By Colleen Brady, Health Educator
Summer is winding down and your middle school graduate will soon be a high school freshman. There are clear physical signs that your child has matured (a deeper voice, ill-fitting clothes). But is your child ready for the academic, emotional and social challenges of high school? Your “top dog” is heading for the bottom of the heap and it can be scary for both of you.
In a study done by researchers Akos and Galassi (2004), students transitioning from middle school to high school were asked what worried them most about their new schools. The answers may surprise you. Students were concerned primarily with organizational issues (e.g., finding their classes), class difficulty, and the amount of homework. Parents, on the other hand, were more concerned with what peer pressure their kids would encounter.
My concerns for my daughter, who is moving on from a private elementary/middle school to a public high school, include how she will handle her first day in the cafeteria, how she can avoid mean girls, making friends, and being challenged enough.
One way I’ve helped both of us make a smoother transition is by getting advice from a recent graduate who has a good head on her shoulders. She attended the same school as my daughter, and after a rough start, finished with great success. Together the three of us talked about choices involving dating too soon, taking challenging but not overwhelming classes, and getting involved in clubs.
With more independence comes more responsibility. Kids need our help practicing thinking things through and recognizing that every choice they make has a consequence (positive or negative). In fact, the older kids get, the more freedoms they are given and the greater the consequences. Sean Covey, author of “Six Decisions,” suggests that teens post a note in their locker asking, “Does this fit with who I want to be?”
Rehearsing or practicing how teens will handle themselves in certain situations really works. Don’t sit down and hammer kids with these questions. Choose your time wisely and make it a casual talk. Ask your kids:
- “How will you react if someone offers you drugs or alcohol?”
Tell them that it’s okay to blame their refusal on you. They can also use humor, get up and go, and be direct. “No.” is a complete sentence. Remind your teen that not everyone drinks – and not everyone cares what they are drinking.
- “What will you do if you see someone being bullied?”
Encourage your teen not to be a bystander, not even to laugh along. They don’t necessarily have to intervene, but can walk over to the person being bullied and walk to class with him or her.
- “What kind of friends are you hoping to make?”
Encourage kids to figure out where they fit in by joining clubs or other after school activities. When kids join clubs that feed their spark, they find like-minded people and feel more comfortable using their voice. They don’t have to struggle to fit in – they already do.
- “How will you handle yourself if someone asks you out, especially if it’s an upperclassman?”
This is a good time to talk about healthy relationships and what they do and don’t look like, and what to do if your teen is in an unhealthy one.
As for their worries about getting lost, homework and keeping up, they can be tackled as the year progresses. Research by Falbo, Lein, and Amador (2001) showed that smoother school transitions happened when parents were involved through monitoring their child’s activities (social and academic) and intervened when necessary. Take your kids to orientation and make sure they see where their classes are. Ask them to let you know when they start getting assignments so that you can work together on time-management techniques. Encourage them to find a quiet place to do their homework with few distractions.
We want our kids to become more independent and yet, they aren’t ready for full autonomy. As they transition to high school, they still look to us for guidance –even if their words say otherwise.
By Colleen Brady, Health Educator, Prevention Education, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
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