For many parents, high school is the light at the end of the tunnel. Your baby is almost grown. They can dress themselves, wash their own clothes, and cook their own dinner. In fact, they are so independent that you may be tempted to treat them more as roommates than children.
But the reality is that they are, in fact, still children. They are still impressionable, still need boundaries, and still need your help in school. One could argue they need you more now than they did in kindergarten, as a misstep in the homestretch could profoundly impact their lives for years to come.
Here are 10 ways to provide your teen with support to ensure they finish the first leg of their academic career on a high note.
1. Keep going to parent teacher conferences. Don’t let your interactions with teachers wane because your child is older. Teens are known for their nonchalant attitudes and apathetic nature. (Anyone who has ever seen a John Hughes film can validate this.) Your continued presence is vital to ensuring that they stay on track.
2. Set aside weekly check-in time. The teen years are filled with secrecy. At times it seems like their sole goal in life is to actively to avoid all adult interaction. That chubby chatterbox has turned into a lean, tight-lipped teen. You might ask “How was your day?” every day for three weeks and you might hear “Fine” all 21 days. But keep asking. That fourth week might be the nudge your teen needs to open up. Keep the lines of communication open.
3. They still get Homework. Check it. If your child is in Spanish 3 or AP Biology, chances are you will be unable to help with the actual assignments, but you can encourage your child to organize themselves so that all assignments get completed on time, larger projects are not left to the last minute, and your student takes advantage of all resources available (i.e. tutoring, teacher office hours, test prep classes, etc.)
4. Don’t quit the volunteering. High school activities are often done on a much larger scale than in elementary. This means there is a variety of tasks to be done, all of which require various levels of commitment. There is almost certainly a committee that will fit your availability. Volunteering helps the overworked staff as well as ensures that you are making lasting memories for your child. It is also a great way to expand your personal network.
5. Insist on a bedtime. Your baby might be four inches taller than you, but studies show that the brain does not stop developing until the early 20s. Most experts agree that teenagers need between eight and 10 hours of sleep a night. A good night’s sleep is just as important at age 16 as it was at 6.
6. Be open to all the options. A traditional four-year college is not for everyone. Talk to your child about all of the other possible options to find the one that is the best fit for them. Barber college, a carpentry apprenticeship, or the Armed Forces are all paths worth considering, but they all have different prerequisites. Talk with your child about which they are most interested in so you know how to best guide your child through their high school years.
7. Be their cheerleader. High school kids have concerts, school plays, and science fairs just like elementary school students. Though they might feign nonchalance when you are unable to attend, deep down they love that you are there to support them. Try hard to make it whenever you can. It means a lot.
8. Push them to try new things. High school, and later college, are the best times for them to step out of their comfort zone and try a new activity or cultivate a new hobby. It is the one time in their lives where there is relatively little risk and the potential rewards are boundless. Do they want to join the chess team? Go for it. At best they might be the next Bobby Fisher; at worst they discover they do not enjoy the game. Either way, they tried and learned a little more about themselves in the process.
9. Go easy on the pressure. With so much talk about the future and having a plan, it is easy to get overwhelmed. A 4.0 is impressive but a 3.5 isn’t the end of the world. Not everybody plays a sport in college and that’s OK. Hardly anyone gets a 1600 (the new perfect score) on the SATs — and you might have to take it more than once. Not everyone gets into his or her first choice school. That’s life. Your job is to help them keep these normal life disappointments in perspective and help them see the bigger picture.
10. Enjoy it. These four years will fly by. Often we focus so much on the big moments, finals, homecoming, research papers, etc., that we forget to enjoy the small moments. That funny thing that happened at lunch, the first crush, the first break up. Help your high schooler enjoy this stage, because as we all know far too well, if they blink their eyes, they’ll miss it.
It might seem like the heavy lifting of parenting is complete by the time you get to high school, but that could not be further from the truth. Your high schooler still needs you to be a present and constant figure, no matter what they say. So roll up your sleeves and finish strong. Graduation will be here before you know it!