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.

 

Ready for Takeoff? Facing the Question with Autism

April 2 is the seventh annual World Autism Awareness Day and organizations around the globe will raise funds and awareness for the condition that now affects 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys.  This is a cause near to our hearts and Grown and Flown asked two mothers of grown children with autism to share their stories this week. On Monday  we featured Liane Kupferberg Carter’s writing and today, we are honored that Susan Berger, author of the blog, Berger’s Blather offers this heartfelt post:

young adult, teenager, autism

My 19–year–old son is almost ready to launch.  Well, that’s what I tell myself. “Almost,” as in “You can do it,” “You’re nearly there,” has become my lifelong one-word personal prayer. My son is on the cusp of leaving home, the pivotal step toward the rest of his life–ordinarily an expected and desired move most parents and young adults strive for.

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Rules: the Fewer the Better

Lisa writes: My kids did not have curfews. We had no rules about where they were supposed to do their homework or even when. There were no real rules about food, dress, chores, or even tidiness. We bought a dog without extracting a single promise from our sons. This was not an oversight as I had grown up in a home with a litany of rules. On the other hand, my kids had strict rules about computer use, bedtime, manners, academic and athletic endeavors and, above all, lying.

rules, street sign

When and how we make rules for our kids is one of the trickiest aspects of parenting. Enforcing and altering them is the other tricky part. Rule making is not something to take lightly or to try and do on the fly. It is important that we have a philosophical underpinning to the constructs we set for our kids.

Yet for me, the number one rule was: make as few rules as possible. It was, I believe, a risky proposition, one about which I received a great deal of criticism, but I believe it has merits.

Larry Nucci, a research psychologist at the Institute of Human Development at the University of California, Berkeley, argues that we make four kinds of rules. There are moral rules, safety rules, rules of social convention, and then there are the all-encompassing others. And it is in this final catchall category that things quickly become murky, where most of the family battle are fought.

Parenting expert Dr. Alan Kazdin, director of the Yale Parenting Center, argues for care in applying rules. He suggests that, when faced with an unwanted behavior, parents ask themselves if they can live with the behavior and, if perhaps, it is something that will, in time, change on its own.

One of my single biggest mistakes as a parent was extrapolating. l would assume that the behavior I abhorred, a lack of personal hygiene or mouth full of teenage cynicism, would last forever. My anxiety at any given moment had to do with the mouthy, unkempt 20-year old I could see in my future. That person, needless to say, never materialized, but his image effected my behavior. Kazdin gives many examples from attention issues to lying and delinquent behavior that often resolve over time. He entreats parents not to legislate away behavior that will disappear on its own.

Ultimately, the role of rules is for our kids to internalize desirable behaviors, to do what we have taught them even when we are no longer there to enforce our will. For me, this argues for taking the risk and trying to raise kids with as few rules as possible. The most recent research suggests that rigid parenting is not without its own risks in terms of both defiant behavior and unhealthy practices.

Early on, I thought my kids were remote control cars and that I could steer with my rules. I was painfully naive. Here are my rules about, well, making rules.

1. Make as few rules as possible.

The dirty little secret about rules is that they require enforcement which rates right up there as one of the least enjoyable aspects of parenting. Keeping credibility with our kids is paramount so with each rule there is more enforcement and more negativity. For me this argues for picking rules very carefully, deciding what is essential in our families and then My rules had high stakes, had to be picky.

2. Go easy with the rule making early on, the hard stuff lies ahead.

While I would have loved to have rules about tidy rooms and clean clothes, looking ahead I knew that rules about driving, drinking, respect for girls were going to be non-negotiable in my house. I tried to pace myself, knowing that these major issue loomed on the horizon.

3. Ignore what anyone else (other than your child’s other parent) does, it truly does not matter.

Every family has their own rules, which is as it should be, and concerning ourselves with another family can only mess with our heads. This includes grandparents and siblings. Our kids are our kids, and the rules we set must be our own.

4. Different kids, different rules.

I get the controversy surrounding this, but like so many families, my kids were so different, their needs so different, that I plugged my ears to the chorus of “it’s not fair, you let him…” and forged ahead. In the end they felt treated as individuals, seen for who they truly are…but in the midst, I got nothing but pushback.

5. Rules have a hierarchy.

There is a reason that there are ten commandments because those were the rules that were metaphorically etched in stone. Our religious texts are replete with rules, but they have a hierarchy and our homes need the same. Not all rules are created the same and our kids need to know explicitly that some loom far larger than others. Stay up past your bedtime and you are looking at a stern word or maybe an earlier bedtime the following night. Hit another kid on the soccer field and you are looking at a trip to the 1970’s, weeks of grounding and a ban from playing sports.

6. Parents do not always need to explain themselves.

My parents made rules and I did not even dream of asking why. I made rules and my kids wanted to explore my reasoning like anthropologists uncovering a new civilization. Then they wanted to negotiate. It is great if we can explain ourselves, it is great if our kids buy in, but one truth that does not change from generation to generation is that we are the adults and we make the rules.

7. Rules should say something about the person we hope our children will become.

They are a way to transmit our families’ values, not just a method of keeping our kids in line. It was all to easy to look at rules as a way of controlling behavior rather than imparting . Dr. Kazdin’s filter of, “do I need to change this behavior,” rather than “do I want to change this behavior” is an excellent one. In reality, I could live with far more that I considered undesirable than I thought I could.

8. Think ahead.

My son’s principal told the 9th grade parents, think of the curfew you want spring of senior year and then work backwards to what it means for your 9th grader. If you start at midnight in the first year of high school, he warned us, you will not like where you end up in four years. This is true of every rule that moves with age and maturity.

9. Parents need to be on the same page regarding family rules and, sometimes, they need to get other parents to, at least, read that page.

I had rules about R-rated movies, but I know that my kids visited houses with more lenient rules. Crossing my fingers was not good enough. I had to call other moms and tell them the rules my sons were expected to live by. As awkward as this can be, I found that this goes remarkably well.

10. Don’t depend too heavily on the rules we had as children; this is a different world.

While some things are immutable, so many of the rules I had – wi-fi off at 10:00 or no multiplayer games with strangers –  were not exactly things my parents had to contend with. It is a new world and it requires new rules.

11. Think about the ways your child might break your rules and build failsafe into the package.

My kids were not allowed to use the computer after 9:30. I programmed the parental controls to disconnect them from the wi-fi at 9:30. I was feeling pretty good about myself until I found one son on his computer at 10. He had simply changed the time on his computer to 8:00 and continued on his merry way. Reliable enforcement needs to be a built-in part of making rules.

12. Finally, many rules have a natural life.

Boyfriends and girlfriends might not be allowed to sleep over in high school, but what about in college? Computer use rules generally relax with the age of the child. It is important to sunset rules, to plan for their waning and retirement even before that day arises.

Maybe my kids had too few rules, the jury is still out. But one thing I feel certain about, parenting isn’t made easier with more rules, it is harder. And enforcing what is important only becomes more difficult in the face of a litany of decrees. For most of what I hoped for my children, I tried, with mixed success, to model the behavior I hoped from them and set for them clear expectations. I plugged the holes with a whole lot of nagging. The truth is, that in most areas, the micromanaging with rules was effort and heartache wasted. Every time I found myself thinking, what happens if he does not do what I am saying and the answer was, really not very much, I got rid of that rule.

Parenting: It Is Not My Job

Lisa writes: It is not my job.

Being a parent is a really tough job. Many argue that it is the toughest job. Yet, speaking only for myself, I made parenthood far harder than it needed to be by taking on jobs that were not mine. My job is to love and care for my kids, to make them feel safe and teach them to navigate the world into which they will venture. My job is to teach my sons the set of values, rightly or wrongly, that their father and I hold dear. My job is to launch educated, good, responsible men.

girl in snow

That is a tall order without adding a whole list of other parenting challenges, that frankly I am not certain can be achieved.

It is not my job to find my child’s “passion.” Passion by its very nature is deeply personal and individualistic. One person simply cannot find it for another. If my kids want one, they will have to find their own Not everyone has a passion and the notion that everyone does is a middle class artifice of the late 20th century. I promise, many people have lived and died having wonderful lives without beholding a “passion.” I do not have a passion, and honestly, I am okay.

It is not my job to build my kid’s self-esteem, but rather to give them the tools to earn it for themselves. Self esteem results from setting challenging goals for ourselves and then accomplishing them. Sure, the recognition of others helps, but only if we know it to be genuine (and kids can see through this at a shockingly early age.) So I can encourage my kids to set themselves goals and to stick with them, but I cannot bestow self-esteem upon them, that they will have to earn it for themselves.

It is not my job to be my kid’s companion. I love being with my kids, and since they entered adolescence, I suspect I love being with them a whole lot more than they love being with me. When they were small they would demand my attention  and I felt that I failed them when I didn’t keep them company or play with them as they wished. In doing that, I took on a job that was not mine. Kids need their parents for love, comfort and guidance…playmate on demand is simply not in the job description. It helps to remember that the happiest people are those content with their own company.

It is not my job to make my kids happy. I am pretty sure if I could have figured out the key to happiness, I would have sold it and funded their tuition. My notion of happiness is not static and it has evolved over my life. I know that getting what you think you want does not always lead to happiness. I know that money can buy peace of mind, a sense of security and freedom from certain hardships, but it cannot touch happiness. I know that true happiness is looking at the world through your own lens, not the one handed to you by others, even your parents. And as the mom of three I know that happiness is so different for each child that even if I had the power to bestow it, which I certainly do not, it would consume my every waking minute repackaging it three times over. Finding happiness has been a lifelong, and not always successful journey; I really don’t have the runway to find it for four people. So my kids are going to have to do what I and every other person did, and find it on their own.

My job was to model and teach impulse control and deferred gratification. None of us can always get what we want. The Stones taught me that, and it is my job to pass this along to my kids.

My job was to give my sons relationships that would last a lifetime, people who they could turn to in need. That is what family and close friends are for. But far more than teaching that people will always be there for them, I hope I have taught them to be there for those they love. 

My job was to teach them right from wrong in a world that may well contradict my message.

My job was to make sure that my kids launched into the world as well-educated and well prepared as they could be.

My job was to make them flexible and unencumbered by the past, prepared for a world I have not seen.

My job was to teach them that quitting is sometimes, but rarely, the answer. We do not learn persistence (and grit) by doing what we love. We learn persistence by doing what we don’t love.

Being a parent calls on every physical, intellectual and emotional resource we have. It is a long complex process and I, for one, made it a whole lot harder than it needed to be. As parents, we pondered how our own parents had it so much easier, how life was simpler and they found raising us far less challenging. We hear this question often and assume it was because we were raised in simpler times that demanded far less of parents. But maybe it is otherwise. Maybe our parents had a better sense of what was possible for parents to achieve. Maybe they knew what was their job and what, as children, was ours.

girl playing in snow

New York Times Features Grown and Flown on Cheating at School

One day separates kids from winter break and soon, final papers and exams will be over and done with. Report cards arriving in inboxes or mailboxes will provide not only an assessment of the fall, but also an opportunity to discuss the grades earned and the integrity behind the effort. Today in The New York Times Motherlode blog, educator, author and parent, Jessica Lahey addresses academic honesty and cheating at school. She quotes Lisa’s Grown and Flown post on the same topic and gives parents the tools they need to tackle this uncomfortable but important subject.

Pinocchio, cheating at school

Here are some of Jessica’s observations about why students cheat:

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