The SAT, driver’s test, and prom. High school brings opportunities and challenges within and outside of the school building. This is a transformative time for your teen as it likely was for you. You probably have lots of high school memories yourself and your own experiences may impact how you’re feeling about your teen transitioning from middle to high school.
The high school years can be challenging for sure, but this time is also an exciting opportunity for your teen to explore their identity and establish more confidence.
As middle school students often reshuffle into different high schools, your child may lose and gain friendships. They may also shed social status as they enter a larger school with older students. All the while, they’ll be carving out their identity, seeking peer validation, and possibly starting their first romantic relationship. You might notice that your teen wants to try new styles of dressing, hang out with different friends, or explore different extracurricular activities.
This can be an emotionally challenging time for parents as you might feel overwhelmed or concerned about your teen gaining even more independence. It can help to set some expectations and ground rules to keep your mind at ease and your teen safe. And especially as drugs, alcohol, sex, and more enter the picture, it’s important that you keep or establish open communication with each other.
If communication and/or connection have been a challenging part of your family dynamic, now is the time to double down on your efforts through family meetings or other time together. Your teen may need boundaries, but they also need the reassurance that they can come to you with their hardest emotions and situations without fear.
Your child’s classes will be both faster-paced and more stimulating in high school. Some students will even be able to take college-level “advanced placement” (AP) courses. They’ll have to learn to juggle school work with extracurriculars, part-time employment, and social obligations, which can cause some stress. Dropout rates vary across the country, but are about 86% — it’s a huge accomplishment to graduate from high school.
Starting in ninth grade, teachers and administrators will encourage your child to start making plans for after high school. If your child wants to pursue a bachelor’s degree, they will have to start the college application process, which may include taking the SAT or ACT in their junior year. Exciting and stressful, this time tends to create comparison and competition among teenagers (and sometimes even their parents). If you get the sense that your teen is getting a little too wrapped up in other people’s perceptions of them, try to help them re-center on what makes them happy and what they’re excited about for their future, independent of their friends’ plans. It’s easy to look for external validation, even as adults, but helping your teen find what brings them independent joy is so important.
Puberty will cause your child to develop physically, emotionally, sexually, and cognitively. They may experience mood swings and body image changes. It’s important to pay attention to their mental health as eating disorders are prevalent in teens and depression and other mental health conditions are rising. If you’re ever feeling concerned about your teen, persist in communicating with them about it. Choose a time when you’re both feeling relaxed and let them know that you’re there for them, that you care about their health and happiness, and that there are many paths to seek support if they need it. Offer examples of people they know who have needed more family support or therapy to normalize getting help.
While high schoolers can do many of the things adults can do, their brains are still developing into their early twenties. This means they’re not always great at future thinking and proactive planning and may still rely on your guidance for some of these tasks. A little parental patience goes a long way as they learn these valuable skills.
How to guide your teenager
Some anxiety over all of the changes when starting high school is normal. But your child may be struggling more seriously with anxiety if they display some of the signs below.
- Not eating or sleeping as much as normal
- Experiencing stomach aches, nausea, or headaches
- Becoming more irritable or less lively than usual
- Not wanting to go to school or attend extracurricular activities
There are lots of ways to help guide your teen’s decision-making while promoting their independence. Here are some ideas.
- Congratulate their efforts in addition to their achievements. Let them practice failure without fear of punishment.
- Encourage them to set goals beyond grades; have them envision the life they want to live after high school to help focus and motivate them in the short term.
- Listen to them. Invite them to talk through solutions to their problems before you suggest any fixes or reframe their emotions.
- Set consistent boundaries with your teenager. And if you have a partner, make sure they’re also enforcing these boundaries.
- Be open to them exploring their identity. Experimenting with clothes and hairstyles is not the same as experimenting with drugs and alcohol.
- Remember that some conflict with your teenager is normal and often the sign of a productive relationship.
- Destigmatize reproductive health and talk about birth control options.
You can also help your teen establish daily routines to thrive.
- Let them take a break and decompress after school.
- Help them find a consistent time to complete homework.
- Limit their social media engagement and overall screen time.
How your teenager can thrive
Considering your child may be driving and dating, they can take accountability for their wellbeing, too. This might look like:
- Viewing high school as a fresh start academically and socially
- Participating in extracurriculars that they’re naturally good at but also exploring new activities
- Seeking out a formal or informal mentor
- Using an agenda to track activities and assignments
- Using the “SMART” method to set goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound
- Getting enough sleep and considering journaling to process emotions before bed
This is an exciting time filled with change. Your teen is becoming a more full version of themself and even if they don’t always want you to know it, you’re an essential part of who they are today and who they will be in all the years to come.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
- “Transitioning from Middle School to High School.” AFFECT. University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Education. https://affect.coe.hawaii.edu/lessons/transitioning-from-middle-school-to-high-school/
- Tiara Tan. “Tips for a smooth transition to high school.” Children’s Health Queensland. Queensland Government. https://www.childrens.health.qld.gov.au/blog-tips-for-a-smooth-transition-to-high-school/
- Laura Grey. “9 Tips for Helping Your Teen Transition to High School.” College Vine. College Vine. https://blog.collegevine.com/9-tips-for-helping-your-teen-transition-to-high-school/
- “7 Ideas for Handling the Transition from Middle School to High School.” Your Teen Magazine. Your Teen Magazine. https://yourteenmag.com/teenager-school/teens-high-school/transition-from-middle-school-to-high-school
- “How to Ease Your Child’s Transition From Middle to High School.” Commonwealth Charter Academy. Commonwealth Charter Academy. https://ccaeducate.me/blog/ease-students-transition-from-middle-to-high-school/
- Michael Lee Zwiers. “How to help your kids transition to high school.” The Conversation. The Conversation. August 22, 2017 https://theconversation.com/how-to-help-your-kids-transition-to-high-school-81018
- Grace Chen. “10 Ways Parents can Help Children Adjust to High School.” Public School Review. Public School Review. October 10, 2019. https://www.publicschoolreview.com/blog/10-ways-parents-can-help-children-adjust-to-high-school