Dear Mom of High School Junior

Dear Mom of High School Junior,

Okay, no more putting it off, it is time to talk about college. If you have kept the subject under wraps until now during Freshman and Sophomore years, you and your kid are about to go on a voyage of discovery during his junior year.  He or she will discover what interest them, excites them, and motivates them. You will discover an adult emerging, and the emphasis here is on emerging, on what will soon be the memories of childhood.

junior year

Let’s dispense with the practical for your high school Junior:

Map out the tests

Make a detailed plan of where and when your child will take all of the standardized tests that occur this year. They could potentially face any combination of PSAT, SAT, Subject SATs (SAT IIs), APs, ACT, PLAN. Be careful with this planning. Use the results of the PSAT or PLAN to recalibrate their studying. Make sure the Subject SATs are planned late enough in the year (and this is probably June for a regular course or May for an AP) that all of the relevant coursework has been completed. There are a myriad of options to study for this standardized exams, plan ahead for what fits into your schedule and budget. Careful study of the exam prep books will go a long way towards getting your student ready.

Time for introspection

Once the planning is over, the scheduling of tests and activities is complete, it is time to look within. While you junior will learn much about college from counselors, other students and visits at the outset, it can be helpful to gain some self-knowledge. Some of the questions a junior can ask themselves: How do I like to learn? Do I like/need interaction with faculty and teachers? Do I thrive socially in a large environment or am I happier when I know a sizable proportion of the people around me? Do I like the rambunctious atmosphere of a big sports school or is that social scene uninviting? How much can my family afford to pay and what other means might I have for gaining scholarships and loans? How far from home do I want to go? Do I want to be able to easily drive to my college from home or would it be okay to take a plane or train each time? Do I like big city life, suburban Idyll or a rural setting? What interests do I have now, or might have over the next four years and which schools will best suit these?

A student who can answer some of these questions (recognizing that both the answers and the student may change over time) will find that time spent with counselors is far more productive.

Clear the spring-time decks

There is a crunch that comes at the end of junior year and, unless you child is very forward thinking, they may not realize it until they are there. You know it now, so if there are things that can be moved out of spring of junior year – perhaps a spring sport or play that they don’t care that much about or driving lessons – move those things or dispense with them altogether. I promise you,  when the pileup of year-end exams and standardized tests descends, your student will be glad these things are gone.

Road trip

Once your junior has met with a counselor, it is time for the road show.  This can be a wonderful or utterly dreadful time in your life but it is certainly the only time you will travel this path together. I have heard stories of kids and parents who barely spoke a word on the entire journey, such is the way of a sullen teen. Yet other parents speak fondly using this time as a way to grow closer to a teen who might be drifting away and to talk about some of the very important things that they are finally grown up enough to discuss.

Essay

Summer between junior and senior year is the time to start college essays and there is no better person to help than a high school English teacher, preferably one who has taught your child. A teacher will ask all the right questions and help move the process along (“Is that what you mean to say here, it is not clear to the reader? Do you have more details you can add to bring your story to life?”) but will not write the essay for your child. Find this English teacher during 11th grade so that teacher and student can work together the summer before 12th grade commences.

Recommendations

Before the school year ends for summer, your junior should ask two teachers to write college recommendations These need to be written by teachers who students have in junior or senior year. With the early college application deadlines in November, this, realistically, means it needs to be a junior year teacher. Teachers are inundated with requests and students should ask early, politely, and give the teacher the entire summer to address the request.

Dating, driving, drinking

Much of what we think of as high school, staying out late, dating, prom, driving and, unfortunately drinking and drug use, begins in junior year. For many kids there is a fairly sharp demarcation between the first two and the last two years in high school with the new-found freedom that the car brings. It is tempting to see how hard they are working and feel that they deserve some fun. And they do. But new drivers are dangerous drivers with car crashes the leading cause of death of teens in the US. The CDC reports that the adoption of graduated drivers licensing has been successful in lowering these sad statistics:

Driving is a complex skill, one that must be practiced to be learned well. Teenagers’ lack of driving experience, together with risk-taking behavior, puts them at heightened risk for crashes. The need for skill-building and driving supervision for new drivers is the basis for graduated driver licensing systems, which exist in all US states and Washington, DC. Graduated driver licensing puts restrictions on new drivers; these are systematically lifted as the driver gains experience. Research suggests that the most comprehensive graduated drivers licensing (GDL) programs are associated with reductions of 38% and 40% in fatal and injury crashes, respectively, among 16-year-old drivers. When parents know their state’s GDL laws, they can help enforce the laws and, in effect, help keep their teen drivers safe.

A final thought:

Savor every day

One day in junior year it just might become clear how close they are to leaving. It could be on a college tour or when they get behind the wheel of a car. It might be when they get dressed up or when they get a summer job all on their own with no nagging. But one day the stark reality of their departure seems utterly too real. This is a warning signal from the parenting gods reminding us to savor every day, to get to know, even better, our changing child, and to prepare ourselves to send them on their way.

Dear Mom of High School Sophomore

Dear Mom of High School Sophomore,

If Freshman year was for finding their feet, Sophomore year is for finding themselves.

There is something so nice about going back to high school Sophomore year. Our students are no longer the new kids on the block trying to figure out both the academic and social landscape.

Sophomore year

 

Advice for High School Sophomore Year:

No college talk

Top of the list is still DO NOT TALK ABOUT COLLEGE. The one exception would be if your child is in an athletic recruiting process. But otherwise the mantra is grades, activities, friends and enjoy high school. High school is a seminal moment in life, it is a crime to turn it into one long application process. The minute we start talking about college the focus shifts away from high school and onto one of the most stressful parts of our child’s youth. Don’t rush it!

Real first year

In many ways, Sophomore year feels like the first real year. The experimentation with clubs and activities may have given way to genuine interests. Our kids might have new friends. For the first time in their lives we may not know some of these friends. Small changes like this give us the feeling that our life with our kid is truly changing.

New world of worry

Welcome to a whole new world of worry. The light sockets, stair gates and bicycle helmets were all just preparation for driving, the biggest safety challenge that teens and parents face.

Driver’s ed

If your teen’s birthday allows for it, start driver’s training in Sophomore year. Many things get rushed junior year and proper driving instruction, with adequate time, is all important. It is worth taking the time to do some careful research into driving instruction and providing additional lessons if necessary. Driving will be one of the biggest emotional hurdles of 10th grade. Driving is a confluence of very real worry and huge leap in our kid’s independence. It is, I believe the first step on the road to the empty nest and it may very well feel that way.

Time management

Watch your child closely, see how their time management is progressing. Junior year is, for many, the most difficult year in high school. This is a good moment to help teach any of those planning skills that a younger, more immature student was unable to master. On top of the academic load many juniors take on more demanding activities, a varsity sport, a leading role or a leadership position. Good time management can be the difference between a happy teen and one struggling with stress next year.

Sleep is key

Like every year, focus on teaching them about sleep. For many boys, 15 is a big year for physical growth making sleep even more important. It becomes harder to impose a bedtime on a high school kid, but do it anyway. Sleep is what fuels a young body, aiding them emotionally, intellectually and physically so make sure they know its value long before setting off to college. Tell them how crucial sleep is to every aspect of their lives. When they ignore you, show them the scientific evidence. If they ignore that, turn off the wi-fi at 10:00pm.

Coming of age

For girls, the question of a Sweet 16 party may begin with the first day of school. MTV’s show, My Super Sweet 16 debuted in 2005 and has, along with its various spinoffs, taken viewers “on a wild ride behind the scenes for all the drama, surprises and over-the-top fun as teens prepare for their most important coming-of-age celebrations.”  It has been part of the media landscape since current high school Sophomores were six. Whether your family traditions call for a Quinceanera at 15, a big party at 16, or a quiet dinner with grandparents and cake, 16 is a significant milestone for girls and one that shouldn’t pass without special acknowledgement.

Sweet 16, sophomore year

PSAT/SAT

The question of taking the PSAT or PLAN may come up this year. Every school is different. Unless your child has some extreme test anxiety (and frankly these kids might benefit from the opportunity to try the test with no consequences), consider scheduling them for one of these tests. Although the tests do not count for anything regarding college admission during sophomore year, they serve as a barometer and offer practice. (Please note, when taken during junior year, the PSAT is a gateway to potential scholarships.) Standardized tests that last for many hours and are administered in a highly structured weekend setting might be new to your son or daughter so here is a chance at a trial run.

Though it must seem like a long way off, plan the summer with SAT study in mind. It is a free and clear block of time and most kids take the test for the first time in 11th grade. If your child is going to do some sort of structured test prep, a class or a tutor, this is the time for you to schedule it.

Talk schoolwork

Toward the end of the year, or just before course selection is due for Junior year, have a long serious talk with your Sophomore. How did they manage their course load? Could they handle a greater challenge, or should they dial back a bit for next year? What courses interested them the most and how can they best pursue this interest? Are there courses they have never tried like economics or psychology that they would like to take? Are they going to add AP and advanced work and how much? High school counselors are often overworked and might not have the time for a reflective talk and this is a great opportunity for your teen to tell you things you may not already know about their growing and changing interests.

Dear Mom of High School Freshman

Dear Mom of High School Freshman,

It is hard not to feel, in those weeks leading up to the first day of freshman year, that you and your child have finally hit the big leagues. Because you have. High school is, in many ways, a break with everything that has gone before. Suddenly your child, and let’s be honest he may look like a young adult but is still very much a child, is in a world where sex, drugs, alcohol, along with high academic demands, competitive sports, and college are all part of the vernacular. It can seem overwhelming, almost too much.

High School Freshman

Deep breath. Don’t worry. Adolescence is almost like a rerun of the earliest years of childhood, with both physical and intellectual change occurring at a startling pace, new dangers appearing all the time and an unending need for sleep and food. High school takes four years because that is the minimum it takes for both kids and parents to transition from the final days of childhood to the first moments of adulthood. She will have enough time and so will you.

Here are some of the pointers for your high school Freshman:

Do not talk about college

DO NOT. College admissions is a dark grey fog that will at some point descend upon your home. Put this off for as long as possible, reminding yourself and your kid that high school should be about high school. Tell your teen that ninth grade is about 1. Exploring new activities and making new friends 2. Taking whatever activity you already love to the next level and 3. Getting good grades and acclimatizing to the rigors of high school. That is it. Everything else comes later.

The single caveat would be that parents can mention college to expel the notion (an urban myth) that freshman grades do not count for college admissions. All grades count.

Stick close

You child is in uncharted territory, for her. And while you may not be a hovering parent it would not hurt to stick close for the first few months. A close eye on who she is making friends with, how and when she is getting her work done and her general health , would not go amiss. Some kids stumble with their time management as they enter high school and find themselves up late, sleeping inadequately and getting on a vicious cycle. Parents can help with this, establishing routines, limits on social media and strict bedtime. Sleep for teens is like water for plants, it is not pretty when they don’t get enough.

Count back for curfews

A wise headmaster once suggested to ninth grade parents that they think long and hard about curfews. He explained it this way, “Think about what time is okay for a high school senior to come in a night. Realize that every year you will want to move their curfew back a little bit in acknowledgment of their growing maturity and freedom. Then work backwards four years. If you start ninth grade at midnight, you will soon find yourself in trouble.” Couldn’t have said it better.

Talk about the hard stuff

If you have not been talking about the hard stuff, drugs, birth control, sex, consent….this is the time to start. If you have been talking, double down. Your child is now in world where these issues arise, if not for them (hopefully!) for schoolmates, and the time to talk is early and often. Every family has its own mores and values and every ninth grader should know them. Over time, they may discard some of what we say, ignore our warnings or our rules. They may choose to defy us, but they should never for one moment be unclear of both the rules and the values our families espouse.

Find the one thing

Ninth grade is the year to start (or for some kids, continue) one thing that will carry your student through high school (the newspaper, a drama group, a sport or art activity) and to try other things along the way. Academics may seem a bit challenging, but for most freshman, there is still time to experiment with different extracurricular interests. The most important things a freshman learns are about herself. This is a year to discover interest you never knew you had or that an activity undertaken since childhood is better left behind.

Friendships change

Ninth grade is the time and chance for new friendships to grow. For most school districts, ninth grade provides an opportunity for teenagers to expand and/or completely change their social group. As multiple middle schools feed into one high school, it can be immensely liberating for 8th grade students who crave different peer groups. It can also shake up an existing social order, bringing in a breath of fresh air to stratified social status.

Freshmen should stick with Freshmen

Freshman year is high school, but not all high schoolers are the same. The social order of high school means that kids largely stay in their grade groups. But in clubs, sports and other activities the grades mix fluidly. For Freshmen, and to a lesser extent sophomores, this is not always a great thing. Sure, older students have much to teach younger students about leadership and excelling at extracurricular activities, but it doesn’t end there. The world of a 14/15-year-old is very different from that of a 17/18-year-old. While some socializing is nice, end of season parties, cast parties, younger high school students are best encouraged to stay amongst their own.

A bit of parental input

In ninth grade, teachers will not mind a bit of input from parents if there are hiccups along the way. Emphasis on a bit. Students, by now, should be able to speak up for themselves, but sometimes teachers or counselors need a bit of background and helping a 14-year old. Again, a bit, is not out of line.

Course Selection

Many high school classes have prerequisites and freshman need to be aware of these and the order in which classes should be taken. In an ideal world, each student would have a counselor who guides them through the process of course selection and planning their four years. In the real world sometimes parents need to help. Freshman need to imagine where they would like to end up academically senior year and draw a path of classes that will get them there. Plans change but it helps to set goals from the start.

Finding feet as high schoolers and parents of high schoolers

Finally, freshman year is a year of our kids finding their feet as a high schooler and us finding our feet as the parents of one. It seems almost inconceivable that we could have a child this old, as our own high school days seem not so far removed. Looking at your new high school child, who by now may be looking at you eye-to-eye, it is hard not to feel as though time has begun to accelerate and the road to the empty nest become clear.

PS. Great Additions from Debbie Schwartz, Road 2 College:

1) It’s even more important than before to stay connected to other mothers (parents). My network of mothers gives me insight into the high school party scene, dating, driving concerns (a big one), drinking, drugs, and which parents monitored all these things at their houses and which do not!

2) Don’t talk to your child about college, but as a parent, start learning about the process, costs, and financing. It’s just too late to start understanding the process if you wait till junior year, especially from a cost standpoint. FAFSA forms are based on tax information from January of a student’s junior year. So learning about costs and how financial and merit aid is granted is something parents really need to START understanding in freshman year. And as you mentioned, the GPA colleges look at include grades from 9th to 11th grade – and each grade counts equally.

 

Twelve Hours and Counting: Diary of a Dreaded Graduation

A Guest Post by Barbara Solomon Josselsohn: 10pm. I’m certain that the hardest part is going to be the graduation ceremony itself, so I’m unprepared the night before when I walk into Rachel’s bedroom to say goodnight, and she’s curled in a ball on her bed, her nose red and her eyes swollen, sobbing, “I don’t want to graduate. I don’t want to leave home. I don’t want to leave my friends. I don’t want to go to college!”

graduation

I know I should tell her that it’s normal to be scared, and everything will turn out fine. But then I see the blue fabric bulletin board hanging above her bed. Pinned to the bulletin board is a photo of her on her third birthday, the tickets from the rock concert she saw two summers ago and her boarding pass from a trip to Ireland with the school chorus. Right next to that is her bookshelf with the entire Rick Riordin fantasy series that she read three times over. And suddenly I realize that she’s been growing away from me ever since she was born, which makes me start to sob right alongside her.

And I tell her I don’t want her to go away to college either — it was hard enough when her brother graduated two years ago — and I tell her I would start all over again with her as a newborn if I could, and suddenly I’m the child and she’s comforting me, which makes me feel even worse, because it’s all about me when it should be all about her.

So I tell myself I have to do better, and suddenly my husband walks into the room and sees the two of us sobbing and says, “What the hell…” and I want to laugh but I can’t laugh because what but I truly, truly want is for her to be three years old again…
…and it isn’t even graduation day yet.

4am. I can’t sleep, which never happens, I’m the best sleeper I know, so when it’s the middle of the night and I’ve been awake for hours and I finally give in and sit up in bed, I know I’m in for a bad time.

I hope my husband will hear me and get up too, and discover some unrelated problem like the roof just caved in, which will at least be a welcome distraction. But of course he just keeps sleeping and even my loud sighs don’t wake him, so I realize that I’m in this alone, and I leave the bedroom.

I walk downstairs and even in the dark I think can see the faded areas of the wood floors in the front hallway, which reminds me that I really should get around to re-staining the floors, which reminds me that I’ve been putting it off because it’s expensive and it’s not like we’ll be in the house for another 20 years or anything.

That’s when I realize that lately when my husband and I talk about things that need to be done around the house, we justify the cost more for how it will help the resale value rather than how much we’ll use it. Like the upstairs bathroom with the chipped vanity and stained grout that really should be redone except that in the fall, only our tenth grader, Alyssa, will be using it, and the way time is flying these days, she’ll be heading for college in about two minutes anyway. And as I walk around in the dark, I can’t help feeling sorry for the house because it’s emptying out and maybe would prefer a young family to make it feel useful again.

Yes, it’s four-fifteen in the morning and I’m feeling sorry for my house. I roll my eyes at how pathetic I am and decide that since I’m up, I will force myself to do something constructive. So I go to my computer and start to write a letter to Rachel explaining how much I love her and how much I’ll miss her when she leaves for college, and I plan to give it to her in, like, ten years or so when today will all be a pleasant memory. But I know I can never give her such a letter — why burden her like that? — so I walk back to the bedroom, and when I crawl into bed, my husband finally gets up. But it’s not my moving that woke him, it’s my loud, miserable sobs that I really tried to stifle, because I know what he’ll say, and sure enough he says it.

“What the hell’s going on?”

“I just don’t know if I can deal with this,” I say as I put my hands over my face, and he says, “Can’t deal with what?” I know he thinks I’m crazy, but now it’s time to get up for real, I can hear Rachel’s alarm going off, and the only thing that makes me think I’m not crazy is that I know my friends are feeling the same way I do, and were probably up all night too, thinking about their depressed houses.

9am. The girls are fighting for the millionth time this week, this morning because Rachel plans to wear her orange Forever 21 dress under her graduation gown and Alyssa plans to wear the black version of the same Forever 21 dress, and Rachel screams, “Ma! Tell her she CAN’T WEAR IT! It’s MY graduation!”

And Alyssa says, “But she’s wearing a gown over it!”
And Rachel shouts, “But I’m going to take my gown off for pictures with my friends!”
“But nobody will see us together!”
“I don’t want you wearing it!”
“You can’t tell me what to wear!”
“Mom!”
“Mom!”
“MOM!”

And I can’t believe they still call me when they’re fighting, and it makes me sort of happy to be needed, but the problem resolves not when I step in, but when Alyssa finds out that most kids her age are wearing T-shirts and jean shorts anyway, so I feel useless all over again, and that’s what I’m feeling as we drive to the school and park the car.

We walk to the school field, and to the moms I know just in passing, I say, “Congratulations!” and “Isn’t this exciting!” and “What a great day!” and to the moms who are my friends, I say, “Doesn’t this suck?” and” I cried all night,” and they nod because they also think it sucks and they also cried, and truth be told, the moms I know in passing probably cried all night too.

And I make my way with Alyssa to the bleachers, where my husband and our older son planted themselves three hours ago so we’d all have a good view, and I thank them for coming early, although no doubt they’re extraordinarily grateful they were able to sit in the cool morning shade and peacefully read the newspaper on their iPads instead of dealing with me and listening to the girls fight about a couple of cheap dresses.

And the band starts “Pomp and Circumstance,” as the pre-teen in the row behind us whispers to her mother, “You’re crying already? You are such a LOSER!” and I’m determined not to be a loser too, so I put on my sunglasses and restrain myself from wiping a tear that is dripping past my lower lashes, so I am, after all, a loser too, but at least nobody is publicly scolding me.

And the sun is bright overhead and the breeze is cool and gentle, and the graduates are in their maroon caps and gowns, marching out of the school building in alphabetical order…

…and there she is. There’s Rachel, marching as determinedly as the first day she started preschool. Her smile is enormous, her pride contagious, and she is absolutely the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. And suddenly I’m not crying at all, I’m just so excited for her and all that lies ahead for her, and so very proud.

So I squeeze Alyssa’s shoulder, take my husband’s arm, puff out my chest and lift my chin, ready to accept the universe’s thanks for giving it this amazing person who is now accepting her diploma and shaking hands with the principal.

It is a great day, after all.

Barbara Solomon Josselsohn

Barbara Solomon Josselsohn is a freelance writer whose essays and articles appear in a range of publications, including Consumers Digest, The New York Times, Parents, American Baby, and Westchester Magazine. Her essay on the trials and tribulations of shopping for dorm furnishings, “College Makeover: The Dorm Edition,” is in the current (Summer 2014) issue of Westchester Home. She is the proud mother of three almost-grown children, and is happy that her children’s increasing independence is helping her find the time to finish her first novel.

Want to Help Your Kid in High School? One Teacher Shows How

A Guest Post from Emily Genser: It’s September. You are sitting, legs crossed, foot shaking, in one of the neatly aligned rows of high school desks. You look around the room at the other parents, some deflecting nerves into their phones, others lining up pens and notebooks to take notes and in walks the teacher. You wonder, how could she be in charge? She’s tiny and looks 12. And then she begins:

Hello! My name is Emily Genser and I have been teaching English for 14 years. I have taught every grade, 6-12 for at least one year, so I like to say I know where your child is coming from and I know where he’s going. I have taught every level from remedial to Advanced Placement. I promise this: I will make your child laugh. I will make your child work. I will introduce him to ideas that make him stretch and that challenge him. I will teach him.

Classroom

Middle School is No Man’s Land

As high school teachers, we understand that your kids are coming from the no man’s land of middle school. In middle school, emotions rule, grades mean nothing, and the only thing that truly matters is persistence. Kids learn to balance their wants with their needs. They are beginning to see the world for what it can be (sometimes cruel, sometimes wonderful) and to figure out where they will stand. They will go through personality changes like clothing trends, and may find that each new attitude is more constricting than the last. As parents, we just try to survive this time, looking for glimpses of the child we knew and hoping that the personality they choose allows space for us.  Sometimes parents look at school as a place where they can still be in control, and they will try to foist that control on the teacher. So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.

Freshman Year and The Brave New World

9th Grade: At the beginning of this year, you will get a chance to meet the teachers. TRUST THEM. You will be nervous, you will be worried about how big the classes are and you will worry that you child will get lost in the fray. You will think about your daughter’s anxiety, or your son’s reticence. You will worry about your 14-year-old being unfocused or lost and not asking for help. All of these worries are normal, and the teacher in front of you has seen everything and more before your son or daughter walks into her room. Remember that the teacher is a professional. Most states require that teachers have a Master’s Degree in teaching their subject. Every teacher wants your child to succeed and most will do whatever it takes to help them do just that. If you keep that in mind, you and the teacher will start off just fine.

MY SUGGESTION: Email the teacher. They might ask you to fill out a parent information form at the open house. Email them anyway. Most of those forms sit in a desk until they notice a problem. Don’t send a long email, but introduce yourself and your child. Include major concerns to look out for and provide any and all phone numbers. If your information is easy to access, the teacher will be more likely to get in touch. Stay up to date with your kid’s grades. Most schools use automated-web based grading programs now. Because of this, a lot of schools are not sending home progress reports and teachers will not update you until things are dire. If you see a trend in dropping grades across subjects, it is up to you to get in touch. We don’t know how your son/daughter is doing in other subjects, so what you see as an issue, we might not catch. Send an email. Check in at the midpoint of the year and again toward the end. These emails don’t go unnoticed. They keep your child on the radar. However, don’t over-email. Squeaky wheels get annoying, but don’t necessarily get results. No one wants to be hovered over.

DO NOT DO THEIR HOMEWORK. Check out Judith Newman’s column in the New York Times about helping with homework. It may come from a place of goodness in you, but it doesn’t ensure any sort of success for your child. If anything, when your child’s teacher notices it, and she will, it will upset her. It will make things harder for your child, not easier. When in doubt, email the teacher. Ask questions about how long an assignment is taking. Sometimes, one question could clear up the whole thing, and your child will be able to do the work. If he sees you asking questions and getting answers, perhaps he will model this behavior at school as well. Especially if he sees it working.

Sophomore Year and a Chance to Screw Up

10th Grade: Okay, year one is through and with each new year, we raise the bar for your child and lower it for you. Take a step back and breathe through it. It’s now time for your child to learn to advocate for himself. Go to open house. Meet the teachers. Feel free to email the teachers your information and some notes about your son or daughter. But only once, at the beginning of the year. Stay up to date with his grades, and ask him what projects are upcoming, but stand back and let him learn to plan his work, and to balance the load. He will hit potholes and sometimes fall in. Let him climb out. Let him fix what breaks. This is the year to screw up and work it out. This is the year to let him grow into himself. Only step in when there is no other choice.

Junior Year and Nine Tortuous Months

11th Grade: AAAAAH Junior year!!!!  This is the year. There is so much stress on your child in his junior year that you will go gray, go without sleep and you will not understand how he seems able to sleep comfortably at night. Teenagers have an amazing ability to hide their anxiety. Whether or not he shows it, he will be feeling frantic this year. He may be taking A.P. courses, is probably involved with extracurriculars of some sort, and he’s getting lots of homework. His classes are all harder now, and he’s hearing almost daily from counselors about how his future depends on what he is doing right now. Let home be a refuge from this. Keep things much the same as they have always been and try not to apply more pressure. He needs a place to breathe and this year, it is not at school. If he can wait another year to get a job, that might be a good idea. If he can’t, then make sure he doesn’t work too many hours. School comes first and always this year. It is that important.

ONE BIG SUGGESTION: Talk to your child about his teachers. Help him to figure out to whom he can go for a strong, personal recommendation. I have the most difficulties writing rec’s for the quiet students. If I don’t know your child well, my recommendation will be bland and generic. Also, make sure your child asks the teacher IN PERSON for a recommendation. He is asking us to do something extra, that is not required and for which we can barely find the time. It is a favor. Act accordingly.

Senior Year and the Victory Lap

12th grade: Home stretch. Once applications are in, the whole family can breathe more easily. There will be less pressure in school this year, overall, so just make sure that you are on top of the application process. Go to guidance meeting, if your school has them and make sure your child is meeting deadlines. Other than that, give him a bit of room to enjoy his last year of high school. He will have less homework and more long-term projects. Check on grades periodically, but start treating him like an adult. He’ll need to feel responsible for himself if he is leaving the house in a year. You’ll both be better for it, if you start the process of letting go now. Most of all, through everything, remember that we all want the same things.

Teachers and parents want to create leaders. We want to feel that we are helping individuals to find themselves and to become good, strong-minded adults who can take on the world in an informed way. If we work together, and give them a supportive foundation, then they will be ready for anything.
Emily GenserEmily Genser is the mother of Abigail (4 1/2) and Josh (2) and a high school English teacher in West Hartford, Connecticut. She is passionate about both jobs and spends most of her time laughing. You can find her blogging away her few free moments of the day at Exhausted but Smiling.

Last Call List for Senior Year

Lisa writes: Here I am, 365 days out from the empty nest.  The temptation is to spend a year boring you with lasts.  The last first day of school, the last birthday at home (trust me, this one is the real killer), or the last varsity game. But I am going to try and resist the pull to be maudlin and instead create a Parent’s Bucket List for senior year in high school, perhaps better thought of as the Last Call List….Everything I wish I had done before my older kids went to college.

senior year, senior year before college, off to college

 

1. Pay a professional photographer

Try for that one perfect set of family pictures that no amateur can capture.  It seems like the kids are grown, that the need to document their gorgeous faces has lost its urgency as the transitions slow.  Wrong.  That just-finished-childhood-not-quite-adult look is fleeting. Get someone who knows what they are doing to capture it.

 

2. Talk about failure and tell them of your failings

Tell them why you failed and how you recovered and how, for some period of time you thought you might not.  We loom so large in our children’s lives, as the people who once held superpowers. Let them know how those powers have often failed you as both an adult and a parent.


3. Buy them one beautiful thing

This moment, these last days, are worthy of commemorating and do not let them slip by unmarked.  Jewelry and watches are traditional choices for senior year, but beauty and meaning, not expense, are the salient factors in this purchase.

 

4. Tell them secrets

Disclose what they just might not know, things about your life that you, perhaps, glossed over, but now realize that they are old enough to understand.  You will be letting them know that things are not always as they seem, and that they are a trusted near-adult confident, worthy of sharing family secrets.  Talk to them like the adult that they will soon be;  it will fill them with the confidence to get there.

 

5. Let them go before they are gone

I kept my kids on an insanely tight leash senior year.  I monitored their every movement and made them check-in constantly.  In short, I drove them crazy.  And then I didn’t.  Once they were on the downslope of senior year, once everything they could do for college admission had been done, I let them take some victory laps, the well deserved privilege of senior year. They broke curfews, went out on a few school nights, and had a taste of freedom to come.

 

6. Have those painful talks

Sit down and have the discussion, the one you will wish you had had if, God forbid, anything ever goes wrong.  Sure, you can tell them where the wills are and how you hope to see your possessions disbursed.  But this is not that talk.  This is the talk where you recognize that you are speaking to a near-adult and you tell them why you love their other parent, what makes a good marriage, how shocking it was to find yourself a parent and yet how marvelous, what kind of wife/mother husband/father you hope they will one day be.  It will feel sad, and poignant, but while you are still in that day-to-day high school routine, take a step back and talk about the really big things in life.


7. And just for a minute grab them tight and hold them close

Give them the morning hug that had slipped out of your routine, and the kiss on the forehead that was, for years, a nightly ritual.  Sit by their bed with a hand on theirs because this is the time to try and capture that feeling forever.  This is the moment for that final squeeze, the brief moment when we clench them even tighter, hold them close enough to take our breath away and then let them go.

Oh, No, It’s the Teenage Years, Again

Gabby, a Grown and Flown friend, writes: When I became a new mother, I was often surprised when my youthful mother-in-law answered my specific questions about her own three babies with a shrug and the response, “You know… I just don’t remember.” My youngest child has befriended quite a few “first-borns” and, when I am asked questions by their moms, I have to admit, my own recollections are often vague much like my mother-in-law’s. When did I first let them ride public transport alone? Did they drive at night? When was curfew? –  leave me scratching my head. Embarrassed, I wonder to myself whether I was a bad mother, too stressed with our three children or simply blocked out the teenage years.

Re-entering  “the pre-launch stage” with my youngest child is a mixed blessing.  I enjoy things more, am more flexible, and less judgmental.  I don’t worry about the minutiae or, at least everything, and am I definitely more confident.

But there are times when I do think,  “Oh no, not this … I just can’t do the teenage years again.” Either I can’t muster the enthusiasm (like those energetic sideline moms) or I’m pretty sure I didn’t get it right the first time, or worse yet, now that I better understand the hazards of this specific stage (driving and texting, academic pressure, unhealthy relationships, under age drinking etc.) I realize I should really worry more.

teenagers, color wars

While I can’t recall all the specifics around parenting my older two during those high school years, I have learned quite a bit from the experiences.  So this time around my plan involves these top eight approaches…..

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Finishing High School, a Final Gift

Julie Burton, a Grown and Flown friend, writes: I finally took a breath. My daughter, who is finishing high school,  called less than 24 hours ago and said, “Another girl was supposed to have the senior skip day party but now she can’t so it’s okay that I told people they could come to our house, right?”

high school kids, high school seniors, high school boys and girls

“Isn’t senior skip day tomorrow?” I asked tentatively.

“Yes, but I don’t think everyone will come, ” she said with a touch of panic in her voice.

“There are 80 seniors, right?” My mind raced to figure out how I could pull this off as my husband was out of town, I was headed to my son’s baseball game, had another commitment after his game, a meeting first thing the next morning and two more later that afternoon.

“Ok, Sophie,” I said softly.

“Thanks, mom, I gotta go, I’ll call you later.”

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Prom Commandments

Mary Dell writes: As the mom of a teenage daughter, I occasionally feel like I am parenting on a separate planet from my friends who have teenage sons.  At Lisa’s house, sports are in full swing, and the mountains of standardized tests and specter of finals loom ahead.  At my house, we have all of that plus what can only be referred to as high season for the high school prom.

For Lisa, it has been three sons, three trips through 11th grade and barely a word about the prom.  Fifteen minutes to rent a tux, a five-minute phone call to order a corsage and yes, the sum total of time boys spent on the prom…twenty minutes. 

prom commandments-prom date-high school prom

With the biggest attire decision a boy has to make is peaked lapel or shawl, there is little to talk about except for the invitation. The onus of asking, despite so much about our gender roles changing, still lies with boys so whom to ask and how, are the important questions concerning young men.

But at our house, talk of the high school prom pops up with my daughter’s group of friends with the regularity of a favorite TV show which, at times, the conversation resembles.

While I flip their post-sleepover pancakes and lean into the conversation, the girls talk about more than dates, dresses and updos. They recount episodes of “prama” and review and revise their plans for the big night. At each step, they carefully abide by an unwritten code about prom behavior that I believe is not all bad.

Here are what I have dubbed their “Prom Commandments:”

1. Be considerate

Think of the male ego in choosing the heel height that complements your date. Think of the photos which, in the words of one girl,  “you will be looking at for the rest of your life.

2. Be inclusive

It is not just you going to the prom but it is each of your friends. Much of the planning involves making sure that each girl has a date or, at least, a group to join.

3. Be original

If the girls in your school have created a Facebook group to which they post their dresses, check to see if the one you just fell in love with has already been taken.  With a few taps on the smart phone, the answer is available while you are still in the dressing room.

4. Feel pride

Prom is as much a photo-op as a night out, so your hair, nails, makeup… go ahead and schedule those appointments, but just don’t overdo it.

5. Plan ahead

Shop for a dress early before the most popular colors and sizes get snatched up.  According to The New York Times, the red carpet at the Academy Awards in February  kicks off the prom dress shopping season.

6. Be respectful

The senior girls signal the dos and don’ts about length of dress, for example, and who rules the prom committee.  It is their last dance and they deserve center stage.

7. Be practical

If wearing a strapless dress, get it fitted so you’re not pulling it up the whole night.

8. Be polite

Say “yes” to any boy who asks you to be his date, especially if there is an audience when he invites you.

9. Be confident

If you don’t get invited by a boy in your school, take the initiative to ask  a date, especially if you have someone in mind from another school.

10. Be smart

Obey school rules. Do you really want to get in trouble the last month of high school?

(I confess, the last one is mine.  As moms, we are allowed to dream, aren’t we?)

Yikes! The New York TImes has an article suggesting that to make a big splash when asking a girl, teenage boys are seeking out professionals, Prom is Easy: The Ask Takes Planning

College Admission and Toxic Questions

Mary Dell writes: Once our children become teenagers, there is one big question that looms large over their four years of high school – where will they gain college admission. Lisa and I both have 11th graders who are taking the SAT, visiting schools and, along with three million other kids, seeking the answer.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnQKxns6krA [Read more...]

12 Best Ways to Help Your Teen Through Junior Year

Lisa writes: I am going through Junior year for the fourth time.

high school, eleventh grade, teenage girl, sunset

First, in the late 1970s, I endured it myself. Then as the mother of three I watched my boys battle through this long tough year, struggling with their academic and athletic schedules while trying to visit colleges, navigate a minefield of standardized tests, have a social life and learn to drive.

It is an exhausting process for both parent and teen, fraught with emotion as our kids prepare for the next stage in their lives. At Grown and Flown, I have explored my journey towards the empty nest and there is no question that Junior year is the first step on that journey. Here are some suggestions to help them on their way:

1. Study for the SAT in the summer

The time to study for the SAT is during the summer between 10th and 11th grade. While your child will not have reached their ideal intellectual maturity, once school begins, they will never again have this much time to focus on this daunting task. Whatever your preferred method of study, get them started before the chaos of junior year descends.

2. Write the college essay with an English teacher

The single best person to help your child write their college admissions essay is not you, the emotional parent, nor is it a paid consultant. The best person is an experienced high school English teacher, preferably one who has taught your child. A teacher will ask all the right questions and help move the process along (“Is that what you mean to say here, it is not clear to the reader? Do you have more details you can add to bring your story to life?”) but will not write the essay for your child. Find this English teacher during 11th grade so that teacher and student can work together the summer before 12th grade commences.

3. Don’t do a spring sport unless necessary

If your high school junior plays a spring sport seriously, so be it, but if they have signed up for that spring sport for social reasons or as a resume enhancer, suggest that they reconsider. Spring of junior year is the hardest time of the year, truthfully, the most challenging season of all four years of high school. Try to help them keep anything unnecessary off their schedules.

4. Don’t visit colleges until junior year

Much has been written about the pressure on juniors as they enter the college process. The easiest way to reduce the pressure is to ban conversation about college and, particularly, premature college visits until the middle of 11th grade. Most of these early conversations and trips are wasted because teens change so much over their four years. If kids concentrate on their studies, activities and standardized tests, they will have done themselves a favor once the process begins in earnest. Behind the scenes, parents can do some research about which colleges will best suit their family’s budget and their child’s interests, but until the middle of junior year, students should just focus on the job at hand. It is hard enough.  

5. Pick one activity and stick with it

High school is about finding yourself and your interests but colleges insist they want to see depth and leadership in a student’s activities. The answer? Before your student begins ninth grade, try to help them select one interest or activity that they will pursue for all four years, with a serious commitment to the highest standard they are able to achieve. It doesn’t matter what it is — music, art, community service or a sport. Urge them to pick something they love and envision sticking with throughout high school. Other activities they can pick up and drop as their interests change, but they should select one interest about which they remain constant.

6. Ask for teachers recommendations early

Teacher recommendations need to be written by a teacher that students have in junior or senior year. With the early college application deadlines in November, this, realistically, means it needs to be a junior year teacher. Students should ask for this recommendation before school ends in 11th grade. Teachers are inundated with requests and students should ask early, politely and give the teacher the entire summer to address the request.

7. Avoid signing up for too many tests in May

Standardized tests introduce an entirely new alphabet soup of terms to first time junior parents. If your child is taking one or more AP classes, she will be required to take the AP test for each class in May on dates specified by the College Board. Don’t forget there will be classroom work and tests to do so avoid a May meltdown by looking to other months for the SAT, ACT, or SAT II tests.

8. Read the fine print

Parents need to be involved in the application process. This is a complicated process with multiple essays, recommendations, supplements and more. One of my kids almost missed an application deadline because the art supplement needed to be submitted in October. Another son almost did not get a recommendation from an employer because he missed a small asterisk describing the circumstance under which additional letters were allowed. They were studying for exams, doing sports and activities… I read the fine print.

9. Plan out all four years before they start

Sit down with your to-be 9th grader with their high school course catalogue and plan backward from 12th grade. Together, think about what they hope to accomplish academically over the four years. Few schools sit with kids and plan out their four years even though many classes have prerequisites. Help them pick the most challenging classes they hope to take in the subject areas they like best and develop a plan of how to get there. Things may change, interests alter, but kids with a plan have goals for themselves.

10. Learn to drive in the summer

Depending on your child’s birthday, can they do any of the work for driver’s education or training during the summer before junior year? This is not possible for all kids but for those whose birthdays allow for it, summer is the best time to learn to drive, when they have more time and weather is not an issue.

11. Start the year rested

Despite the above points about making time for SAT studying and driving in the summer, the most important thing to accomplish in the summer before this demanding year is to make sure your teen is rested. High school kids have summer jobs and perhaps for the first time, are staying out a bit later. Don’t let this get in the way of sleep. Beginning 11th grade anything other than fully rested will only be a great handicap in the year to come.

12. Parents: be ready with an ear and a shoulder

The most important thing a parent can do for their high school junior is continue to offer support and a listening ear. Even the calmest of teen will hit rough patches when angry rants or tears of exhaustion emerge. Being there to listen, console and offer counsel is the single best thing a parent can offer as help in guiding them through this tough year.

So much I learned about helping my kids through this process came from the wisdom of parents with kids older than mine. I would love to hear how you helped your child navigate the college process.

 

College Board Drops the Green Flag

Mary Dell writes: For our two families, the fall is well underway with our older kids back at college and our younger two  starting 11th grade. However, we have parented juniors before and we know what is heading their way. This year will be different for our youngest as they enter a new phase in their lives, thanks to the College Board.

 

Daytona 500, green flag, racing flag, PSAT,NASCAR, family trip to Daytona, teenage kids at Daytona, racing start

Like a Daytona 500 starter dropping the green flag, the College Board will soon summons juniors to sit for the PSAT,  signalling the beginning of the race known as college application season.

SAT, College Board, PSAT test, college acceptance tests for juniors, high school testing, college testingThe PSAT is big –  3.5 million kids big – and it is the one pre-college test that all juniors take with all of their classmates on a single day in October.  It is a rite of passage going back to 1971 (hey, we took it too!) and, for generations of kids, the PSAT  has started the college ball rolling.

Once the scores are returned, the next lap will feel long for high school juniors…and their parents, too. While our kids compete for college acceptance, we act as pit crews, praying there will be no crashes.  Lisa and I endured this with our older children and we can tell you that, with the PSAT behind them, they will begin to take SATs, SAT IIs, APs, ACTs (on top of the tests they take for their regular old school work.) It is exhausting just to watch! No wonder “junior year” is a synonym for “stressed out.”

It is not only College Board’s calendar that forces our children to shift into a higher gear. Already, they have begun to leave behind a more innocent age on their own. I saw it clearly at my daughter’s recent soccer team dinner. At the end of the night, eight juniors read a poem, honoring the eight seniors. While each 11th grade girl entered the dining room as an underling, each departed as a senior member of the team.

college testing, PSAT test, PSAT answer sheet, college test prep, junior year, college applications, SAT practice test

Likewise, our daughter will turn 17 in mid-November, cleared by NY State to drive wherever, whomever and whenever she wants. She plans to celebrate her birthday with friends out to dinner and I doubt we will be on the guest list.

By virtue of birth order,  she is and will remain our baby.  On the day she was born, when my husband brought our five-year old to see his sister in the hospital room, I was shocked at how changed my son looked to me. As he stood on tiptoes to kiss our new tiny child, he seemed much older than just the day before. Now it is time for me to see her in a different light, perhaps for the very first time.

It’s junior year and the College Board may hold the green flag, but if I look closely, I see that my child, our youngest, is already well down the track.

college board

 

College Board

Is this how your child’s junior year felt to you? 

What I Really Love about College Football

Mary Dell writes: Fall is my favorite season. Along with the just-turning foliage, comes the return of my preferred spectator sport – college football. My passion stems from the Friday Night Lights elements of my upbringing and the four years I spent in Austin at the University of Texas.  I am a genuine Longhorn fan and spent many happy game days at the UT Stadium.  But the real reason I love college football is that our son, a college senior, is a big fan, too.  Now a fun and shared pastime, following the sport during his teenage years was more like a lifeline that kept our relationship afloat.

UT Football, Longhorns, college football, UT stadium, Texas Longhorns

While he was in high school, our son developed the evasive skills that all teenagers acquire fielding questions from well-meaning neighbors, family members, and perfect strangers. Where do you want to go to college/ have you taken your SATs/ what do you want to major in? Against that backdrop of inquisition, we had moments when our disagreements over studying, tests, and college applications would have made for excellent reality television. More recently, we have had a few “animated discussions” as we both adjust to his young adulthood status. [Read more...]

Surviving High School, It Begins in Sixth Grade

 

middle school challenges, junior highLisa writes: Ahhhh…the beauty, the certainty of 20/20 hindsight.  As my youngest nears the end of high school, I have reflected upon what qualities allow kids to perform at their best and enjoy their four years to the fullest. What were the most important things I could have done for my kids, starting in perhaps sixth grade, that would have impacted their chance of surviving high school and beyond?  Not surprisingly, they were not the things uppermost on my mind as my kids turned 12. If I had it to do again…

what to do in middle school

 

I would make sure that my child, if possible, was above average at a sport, music, art or another activity.  Not get-recruited-at-a-D1-school good, but get-picked-for-the-JV-team good. Part of high school is finding your place and that is much easier to do if you are selected for the field hockey team or given a role in the school play.  I know educators often advocate the benefits of being well-rounded, but competence and accomplishment breed self-esteem and social well-being.

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Man of the House: Thoughts on a Son’s High School Graduation

From Suzy, a Grown and Flown friend: My first child celebrated his high school graduation last weekend. It’s all good – he’s ready. He’s heading off to the college of his choice and is excited to broaden his world beyond the school community where he has spent thirteen years. As I look ahead to September, so many thoughts and emotions bubble to the surface.

high school graduation, son, oldest son, son going to college

I imagine what he will take with him and what he will leave behind.  I imagine his dorm room and (still faceless) roommates, the way they will live together.  I wonder if he will keep his room neater than he does at home.  I imagine how he will come home and be thrilled to sleep in his bed again in his newly cleaned room. I pray that he will be happy. I have thought about all of these things except the space it will leave in my life.

My sons’ father and I split up when the boys were young, and my older son, then in second grade, without any urging from me, assumed the role of “man of the house.”  This was not necessarily a good thing – sometimes he threw his weight around too much.  It took some effort to make him understand that the seat at the head of the table was not, by all rights, his.

Yet as I look back, I am struck by the many ways in which he, in assuming that role, took care of me. The note he wrote me on the anniversary of my father’s death. The meaning-filled gifts he has given me. The times he told me to sit down and relax.  The ways in which he has helped protect family time. As he grew into a man, he has carried the heavy stuff, reached to get the boxes stored up high, taken responsibility for so much.  The kid in him whines sometimes and pushes his younger brother to share the load, but at the core, he takes pride in being there for me.

My younger son and I have a quieter partnership, fewer ripples. The house is still when it’s just the two of us, and more peaceful.  My older son walks loudly and consumes more emotional space. But I know that in that large and dominating personality is a deep loyalty and commitment to me.

Now that we have now finished with all of the high school graduation festivities, I think of his next move to college. He will need to let go of me as much as I will be letting go of him.  I promise him, I’ll be just fine.