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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

6 Ways to Help Prepare Your Teen for High School

By Tanni Haas

By the time they reach high school, your kids are no longer kids, but they’re not yet adults either. They occupy a unique middle ground we call the “teenage years.” How do you prepare your teens for all the academic and social challenges of high school? Here’s what the experts say.

Visit the school. Starting high school often means literally moving to a different school and that can make any teen anxious. One of the best things you can do is to make it a priority to visit their new school on back-to-school night. As Michael Zwiers, a professor of educational psychology, says, “Familiarity helps to reduce anxiety.” The experts at KidsHealth, a major health-news site, add that high schoolers should familiarize themselves with all the important parts of their new school, including the main office, the various administrative offices, and the school nurse.

Explain school expectations. Describing how high school differs from middle school will help teens feel less anxious. Karmen Russell, PhD, a child psychologist, suggests that parents introduce their teens to “home rooms” and the frequent changes in classes throughout the day. They also can help them plan their day by studying the physical layout of the school together: “If your child can begin to imagine what their first few weeks at high school might look like, this may help with the anxiety that can accompany the transition.” 

Teach them organization. As in middle school, success in high school in large part depends on how organized your kids are. They have lots of courses, taught by different teachers, and the workload is often heavy and difficult. “Learning and mastering the skills of getting organized, staying focused, and seeing work through to the end,” the experts at KidsHealth say, “will help teens in just about everything they do.” They suggest that parents keep their teens organized with binders, folders, and notebooks for each course, a calendar with upcoming deadlines, and a daily to-do list of assignments.

Let them handle homework. Unlike organization, experts agree that parents should take much more of a hands-off approach when it comes to homework. As Amanda Morin, senior expert for Understood, a nonprofit that supports people with learning and thinking differences, pointedly says, “If the last time you studied pre-calculus was when you were in high school, you probably won’t be of much use when your teen has questions.” Kris Bales, an educational curriculum reviewer, adds that high schoolers should take responsibility for their own education; they’re supposed to be what she calls “self-directed learners.” 

Manage the stress. High school can be stressful: The academics are hard, and so is the pressure to fit in socially. Grace Chen, an education researcher at the well known education site Public School Review, says that, if academics are the primary worry for your teens, help them create a schedule that includes ample time for homework as well as friends. Conversely, if your teen is concerned about making new friends, Chen says, remind them of all the times they successfully made friends in the past: “Bring his strengths to the forefront to help him understand why his current friends chose to spend time with him in the first place.”

Create support networks. Another way to help teens manage stress is to encourage them to create support networks of adults and/or other teens. Chen suggests that parents help them assemble a network that includes an older sibling, an extended family member, as well as a teacher, school counselor, or perhaps even their pediatrician, whomever your teens are comfortable talking to. Zwiers recommends that peers also be included in the network. If your teens have friends who’ll attend the same high school, they should consider traveling to schools together in the morning and/or meeting up before school or during lunch. As Zwiers says, “This will give them the opportunity to share and compare experiences—essentially normalizing what they’re going through, while brainstorming solutions to challenges they might be facing.”  

Tanni Haas, PhD, is a college communications professor.