* Helping Your Child Transition to High School

By Valorie Dassel, LCSW, LCAC, Courier & Press, August 8, 2017 –

The transition from elementary or middle school to high school can come with a wave of emotions for both students and parents.

Often times, there is excitement surrounding the new environment, both socially and academically.  Anxiety is commonly experienced among incoming freshmen.  These anxieties often stem from social and academic changes.

The opportunities for change can increase a  sense of self and positively affect academics.  As parents, it is important to nurture our teenager’s development during this transition.

In a retrospective research study conducted by Akos and Galassi (2004), adolescents identify homework and grades as the most difficult aspect of transitioning to high school.  Often times, high school courses demand more studying and homework outside of the classroom.

Parents should talk with their teen about academic expectations.  Discussions should include preparing them to increase organizational strategies, time management and good study habits.

If elementary or middle school has been easy for a teen, they may begin high school with a relaxed attitude toward grades.  If high school proves to be more academically challenging for them, the teen may have a difficult transition.

Priorities for a teenager can often be difficult to navigate. Students may want to do well academically, but new social opportunities may interfere with academic success.  During this developmental stage, friends become just as important to the teen as their family, and they also want instant gratification.

When they are faced with the choice of doing their homework or hanging out with friends, they may opt for the more immediate and “fun” reward of socializing.  Parents can lend support by encouraging set study times and monitoring assignments being turned in on time through the school’s website.

High school includes social adjustments as well.  Typically, the high school student is coming from a social network where they knew exactly where they fit in to an unknown social environment in a new and larger student body.  This change offers exciting opportunities for most.  For the student who has desired different or more friendships in elementary or middle school, it offers the opportunity to reinvent and develop many more relationships.

Throughout freshman year, social groups tend to go through many transitions.  Often times, new friends are added to established groups of friends.  Sports and extra-curricular interests involve an increased amount of time spent together and new friendships are formed.

With a larger student body, there is greater opportunity to find friends who share similar interests and values.  Parents should encourage involvement in activities to promote social connectedness and the protective factors provided.  Spending time constructively makes it less likely the teen will be involved in negative social behaviors.

If the social adjustment is not what your teen expected, they could be struggling with feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depression.  Open communication at this time is crucial.

Communicate understanding and brainstorm peers they have something in common with.  They often lack the social awareness to build friendships.  Work with them on how to initiate conversations and suggest non-intimidating ways to “hang out” outside of school to nurture friendships.  This will give them the skills necessary to work through their social difficulties.

The transition to high school offers many exciting opportunities.  There are also going to be difficulties on this journey.  Maintaining an open and positive relationship and communication between parent and teen will make it easier on the entire family.