The freshman test

Parents face new challenges when their teen becomes a high school student

The start of the school year can be stressful and this feeling is more pronounced if your child has moved from middle school to high school.      

When parents talk to me about their eighth-grader moving on to high school, they often question how much control and freedom to give their new freshman. They might ask about how to talk about dating, friends, parties and drugs. Many parents also struggle with how much or how little to be involved in their child’s academics.

There are also changes at home — such as your teen wanting to keep their phone on later or throughout the night. They may also struggle to manage their time as their academics become more difficult.

This is a time of huge developmental growth. Many incoming ninth-graders are just beginning to seriously consider the issues of sex, relationships and substances in a more adult perspective. This expanded scope of ideas can cause conflict between parent and child. They may ask 'Why is my curfew so early? Why can’t I go out with my friends tonight? Why can’t I go out on a date with my boyfriend/girlfriend?'

It is important for parents to talk with each other first to understand how each other thinks. It is not uncommon for parents to have drastically different parenting styles, which can make these decisions more difficult. It can also be too easy to become extremely rigid with rules and expectations.

Although there are no one-size-fits-all answers, there are ways to find balance and peace during this time:

1. Your kids are going to make mistakes. Help them understand how to learn from their mistakes and get back up on their feet. Natural consequences are good and can be created by the school, peers or even parents.

2. Don’t get caught up in their emotional roller coaster. One day your child will be mad at you or mad at their friends or mad at the world. Most often these feelings go away. Let them process through their rapidly changing feelings, and with any luck they will talk to you about them as well. But they will only share with you if you listen without advice and criticism.

3. Many kids will have irrational issues that arise as they are figuring out their social environment. Stains on their shirt, makeup that’s not right, and hair that just won’t do what they want it to. All of these “catastrophic events” will ultimately end up invading your morning. Our best defense is to allow them to rapidly burn up like a phoenix and know that when you see them again they will have arisen from the ashes as a brand new person.

4. If you make the decision to follow your child through their cell phone or social media and monitor all of their texts and communication with their peers, be prepared to see the best and worst in your kids. Don’t react to everything you see or hear. If we constantly correct our kids, they will forget the most important lessons. Look for patterns and be mindful of how you present the messages.

5. Sometimes parents should worry. Certainly when their kids withdraw from academics, friends and extracurricular activities — especially if it lasts for more than two weeks. If your child shows changes in eating or sleeping or if you observe risk-taking behaviors, parents should seek help from their PCP or a counselor. Sometimes the challenges of adolescence can be overwhelming and it is important to offer them support outside our parenting world. 

Tracey Tucker is Executive Director of New Heights: Adventures for Teens and a licensed mental health counselor at Tradeport Counseling Associates in Portsmouth.

More Parenting in the Moment columns by Tracey Tucker

Making sleep a priority

Adequate sleep time is critical for adolescents

At the finish line

Senior year is perilous for both students and parents

The push and pull of letting go

Managing the many emotions you will have when your child leaves home

Transitioning from teen to adult

How to navigate the changes ahead

Supporting gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered teens

Support for youth revealing their sexual orientation is critical
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