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The Informed Parent

Starting High School

by Shanna R. Cox, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Sep. 05, 2011

Wow! That summer went by fast! Kids everywhere are either already back in school or about to restart after today’s holiday. The beginning of school always brings in many patients to our office that may not come in at any other time of the year. That means a lot of conversation, in a little bit of time, and of course the forms to go with it. This year, our adolescents have made a particular impression on me.

The first year of high school correlates to all kinds of transition for teens. The change in bodies, attitudes, location, and level of class work are just a few of the factors that come to mind. Parents need to acknowledge the enormity of these changes, and take the tremendous opportunity to talk with their teens about a while slew of topics. However, I can assure you these areas of conversation cannot be covered in a single sit down, whether it is with a physician in the office, or with a parent on the couch at home.

Parents can make this time of transition a little more basic by starting broad in their talks with their teens. Freshmen are truly new in many ways. They are in a body that is new, both relatively in life, and likely because of the facts of puberty. This newness requires some instruction, and sometimes interpretation. Parents can encourage teens in the “maintenance” of their bodies. Start with the basics: hygiene and healthy habits! It might be obvious to the parent that a daily shower, change of clothes, etc. are required each day, but not necessarily with the teen. They have a lot on their minds. In learning about taking care of their new self, parents can then translate to their teens the idea of other things that require ongoing maintenance in order to function well, from the family car, to fledgling friendships.

The new people that freshmen encounter starting high school may be one of the biggest interests on their minds. The doors that these kids open for each other can lead to everything from great experiences to big disappointments. Think: rollercoaster. Parents need to know about these interactions. They shouldn’t be mysterious, but an expected part of growing up. Parents are there to listen, but it must be with an open mind and expectation of trust in their teen. It’s a true challenge to catch the moment when teens will share this important information about their lives at school, music or sports practice. It may be on the way to Target, putting the dishes away, or in an offhand comment as he closes the door. Parents that slow down and catch these insights can let their teen know they hear them, and are there…for all of it. By letting teens clearly know what to expect in healthy relationships, with consequences and all, parents give teens a base to test out their abilities of interacting with others and either accepting or rejecting the behaviors they encounter, just as a parent will do with a particular decision a teen may make.

With clear ideas of what is expected in the realm of the basics of self-care, and the basics of relationships with others, parents provide an invaluable foundation. These are the things that are non negotiable, from the beginning at the start of high school. The details can then be added on, block by block. There are innumerable chances to build. A new schedule, a new extracurricular activity, these are commitments. They require time and sometimes money…bring in those time management and budget techniques that you know it will take to get it all done. The teens want and need to know these and myriad other details; they are not children; but they are also not adults…they’re starting high school. It’s a big deal. Good Luck!

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