This Post: 10 Things You Should Know Before Your Teen Starts High School
Written by: Hina Talib MD/Pediatrician (Adapted from a list by Kristi Reed @kreeds5)
It might seem like yesterday when you were dropping your timid baby off in kindergarten as you tearfully walked away. And, here you are… in what seems like a blink of an eye, your now much bigger baby is headed off to high school.
The jump from middle to high school can be both exciting and scary for teens and parents alike. Not only is it more challenging academically, but throughout the next four years, your teen will grow and mature by leaps and bounds as they navigate the sometimes tumultuous waters of high school.
In my practice as a pediatrician specializing in adolescents, I’ve heard about many of the challenges parents face during these pivotal years with their kids. To help you better support your teen as they venture into the next big phase of their life, here are 10 things you should know before your teen starts high school.
10 Things You Should Know Before Your Teen Starts High School
#1 No Topic Should Be Off Limits
The high school years are challenging for teenagers. The vast majority of teens will face a host of obstacles, temptations and situations that will test their confidence, will and logic. Everything from being exposed to alcohol and drugs to feeling pressured to have sex – they’re likely to experience it all in high school.
Talk to your teen a lot. Talk about the easy stuff and the hard stuff. Your teen needs to know that no topic is off-limits. The more you talk to your teen about the tough subjects like sex, drinking, drugs and pornography, the less likely they’ll be to engage in risky behavior.
#2 Remember How Much You Wanted to Fit In – Help Them Learn How to Be a Good Friend
The high school years (and middle school years, too) are the only time in our kids’ lives when they’ll try to become their own person, all while striving to fit in. Try to be the support your teen needs during this tumultuous time in their lives. Remember what it felt like to be back in high school – the fear you had of not fitting in, of doing or saying something dumb and wanting to (at the very least) not be at the bottom of the popularity totem pole.
Help your teen shift their focus from “fitting in” to surrounding themselves with good friends who appreciate and love them exactly as they are. Talk with them about what it takes to be a good friend and encourage them to be kind, inclusive and empathetic toward others. In doing so, others will gravitate toward them and they will fit in.
#3 You Only Have One Shot at a First Reaction
Your son walks in the door after hanging out with friends on a Friday night and he confides in you that one of the guys he was with was smoking weed and drinking. You may not realize it, but your next move lays the foundation for future open dialogue with your son.
Overreact and he’s likely to shut down and avoid telling you anything in the future. He may even begin lying to avoid the long lectures, yelling or fierce interrogations that he feels are sure to follow. A better option is to keep your cool and listen. The more approachable you are and the more low-key your reactions are, the more likely your teen will be to share the details of their life offering you more influence to guide them in the long run. If you blow it and overreact, (face it, we all do from time to time) apologize. Your child needs to hear it.
#4 There’s Nothing Wrong with a “C” – Don’t Make Perfection Your Standard
Ask any teenager who’s made it through high school and they’ll tell you, high school is hard. The expectations are higher, the demands greater and the classes more challenging. Not to mention the fact that high schoolers have to juggle school, extracurriculars, sports, internships, jobs, their social lives and responsibilities at home.
The bottom line is even typical straight “A” students can falter in high school. And, kids who may have struggled in middle school might find it even more difficult. Back off of perfectionistic standards and approach the high school years with realistic expectations of your teen’s abilities.
#5 When They Mess Up, Don’t Attack Their Character
They’re growing up, learning how to become more independent, making decisions on their own and preparing to take on this world without you – your teen is bound to make mistakes.
As opposed to tossing out careless harsh comments that attack their character such as, “If you weren’t so lazy and irresponsible, maybe you’d get your homework in on time!” stick to the facts and support and guide your teen to prevent them from making the same mistake twice.
#6 Their Behavior is Not a Reflection of How Good a Parent You Are
You’ve spent the better part of your child’s life teaching them right from wrong, and yet, suddenly he’s made a few poor choices, messed up royally or perhaps veered off path.
The road to adulthood is oftentimes filled with blind curves, potholes and detours. Just because your teen is experiencing a few bumps in the road surely doesn’t mean they won’t eventually find their way. Moreover, your teen’s behavior is not a reflection of how good a parent you are. Nearly every parent struggles with their teen at one point or another.
#7 Consent Means More Than “No Means No”
Get in the trenches with your teen on this subject. Years of research have proven that open communication at home is the key to preventing teenagers from engaging in risky sexual behavior. Even if your teen gets embarrassed, dive into the rules of sexual consent, that “no” always means “no,” that “no” can be conveyed non-verbally, “yes” can be withdrawn at any time and when alcohol and/or drugs are involved, it always muddies the water of consent.
#8 Stop Being the “Fixer”
By the time our kids reach high school, they don’t always want or need our advice, insight or solutions. Sometimes, all they really want is a sounding board to vent, empathy so they don’t feel alone and reassurance that our love is steadfast.
The next time your son or daughter walks in the door upset about something that happened during their day, resist the urge to jump in and be the “fixer.” Offer them a cold drink or their favorite snack, sit beside them and listen if they’re in the mood to talk. If not, let it go and revisit it later. Give them the space they need to figure out a few things on their own.
#9 Good Kids are Capable of Making Bad Decisions
Deep down inside, every parent wants their teen to be “a good kid.” The kid who walks the straight and narrow, who follows the rules, does well in school and never makes poor decisions. However, that’s not the narrative for the vast majority of teenagers. In fact, most teenagers make more than a few mistakes and poor decisions throughout high school.
Rather than setting the bar too high and expecting your child to be a “good kid” in high school, it’s far better to have realistic expectations with the understanding that your child is likely to mess up, make a few poor choices and defy your rules from time to time. Good kids are capable of making bad decisions – it doesn’t make them “bad” kids.
#10 Suicide is Real – Let Your Teen Know You’ll Help Them Get Through Anything
While every parent would like to believe that their child isn’t capable of suicide, the spike in teen suicide has spawned greater awareness and the harsh reality that suicide can happen to any child in any family.
Of all the things you should know before your teen starts high school, remember that your teen’s mental health is fragile. Help them protect it. Teach them the importance of self-care, ways they can manage their stress, and the importance of talking openly and honestly if they’re struggling and reaching out for help should they need it. According to the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, “Once you acknowledge that suicide is as much of a risk factor for your child as not wearing a seatbelt while driving, using alcohol or drugs, or engaging in risky sexual behavior, you’ve taken the first step in prevention.”
About Dr. Hina Talib
Dr. Hina Talib, MD (She/Her) is a board-certified Pediatrician and Adolescent Medicine specialist, writer, and teen media creative based in New York City and Bridgehampton. She is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Obstetrics and Gynecology & Women’s Health at a Children’s Hospital in New York where she has practiced adolescent medicine for over 10 years. Her clinical focus includes all things teen health, mental health, wellness and gynecology. She is a consultant at the Children’s Aid Society, one of the nation’s oldest foster care agencies. Building on her passion as an educator, she directs the Adolescent Medicine fellowship training program, training future teen health experts. Dr. Talib edited a textbook Adolescent Gynecology in 2018 and has published research in the field.