3 Tips to Help Your Teen Transition to High School

Walking through a new school before the year begins can help ease a student’s first-day jitters.

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Getting involved in extracurricular activities can help smooth the transition from middle to high school.
Getting involved in extracurricular activities can help smooth the transition from middle to high school.

The first day of high school can be equal parts exciting and terrifying.

New classmates, new courses, new teachers and new expectations can all be points of anxiety for students moving from middle to high school. Even if the change doesn't seem drastic, parents should anticipate an adjustment period for their student, says Patrick Akos, a professor in the School of Education at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill.

"Imagine yourself starting a new job for the first time," says Akos, who specializes in transitions and school counseling. "Not knowing how things are, even though it's the same job – being a student – it's just different."

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While your teen may assure you they don't need your help, parental involvement is essential for a smooth transition from middle to high school, Akos says.

"Even if they don't respond to parents as well as they used to in the past, the boundaries that parents make and the support they provide is as vital," he adds.

Below are a few tips for parents to help ease the way for their teenagers.

1. Do a walk-through: The bulk of first-day jitters can often be chalked up to logistics such as adjusting to a new bus route, finding lockers or getting from one class to the next, Akos says.

These nerves can be mitigated by visiting the school ahead of time, helping your student find their classrooms and mapping out their school day.

If your teen's school has a new student orientation day, go to it, he advises. While they may seem like a waste of time, programs designed for new students can help ease many organizational concerns right off the bat.

2. Advocate involvement: High school isn't just full of new people and new classes, it's also full of new opportunities.

"Encourage your child to join a sport, club or activity," Jenny Michael, a language arts and ACT prep teacher at Seckman High School in Missouri, said via email. "It will help with making friends and ease the transition process."

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Teens who are engaged in extracurricular activities tend to excel socially and academically, Akos says, so parents can build off their teen's excitement over the soccer team or debate club to help alleviate anxiety over other aspects of the transition.

3. Avoid warnings: Your teen is already stressed about getting good grades, so reminding them of how hard high school is going to be will only make things worse, Akos says.

Instead of intimidating your student by saying things such as, "You're going to have to do this differently or else you're going to fail," parents should use positive language such as, "I know you're going to be able to handle this," he says.

Parents should also take time to just listen to their teen, especially early on, Michael said.

"Be available for you child when they come home from the first day of school scared, overwhelmed or stressed and just listen," she said.

The benefits of parental support are not superficial, Akos says.

"When they have beliefs like that and they actually listen to their kids, the kids tend to do better academically."

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