How to Prepare a Child for High School

They’ve mastered the change of classes, moving through those middle school halls between classes at amazing speeds; they’ve memorized their schedules, locker combinations, and where to sit in the lunchroom; they’ve figured out which teachers require their best work, and which ones require little work at all; and, they’ve finally tried out and secured a position on the school basketball team. And now what to they have to do? They have to move to high school.

After surviving the transition from elementary school to high school, it would seem that the transition from middle to high school would be effortless. And, yet, it isn’t. High school is filled with its own set of challenges that can be less daunting if your child knows what to expect.

1. MOVING FROM 1000 to 3000. One of the first things that many of my former 8th graders said to me when they returned to visit in the first few months of their ninth grade year was that they were overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of the schools they attended. Depending on where you live, the local high school can run like a small city. And middle schoolers need to be prepared for how to navigate that city. One way to prepare is to take a tour of the school. Usually, good guidance counselors will tour the high schools with groups of students (and depending on how parent-friendly your child is with you in her high school years it might be advisable to set up the tour with the counselor versus yourself). Or, if there is an older sibling in the house, both could go to the high school over the summer, preferably once the incoming student has her schedule, and tour the school together, noting which wings contain which classrooms, simulating a move through her schedule on a typical day, and pointing out the fastest routes to the bathrooms, the gym, and the cafeteria.

2. FINDING FRIENDS. Literally, it might be difficult for your child to find her friends from middle school in the bigness of the high school. Many of my students recounted stories of knowing that their friends were nearby because they knew that they attended the high school, but they didn’t know how to find them amid the sea of faces and bodies within those first few weeks of school. If the high school mails out class schedules before school begins, it might be a good idea for friends to sit together to look over their schedules and to find out when they have common breaks or when they are in the same wing of the school; and, maybe, if they’re lucky, they can arrange to find each other for lunch if they have similar lunch periods.

3. SOCIAL PRESSURES: Making friends can be tricky in high school. There are a lot more pressure to face in high school that aren’t as prevalent in middle school: parties, drinking, smoking, sex, and drugs. This is the age where teen-agers experiment, so it is important for parent to talk to their children as much as possible without being overbearing. In my experience, the most well-rounded and responsible teens know their limits because they’ve seen good modeling in the home, and because they have boundaries in their homes. Parents need to make sure that they treat their high schooler with respect but still acknowledge that they are children and they need rules & parameters to live by until they can start making these decisions for themselves. And in between the rule-setting, take the time to tell your teen that you love them, respect them, and are there for them when they want to talk.

4. JOINING ACTIVITIES. High school tends to have many more offerings of activities than middle schools, so parents should encourage their teens to find a passion and cultivate it through the activities offered in school. Student government, language clubs, sports, music, drama, debate, computers-all of these tend to be typical “clubs” or organizations in high schools, but in addition, if students have a particular interest, if they get enough interest and an adult sponsor, they can probably start a club of their own, as well. In addition, colleges tend to look at “the whole student” more than ever, so it is a good idea to get teens to have a few interests outside of academics to help complete a more diversified portfolio, if you will, of their high school experience.

5. THINKING ABOUT COLLEGE. Once a student hits 9th grade, it is never to early to start talking about college. Many parents don’t start talking to their children soon enough about college, and then all of the sudden, their child is in the fall of his senior year, and all of his friends have already visited colleges, and have taken the PSATs, the ACTs, and the SATs, and their child finds himself in a flummox of how to navigate this whole process. If college is in your child’s future, then start cultivating interest by buying him a guide to colleges for his perusal. When you’re on family trips in the summer, swing by the university nearby to give your child a sense of the campus. And into their junior years, teens should think about visiting colleges, and staying overnight, to get a better sense of how it feels to be part of the campus life. In addition, if the high school has a good college counselor (and assess this because it isn’t always the case), introduce your teen to the college counselor early so that they can set up regular meetings with the counselor to get their application portfolio in place.

Whatever the experience, parents need to remember that when their child moves to high school, it is not a time to stop parenting, but rather, it is a time to allow their children to experiment, within bounds, to spread their wings, to take on more responsibility, and to prepare for their futures. And all the while, if they know that their family is supporting them, it will mean all the difference.