just your own. You’ll hear more about what is happening at the school in their conversations then by just asking your teen directly.

Encourage your teen to explore their interests.  High school is the best time for your child to be discovering his or her interests and talent. There are a wide variety of subjects and clubs that introduce youth to many different topics and possible careers, such as biology, marketing, culinary arts, woodworking, or computer programming. If your teen is planning to attend college, then suggest they take some college preparatory classes.

Suggest your teen expands his/her social horizons. Although high school will likely have a lot of familiar faces from middle school, teens also have the opportunity to encounter many potential new friends. All incoming freshmen share one thing in common – they are all experiencing the mixed emotions (nervousness and excitement) attached to entering high school. Everyone will be trying to make friends, so it’s the perfect opportunity to get acquainted with new people. Remind your teen that the girl at the lunch table could be an academic whiz who can help them study for an upcoming test, or the boy sitting next to them in Spanish might be an athlete who may introduce them to a fun sport they haven’t tried yet. Participation in school activities is one way to integrate into your school. Joining clubs will introduce you to people who share the same hobbies and passion, and provide many opportunities that extend learning and service beyond the classroom.

While freshman year is without a doubt a roller coaster, it is a great period of your teen’s life that should be treasured. They will have a wide variety of experiences that will move them towards adulthood.  And keep in perspective that high school is actually the time you want them to screw up because you are available to help them learn from their mistakes when the stakes are smaller. Once they’re in college or in the workforce, mistakes become bigger and no one is around to bail your child out. Think of high school as an adventure and that will help set a positive tone for the next four years.

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