7 Things your high school freshman needs to know

Aug 22, 2014 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Image: Steve Debenport/iStock/360/Getty Images

It’s official — your baby is starting high school. And while your parenting is nowhere near ending, your teen won’t want you to do it too openly anymore. How can you help them hit high school without being too “momish?”

When your little one starts kindergarten, it seems that his high school years are light years away. But before you know what hit you, your former wee one is in the thick of PSAT prep and Algebra II. How can you help prepare him for high school without smothering him with advice?

Be responsible for yourself

Responsibility is one of the most difficult things to teach, but so very important for high school freshmen. Encourage him to be responsible for himself by putting him in charge — and ideally this should start early. Your teen should be in charge of her morning routine, including setting an alarm (and listening to it), getting to class on time and remembering homework assignments, band instruments or PE clothes. Being responsible is a learned trait, and the more you as a parent require it, the faster it will become second nature for your teen.

When to raise the flag

Even the smartest kids may find themselves stumped when it comes to English literature or pre-calculus. Part of being the parent of a high school kid is letting them figure it out for themselves. But this isn’t to say that you don’t ask them about grades or keep tabs on them. "Many parents have a naïve view that once my teen reaches high school they are capable of being independent and making good, smart choices," says Kate Roberts, Ph.D., consulting school psychologist and former professor of psychiatry at Brown University. "This could not be further from the truth. An average teen today will choose paid work over studying even when they are not dependent on that extra income, and technology use over sleep — another area of tremendous challenge for teens — getting the rest they need to function optimally." She adds, "Parents need to monitor with hands on to help teens structure their time, study habits and sleep." But your freshman also needs to be able to see the signs of trouble and ask for help. Spend too much time orchestrating your freshman’s academic life and he will pay for it later.


Everyone else has it, too. While your teen may not believe this at first, it’s important for him to realize that every other student on campus has worries and concerns about friendships, clothing, appearance and perceived “coolness.” The best strategy for high school is to relax and be yourself — no matter how hard it seems as a new freshman. One mom I know used the trick with her teens of having them “act” as if they were confident, almost like playing a part in a theater production. Act as if you aren’t nervous or insecure and people won’t know that you are. It’s a great lesson for your kids to learn at this age that will help them in adult life as well.

Life balance

Teens need to learn how to keep life in balance in order to meet goals and succeed in high school — and later. Too much academic work and no extracurricular activities makes for a stressed-out student. But too much fun and staying out late with friends means that academics will suffer, which has an effect on your teen’s options after high school. "As a clinical psychologist, I often work with teens and their families to combat this stress," says Erlanger Turner, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. "Stress related to school has a significant negative impact on teens’ mental health. Additionally, it often makes home life difficult for the entire family," he adds. One of the best ways parents can help is to model this in their own lives. Show her how you are able to enjoy an afternoon at the movie theater because you finished paying the bills in the morning.

Find fun

So many adults spend their days slaving away at jobs they don’t enjoy, then come home too tired to do anything they do enjoy. Encourage your high school freshman to find hobbies and passions he cares about — and to make time to pursue them. Developing a hobby or an interest aside from school and work is good for the soul, and makes your teen a more well-rounded human being.

Branch out of your tree

Find your people, then find some more. One of my biggest regrets from high school is that I wasn’t comfortable enough to branch out from my usual lunchtime/mall-loving friends. There were so many other girls who could have become fun friends — if I had taken the time. Now through Facebook some of these girls have become friends, but I sure missed out on a lot of fun. The important thing for your teen to know is that life isn’t just about being with a particular "crowd" all of the time.

Organize, organize, organize

One of the most important things you can encourage your high school freshman to do is to get organized. Jetting from class to class, to soccer practice, to band rehearsal then home means lots of potential for something to get lost or an assignment forgotten. Let her choose how she wants to keep track of her assignments and activities, whether it’s a cute purple planner or on her smartphone, and she will be more invested in keeping it up. Having a designated place for books and school supplies at home helps things stay organized.

Take the time to help your high school freshman get a jump start on high school — she’ll be glad you did.

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