Helping Your Teen Transition to High School

Have a new high-schooler in the family? We have 5 great tips to help your teen get settled in a new school.

Helping Your Teen Transition to High School

Illustration by Ryan Snook

Your teen is starting high school and he’s done his homework. He’s practiced the bus run, bought binders and visited the school twice. But he’s nervous.

“The first days can be lonely,” says Jane Ormond, a resource teacher in Guelph, Ont., and mom of three teens. After nine years at the same elementary school, her twin girls (now in Grade 10) felt excited and overwhelmed starting high school. “They missed having all the teachers know them and feeling like they were “somebody’,” says Ormond. And in some of their classes, they didn’t know a soul.

“Parents can make this transition into a scary thing or an exciting time full of adventure, potential and growth,” says Tulia Castellanos, program manager at Family Services of Greater Vancouver, who manages a program for girls entering high school. Here’s how you can help make it a positive one for your high schooler.

1. Adjusting to a New Routine

Help your teen navigate his new school with a visit beforehand. “I went to an orientation barbecue the week before where we were put into our homerooms,” remembers Zach Kahn, 15, of Guelph, Ont. “Each group had a mentor that helped us get to know the school — it made me feel more comfortable.” Besides a new routine at school, your child will also need a revised one at home if he spent the summer sleeping in. So institute an earlier bedtime starting the week before school to get him back on track.

2. How to Help Your Kids Make Friends

“Finding a good peer group is one of the biggest challenges,” says Tim Utting, a high school teacher in Brantford, Ont., and father of two teens. “To be in a good position to learn, they need to feel socially comfortable.” If your teen is stressed about making new friends or fitting in, reassure her that developing friendships takes time and that many of the kids will be feeling the same way.

Utting says that kids tend to make friends in their first-term classes; however, if your teen connects with a questionable crowd, he advises contacting the guidance counsellor or vice-principal. Sometimes a strategic timetable change will dismantle a budding bad influence. Also, to widen their social circle, support your kids’ interest in trying extracurricular activities like theatre, sports or social activism.

Read more: Homework Tips for Your Teen

3. Offer to Help Organize

Since everything’s new, some teens might feel overwhelmed. Help set up a system to organize her subjects and schedules as well as a spot to do her homework. Encourage your teen to write down everything in an agenda or online calendar program such as Outlook to stay on top of deadlines and extracurricular activities, suggests Castellanos.

4. Go Easy On ’em

“Lay off the pressure for the marks,” says Utting. “You want them to be enjoying school and in a positive environment with other kids.” Get a clue about what’s happening in class, without drilling them.

Keep the discussion open, by asking questions like, “What did you think about your history class discussion?” or “What was the most interesting part of your day?” You can also show you’re interested in more than just grades by being a school supporter. “Find ways to be involved in school without being intrusive with your child,” says Castellanos. Attend parent/teacher interviews. Contribute to fundraising efforts, buy tickets and show your smiling face at school concerts, fairs and sports events.

5. Be Aware of the Warning Signs

Wondering if your teen has settled in? If he claims to have no homework or you see a change in attitude and behaviour, he’s not, says Utting. If that’s the case, it’s time to talk to your child and contact the school guidance counsellor, who advises on everything from study skills to course selections. “Counsellors are keen to meet with parents before there is a problem. So be proactive,” says Castellanos.

But for the most part, by Thanksgiving kids are feeling pretty comfortable. “I felt intimidated at first, but now it’s a lot more fun than elementary school,” says Kahn, who relishes the freedom of being able to hit the mall at lunch. Plus, he snagged a spot on the junior hockey and soccer teams. “It feels good to be part of something.” His advice to other teens: “Be yourself and get involved — don’t be shy.”


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