Perhaps one of the most challenging transitions for parents happens as their child nears the end of 8th grade. With high school so within reach, there is understandable anxiety for both parent and child. After working with high school students for the past 25 years, and as a parent to teens, I’ve learned some important reminders to make the adjustment more meaningful.
1. Encourage your child to advocate for themselves
If your child hasn’t already, this is the time to encourage him to advocate for his education. Unless there is an imperative issue or your child is not getting a response from his teacher, your child should learn how to communicate with the adults in his academic world. This may be an excellent time to show your child what a cordial, professional-looking email looks like (a greeting, a concise and specific message, and a closure such as ‘thank you’).
Remind your child that email interactions give an impression of yourself so that someday — when your child is an adult — he will be in the habit of effective online communication. Assisting your child to contact teachers independently also helps him feel more adult, capable, and responsible for his learning. In addition, it sends a message that he is taking individual accountability.
2. If your child can’t advocate for themselves, you need to advocate for them
If your child is not ready or unable to communicate on behalf of herself, let her know you are her advocate. This does not mean you excuse all of her choices, but it does mean that you are her biggest cheerleader throughout her education and are willing to reach out to teachers, counselors, and other resources when needed.
3. Keep an eye on the parent portal
Many schools post formative and summative scores throughout the grading period. One score can often have a significant effect on an overall grade. The sooner this is noticed, the more time your child has to remedy. In addition to looking at the score, see if the teacher posts a comment. Students frequently overlook these comments, and they often provide essential feedback.
4. Encourage your child to choose classes that matter to her, not to her friends
I wish I could convince students to take this advice! Despite this critical suggestion, most students will register for the courses their friends take or recommend. However, the right path for one student is not necessarily the right one for another. Encourage your child to choose paths based on interest, a counselor or advisor’s recommendations, or a future career plan. High school is a beautiful and safe time to explore academic options.
5. An undesired grade in a class is sometimes an important lesson learned
As a parent, when my teen does not do well in school, my immediate reaction is to fix it. However, I must ask myself if I am working more than her to resolve it. If this is true, I do my best to step back. Of course, I want her to do well, but I also know that the reality of seeing an unfortunate grade on her transcript will bother her. Hopefully, this reality will serve as a reminder and motivator in the future. If it does not, it is time to connect with resources at the school for guidance and support.
6. Talk to your child about phone etiquette
In middle school, phones are often off-limits. In high school, however, students are sometimes given more adult-like responsibility for their phone use. This is the time for your child to understand how his phone use influences the impression others have of him.
For example, a peer may be comfortable interacting while simultaneously looking down at a phone, but a teacher may likely view this negatively. In addition, phones can become highly distracting and affect academic success. Using the next four years as a platform to learn the appropriate use of devices is crucial before entering the post-high school world.
7. Meet upperclassmen and students outside of your social circle
Many freshmen shy away from their ‘elder’ peers, but freshmen have told me that getting to know students from other classes can be helpful. These peers can offer advice, help students learn the unspoken social rules of school, and become peer mentors with difficult homework. In addition, getting to know peers outside of your immediate social group helps build the school community.
8. Join an activity
Perhaps this is the most crucial suggestion on this list. Joining an activity offers a young high schooler an immediate social group, a positive way to use her time, an opportunity to be seen as a leader, and a chance to meet students with similar interests. It can offer a sense of belonging. It is so exciting how many clubs, organizations, and athletic groups are available to students today. If a club is not offered, and you have a willing child, she could suggest the club idea to the administration — my favorite example: the Rubix Enthusiast Club, which a group of students kept active for years.
9. Seek out resources when needed
I’ve learned that many students and families are unaware of the enormous assistance a school can offer. Your child may likely have access to an academic advisor, a social worker, a psychologist, a chemical dependency or mental health counselor, a physical therapist, and more.
Know that these people are not just there for personal support, but also as adults who can offer research and information. If your child is curious about these individuals’ occupations or daily life, these people are often very enthusiastic about communicating with youth. And as a parent, if you are concerned about your child, it is good to know what resources are there for you.
10. Start fresh
The start of high school is a wonderful time to set new personal, academic, and social goals. These goals could be things like getting outside of one’s comfort zone, raising one’s hand in class, or cutting back on procrastination. Encourage your child to think about her personal growth, and be sure the goal is her idea. And when you see her make progress on it, remind her to congratulate herself. These next four years are about figuring out who she is and wants to become.
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