“It’s like they’ve been riding a bike with training wheels and high school is when the training wheels come off,” says Elaine Hill, a licensed clinical social worker at Utah Valley Hospital. “The change itself is external and really no big deal. Adapting to the change is the big deal.”
Parents can help their kids adapt successfully, but they can’t wait until 10th grade to start working on it. Here are some of Elaine’s tips for moms and dads who are coming face-to-face with the high school years:
Adjust your parenting style
Up until high school, parents direct most aspects of their children’s lives. Now it’s important to step back a bit and do more observing, advising and negotiating. Unless, of course, a teen’s safety is in question and then parents should always be in charge of the situation.
There’s plenty of classes high schoolers are required to take, so parents need to make sure their students also focus on their interests and passions. It could be dance, arts, sports, technology, cooking – the possibilities are endless. A good balance between “have to” and “want to” will be very helpful.
Maintain normal activities
While their school life may be in a bit of turmoil, home life can be the place where things remain normal. Keeping up with your regular dinner schedule and requiring students to do their assigned chores can help maintain a sense of normalcy. Engaging in family activities is also beneficial — although you may have to make some slight adjustments like inviting friends to come along, in order to engage your teens.
There’s plenty of positive things to focus on when thinking about high school. Often two or more junior high schools send students to the same high school, so it’s an opportunity to make new friends. There’s also a wider variety of activities to be involved in. Being older naturally opens more doors and many kids will excel in areas they’d never thought of before.
Build solid relationship
The relationship you have with your children as they transition from junior high to high school can have huge implications for both parties. If you know what’s normal for your child, you’ll be able to recognize signs of distress or anxiety and understand when outside help may be necessary. If you’ve developed a high level of trust, students will turn to you for guidance and direction because they’ve learned you’ll focus on teaching them rather than judging them. Relationships like this don’t happen overnight so start when your kids are young.
“Parents have to be their kids’ frontal lobe,” says Elaine. “You have to make sure you’re there for them – not necessarily gatekeeping everything, but being there for them emotionally.”